Organisations that achieve diversity as a competitive advantage will in future attract the best range of staff. For professional services firms, that’s a business necessity!
Diversity of thought in organisational leadership is a long-term business necessity. It enables us to be more considered in our decision making, more effective in our engagement with staff and stakeholders, and provides a wider range of role models for aspiring leaders.
In Australasia we value our classless meritocracy and the dominant view is that staff promotions should go to the ‘best person for the job’. I do agree but then it depends on who’s making the judgement, how the role has been designed, and whether the performance requirements for the role are simply based on the performance of the previous incumbents.
Some organisations are investing to increase diversity in leadership through targeted development programmes that focus specifically on gender and ethnicity. This is an effective approach which can lead to diversity outcomes more quickly than other routes. However a silent majority will often react negatively as they believe this approach is discriminating - they tell me that people are unique individuals and diversity statistics shouldn’t be put ahead of ‘the best person for the job’. I do cringe when I see those stock photos of a staged mix of ethnicity and gender that are often used to somehow represent an idealised diversity outcome.
In 2007 I led a group at Beca that won the EEO Trust’s National Diversity Award for the private sector. One of the winning factors was the introduction of a staff programme focussed on nine things that are important to be successful in the New Zealand work environment. It was voluntary and not limited to migrant staff or by gender.
The fabulous level of success from this programme was a result of the group being a mix of genders and ethnicities; born-and-bred kiwis and those recently arrived with English as a second language.
We discussed issues in a way that enabled everyone to learn what is required to be successful but also how to respect and benefit from others’ experiences and backgrounds. It is that type of understanding we need to grow in our future leaders.
The group has become the most successful of its type in the country and a recruitment magnet for some of the best staff from all over the world. Now it is fantastically led by a new ‘best person for the job’.
So, in my view, inclusion needs to be the dominant strategy for diversity in leadership. Demographic targeting is valid, but great diversity statistics are not the target. Rather, they will be the natural outcome in an organisation that has empowered diversity of thought and experience.
Two ways to empower inclusion is through technology and flexibility - the likes of Smartphones, Lync and Skype have given us the ability to build tremendous flexibility into management and leadership roles. And research shows that the more flexible a job is designed, then the greater the number of women who will apply. Actually, the more flexible roles become, the more attractive they become to everyone!
We need to put our energy into providing leaders and staff with the new skills and understanding of online flexible working, and design our management and leadership roles so that they are enabled by this technology. A team leader who’s available nationally at the click of a mouse for 1:1 meetings between 9:00am and 2:30pm each day should have a powerful impact.
In Australasia we need to use our ‘best person for the job’ culture to leverage how we grow diversity in our organisations. The best diversity strategy empowers people’s uniqueness of thought and experience rather than focussing on their demographic statistics.
I love seeing diversity thrive in my team and being part of a diverse organisation. But the challenge and aspiration I see in similar organisations is to increase the diversity of thought in leadership. Doing this will in future attract the highest calibre of staff. For professional services firms, that is a business necessity!