Big business loves to tell you about their diversity policies at the same time as publishing their annual reports with photographs of mainly white, male, middle class executives grinning inanely from the glossy pages.
Yes, at recruitment stage, companies are diverse and most of them genuinely consider the best candidate for job. However, this changes significantly when it comes to climbing the greasy pole to the top.
What happens in between?
Where do all the women go? Where are the part time workers? Where are the people with disabilities, from ethnic minorities, the people who are forced to tick the box on the equality forms that say “British – Other”. To be fair those forms are better than they used to be, but still. If organisations were genuinely diverse, would they need such forms?
Just as there are very few women in the board rooms of PlCs, there are even fewer black, asian, disabled or South American men or women on those same boards.
What happens during those intervening years when it appears that only white, male, middle class people are promoted? Child bearing has an impact as I discussed in last month’s article, but there is more at play here.
People like people who are like themselves. This is natural and no doubt has some kind of Darwinian survival mechanism behind it, but this is no excuse. Those who promote must put all of their unconscious prejudices aside and really think creatively about the people they give the top jobs to.
When large corporates are challenged in their thinking, they don’t like it. The markets don’t like uncertainty and share prices rise when a known quantity with a safe pedigree is placed on the board. By “known quantity” and “safe” pedigree read, “just like us” i.e. white, male, middle class and usually privately educated, which means that we continue to get the same old same old. This will perpetuate until someone is brave enough to break the cycle and have a board of directors consisting of a group of people from a broad range of cultures, backgrounds and languages.
We must all work much harder to actively value “otherness” because at the moment, the corporate world only values “sameness”. The best learning I have ever had has been with a hugely diverse range of people when I attended my NLP Trainer’s Training course in Florida. There were people from all continents, all religions, all backgrounds and a huge range of languages. English was not most people’s first language and yet we communicated beautifully. It is sheer laziness when people don’t make the effort to understand those whose first language is not our own, we miss huge opportunities for creativity, innovation and progress at our peril, when we don’t make this effort.
Wherever I go in the corporate world, I make it my mission to develop everyone I meet to enable them to reach their full potential and it doesn’t matter to me what colour they are, what language they speak or where they’re from, what physical abilities they have or don’t have and in the case of Edinburgh, what school they went to. What matters is their willingness to learn, to be open to new ways of thinking and to developing themselves.
When each and every one of us adopts this attitude throughout our careers, then we will have no need for diversity policies because people will be recruited and promoted on ability alone. Organisations will benefit from new ideas, new perspectives, new ways of doing things and be more interesting places to work in.
We have a rare and unprecedented opportunity in this globalised world of ours to reap the rewards of closer connections to cultures other than our own, to promote people who work part time or who happen to sit in a wheel chair instead of standing up or who speak a different language (literally and metaphorically) to our own. Let’s seize that with arms wide open instead of continually playing the safety card and sticking to what’s familiar.
When we look at any human being in business we should be considering their talents and potential, weighing those up and then working out how we can change the status quo to maximise that potential so the business can grow. Real diversity in the corporate world is a no-brainer for long term success.
Rebecca Bonnington is a Leadership Coach, Corporate Trainer and Licensed Trainer of NLP. You can find out more about her work via Linked In or her own website www.rebeccainspires.com or contact her personally on 07734 934084 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She is also a regular contributor to the3rdimagazine.