3 Reasons Diversity Initiatives Fail to Shift the Dial on Gender Balance

Advances in achieving gender balance in the corporate space are slow, at best.  Despite the deafening cries for progress towards gender parity, progress is, indeed, evading us.  The latest gender pay gap statistics in the UK prove the point, with the largest pay gap reported in the construction sector at 25%, followed by finance and insurance sector at 22% and education at 20%.   The World Economic Forum predicts it will take the world another 217 years to reach parity, and many other reports show that, while we appear to be inching closer to a more diverse and inclusive world, progress is, well, patchy and sometimes questionable.

I have to ask myself the question why?  After all, in my conversations with clients and other companies, it seems diversity and inclusion is an important part of the business agenda, and gender balance even more so.   Most have already spent copious resources on various initiatives that intend to support and advance women - and, more broadly, diversity - within the organisation.  And yet, few would claim genuine parity at all levels.

If you ask me, part of the problem is the belief that we’re doing all the right things whereas the truth is that most of the current initiatives fail to shift the dial on diversity.

Here are my 3 reasons for it:

All female leadership and other initiatives

The intentions behind programmes that support the advancement of women in the organisation are great, but there are a number of problems with this approach: (i) when programmes cater to women only, the overarching message the company is sending to its women is that there is something wrong with them and that it is trying to ‘fix’ them.  This is particularly true of leadership programmes which intimate that women need more development than men to become leaders; (ii) even successful female-only initiatives tend to backfire because, to the extent they succeed to motivate and engage women, by the time women go back to their unchanged work environment, frustration starts to set in as they continue to perform in an environment that fails to recognise the value of their authentic contribution; and (iii) initiatives that are aimed at a specific segment of the population tend to be divisive and fail to attract the requisite amount of support and inclusion to harness lasting progress.

Appointing a female head to ‘tackle the problem’

In many cases, executive teams are genuine about their desire to advance women.  But they don’t recognise it as a central business priority and look at it as a project to be managed.  Having identified it as an issue, they tend to look for the right person to address it which, in many cases, happens to be the one woman on the executive team.  I have heard this story so many times.

These women, or other senior women in the organisation, are anointed as Head of People, or Gender Diversity Sponsor or similar, and are expected to single-handedly ‘solve the issue’.  If they’re lucky, the board will agree to authorise resources to support the position in the form of additional help and/or budget. Yet in most cases, all the resources are going to be insufficient because the ‘problem’ cannot be solved by one or few individuals, and certainly not this particular ‘problem’ (because it’s not so much a problem but an unexplored opportunity).

Parachuting women into senior roles

In many cases, gender imbalance exists primarily at the very top.  Many companies tackle the issue by bringing in lateral hires as they don’t appear to have their own senior female pipeline to address the disparity.  Sadly, this is one of the worst solutions to this issue.  Having spoken to a number of corporates who have taken such measures it becomes clear very quickly that there is no substitute for ‘growing your own’.  Attracting senior women from elsewhere is, at best, a temporary solution.  These freshly-hired women – like the the women who have been at the company for years – will be exposed to the very same culture that failed to produce the senior pipeline in the first instance.  As a result, the new senior female leaders are likely to become disenchanted with their roles as they come to realise that they are not hired for their expertise and contribution but, instead (to put it bluntly), to tick a box.   Even if they do succeed in making a contribution to the company that is genuinely valued, companies have to carefully guard these women from being hired away by others with a similar agenda.  The reality is that there are not that many senior women out there who seem to satisfy the existing requirements for board or senior level hires (although, of course, many more women can indeed to the job) so, unless companies develop their own female leadership pipeline, they stand to lose those recent hires to others that have a similar approach to gender balance.

These are but a few reasons current initiatives fail to advance gender balance at work, and there are a number of others.  If you would like to explore this topic further, email us for a longer version of this post.

What’s a network to do? Do’s and Don’ts for running a successful in-house network

The rise of the in-house women’s network over the last few years has been remarkable.  I watched them grow from informal gathering of a few colleagues to being influential partners to the organisation.  Having chaired a number of networks myself, I understand their challenges and often work with network committees to help them identify their purpose and set strategy for maximum impact.

Here are a few tips of my own to the running of a successful, influential network:

DO have a strategy

It is difficult to have impact without a clear strategy.  A clear strategy makes it easier to ask for resources and to attract volunteers.  Network leaders should identify the network’s purpose, set goals and determine how they are going to achieve them.

DO represent the grassroots

One of the great benefits of a women’s network is that it is squarely rooted in the junior and mid-levels of seniority within the organisations and understands the challenges of women at those levels (e.g. need for flexible working, appreciation and promotion transparency).  Networks listen and represent those challenges up the chain, providing an essential and often-lacking communications channel between management and team members.

DO provide safe spaces

Networks are great at providing a forum for discussion of stimulating topics that may not get aired, such as what it takes for women to thrive or how to treat others so they feel valued.  One crucial function, therefore, is to hold that space for members so that they can discuss challenges, apprehensions and experiences in a judgment-free, supportive environment.  Whether it’s by hosting lunch-and-learns on specific topics or running facilitated discussions, a safe space in which members can debate and think is worth its weight in gold.

DON’T take on too much

I frequently see networks attempting to deliver the work of another work function, like running soft skills training or helping deliver CSR strategy. While it’s great to cooperate, networks should set boundries between their responsibilities and the responsibilities of support functions.  Networks are run by volunteers whose precious time should be spent delivering on their clearly defined and cautiously guarded remit.

DON’T exclude people

Some women’s networks resist opening their membership to men.  In my experience, this is a mistake.  Men who join gender networks identify with their agenda and want to help.  It would be foolish to turn down members who are supportive and can help raise awareness.  This is also an opportunity to model the behaviours you’d like to see, by treating others the way you’d like to be treated: welcomed, valued and included.

DON’T be afraid to ask for a healthy budget

As women, we tend to shy away from asking for a robust network budget, feeling undeserving or unimportant.  As a result, we often pre-empt the outcome of a budget conversation with our own misgivings.  Yet having a budget that allows networks to achieve their stated goals is crucial and empowering.  Do what it takes by enlisting senior allies, collaborating with other networks and clearly identifying the commercial benefits of the network’s existence.  Above all, don't underestimate the value of your contribution to the organisation.

If you would like me to help your company’s network, please get in touch.

Your company’s Inclusion Score: Comparing Lyndales’ culture to our Inclusion Criteria

At Voice At The Table, we’ve been working on developing inclusive cultures for some time now: identifying the starting point, describing the look and feel of an inclusive workplace, and supporting our clients in designing and developing their own inclusive and diverse teams.

In this new series of posts, we will be scoring organisations on their attitude to diversity and inclusion.  Assessing companies’ culture relative to our own Inclusion Criteria, we give them an Inclusion Mark, gauging where they are on the journey towards a strong inclusive culture that nurtures diverse thinking and garners its many benefits.

Our 7 Inclusion Marks describe the various stages of that journey:

  • Don’t Get It! – organisation doesn’t see any benefit from Diversity & Inclusion
  • Window Dressing – organisation understands the need to be seen as valuing D&I
  • Let’s Fix It! – organisation sees lack of diversity as a problem.
  • Seeing The Opportunity – organisation understands the strategic importance of D&I
  • Building the Foundation – organisation is actively building a foundation for D&I
  • Growing & Nurturing – organisation is starting to reap the benefits of D&I and continues to embed them into the business
  • Immersed & Fully Benefiting - organisation has established a successful inclusive culture that benefits from the full value of its diverse workforce

This time we look at Lyndales Solicitors, a boutique firm.  With a practice that ranges from civil litigation to family law to commercial property to private clients to company commercial, this firm punches above its weight.

But how well does it fair in diversity and inclusion terms?

The first thing one notices when looking at the team of solicitors at Lyndales is how diverse it is.  The Lyndales team is small and perfectly formed, gender-balanced at 50-50, with representatives of different ethnic and racial backgrounds.  Granted, at partner level the firm is striving towards diversity (with only 1 of 5 partners being a woman), but if we judge by appearance only, it would seem the firm is keen to address this nuance. And, while the team of lawyers is relatively small, it also spans a number of generations (the youngest member being in their 20s whereas the oldest in his late 60s), adding to the mix of views, experiences and opinions of the group.

Having interviewed one of their senior solicitors, Noga Kogman, I quickly reached the conclusion that the firm is aware of the benefits of diversity and inclusion as a business proposition and is shaping its work environment to attract and retain a diverse mix of people.

How do Lyndales measure up to our Inclusion Criteria?

  1. Working Culture

Noga moved to London from Israel and, as a mother of a young child who is ambitious and career-minded, Noga wanted to work at a firm that can offer her an intellectually-stimulating role and also let her be a mother on her own terms.  Lyndales offered her just that.  Working a full 5-day week, Noga usually works from home once a week and on another day leaves the office at 4pm to pick up her son.  Noga is also free to make other arrangements needed to accommodate her role as a parent and a commercial transaction lawyer.   Noga doesn’t have to hide that she’s leaving to look after her son and doesn’t feel judged because of it.  She feels fully respected and valued by all her colleagues and is therefore able to be fully herself in the office.

In fact, one third of the lawyers work from home one day a week (including a male member of the team) and one of the solicitors also works a shorter week in addition to one of her work days being from home.  In other words, the firm accommodates agile working for everyone who wants it.

Noga describes the culture at Lyndales as healthy and open-minded.   The partners trust their colleagues to be professionals and don’t second-guess how or where they get the job done.  Performance is measured by output and everyone’s targets and progress is openly discussed at team meetings.  People are engaged, committed and happy to be at work – a testament to a tolerant, respecting culture.

Noga feels that there is a genuine interest in diversity at the firm, beyond it being a requirement imposed by the SRA.  The firm has an open-minded approach to candidates and views CVs without regard to a person’s background, name or gender.  The firm is genuinely interested in attracting people from various backgrounds (reflected in the composition of the legal team).

Interviews are conducted by a wide group of people to ensure a lack of bias and a good personality fit with all.  It is therefore not uncommon that lateral hires come from bigger City firms to find a home that respects their varied backgrounds and values their technical skills.

When asked about the firm’s leadership style, Noga explained that the partners are inclusive and considerate.  Noga and her colleagues are routinely engaged in most decisions that affect them directly, from office moves to new hires.  Partners consult with their colleagues regularly and listen and act on feedback.   Partners can be described as balanced in their attitude, open-minded and professional and the tone for the firm’s culture and business is set by its managing partner.

  1. Retention, Development and Promotion

In terms of retention, Lyndales story is strong.  Most lawyers stay for a long time, with hardly any turn-over of legal staff.  The two longest serving partners are the founders, each with 40 years under his respective belt. The firm recently expanded with 3 lateral hires and a newly-qualified solicitor who trained with the firm.  The female partner at the firm returned from maternity leave to work flexibly, working 4 days per week, one of which is from home.

Lyndales do not offer special arrangements for parenting, such as maternity coaching or specific policies around maternity, although one might argue that, with an open attitude towards accommodating most flexible working requests and a friendly open-minded environment, such support services aren’t strictly necessary.  The firm’s maternity leave is comparable to that of any bigger firm and it encourages fathers to play their role in child care.

The firm encourages lawyers to maintain their personal development, supporting their individual training initiatives.  As a small firm, it doesn’t have a central training department yet encourages each person to think about their own growth.

As with most other law firms, the path to equity partnership isn’t entirely transparent, but according to Noga, the partners are aware of this and are keen to address it.  The managing partner has taken it upon himself to ensure the partnership track is transparent and is actively working on making it so.

  1. Diversity as a Market Force

The drive for a diverse and inclusive culture in this case is not coming from the outside world.  While it would be fair to say that clients do think about diversity and prefer to work with diverse and able teams (and, as a result, benefit from their more creative and insightful solutions), in the case of Lyndales the firm culture is naturally inclusive and is designed to give lawyers independence, responsibility and accountability.  As a result, the firm benefits from the diversity of its people by allowing them to bring their whole selves to work and tap into their diverse backgrounds and experiences.

  1. External Evidence of Commitment

In terms of the gender pay gap, the firm is too small to have to report on it, but internal sources suggest that there is a gender pay gap at the firm (currently not quantified), as a function of the fact that, at partnership level, there are more men than women.

The firm is not a signatory to any diversity charters (including the legal diversity and inclusion charter) and is too small to need Employee Resource Groups or networks.

This short overview of the firm’s culture against our criteria leads us to award Lyndales Solicitors an Inclusion Mark of Growing and Nurturing their existing inclusive and diverse culture.  This puts the firm in a prominent position in the legal industry, proving that D&I is not something that pertains only to bigger organisations.  As a diverse and inclusive culture is something that can be nurtured from the outset, the size of the business doesn’t matter. Small businesses like Lyndales stand to benefit from an inclusive environment as much as (if not more than) any bigger organisation that puts D&I front and centre to its growth strategy. Congratulations, Lyndales! You’ve accomplished a remarkable feat without trying too hard!

If you would like us to review your organisation’s diversity and Inclusion Mark, please email info@voiceatthetable.com

 

3 ways to transform corporate culture to an inclusive environment

A group of fourteen people with different ethnic backgrounds sitting around a round, white table with different color social networking related icons on its surface. There is a gray and white floor beneath them.

Do you work in or manage an inclusive team?  Do you feel that you can bring your whole self to work and be accepted – even valued – for your individual insights?  Do you feel encouraged to share your views, insights and experiences at meetings?  Are you inspired by your leader and colleagues and encouraged to contribute beyond the job description?

If you answered yes to the above questions, congratulations!  It appears you’re working in an inclusive environment which is making the most of your individual talents and values.  Sadly, most of us probably don’t.

So what? You say.  Why is it so important to create a culture that’s inclusive?

The benefits of an inclusive corporate culture 

Let’s begin by defining the concept.  In my experience, an inclusive corporate culture is an environment that allows each individual to be him or herself, one that not only sees our individuality as our strength but also knows how to leverage it for a more successful and effective team.

It is the kind of environment that encourages every person to offer their freshest and diverse thinking.

Why is this important?  Because, in today’s fast-paced world, in order for companies to remain competitive, they need to harness the collective brainpower of all their people, not just of a small group of top managers.  To do that, leaders must create an environment that respects and values a wide variety of thinking styles, experiences and approaches.

Simply put, in order for a business to successfully leverage the full capacity of its people, it must operate an inclusive culture that encourages and values diverse thinking and contribution.

How do we create an inclusive culture?

There are many ways in which to create a culture that respects and values different opinions, styles of thinking and expression.  Here are three of mine:

  1. Capture the Creativity of Each Team Member

Stephen Covey famously said "Strength lies in differences, not in similarities."   This makes sense.  After all, what can we learn from someone who has the same views, upbringing and experiences as we do?  It may feel more comfortable to have a colleague confirm our decisions, but it doesn’t make that decision better.   Well-considered decisions are those that have been scrutinised from many perspectives.  Understanding what repercussions our decisions might have requires enquiry from every angle.

Start by inviting each person’s freshest thinking in meetings.  One of the ways to do so is to understand in advance what contribution you want from the team and set the agenda for the meeting with this in mind.  What is it that you want the team to accomplish?  Is it to come up with a new strategy?  To discuss the pipeline? To consider the financial results of the team to-date?  Whatever the aim, when setting the agenda, a team leader should ensure it is clear from the agenda what that objective is.

Also, set the agenda in the form of questions.  Framing each agenda item as a question will instantly engage the brain of each participant and signal the message that, not only are they requested to attend but they are also expected to discuss the questions at the meeting.

Inviting each team member to participate as a thinker and contributor will help overcome the customary meetings in which 70% of the talking is done by 30% of the participants, and help set the tone for inclusive meetings and culture.

  1. Learn to Listen

Ben Simonton, the author of Leading People to be Highly Motivated and Committed said: “Listening is absolutely critical to creating a work environment in which employees will decide on their own to become highly motivated, committed, fully-engaged, and in that kind of condition they’re going to literally love to come to work.”

Listening is about becoming a thinking partner.  A good listener conveys trust and commitment, and shows others that they care about them.  It’s only when we properly listen to individuals that we can tap into what’s driving them and their behaviours.   It’s also when we start noticing things about them that aren’t obvious, like their preferences, fears, external motivators.  Listening enables us to tap into what’s going on beneath the surface and bring out insights that we generally cannot expect to hear or see.

Although it sounds simple, genuine (active) listening takes practice.  Most of us aren’t great listeners – or at least didn’t start out that way.  The good news is that active listening is as much a skill as learning a language, a song or a dance routine.  The more you practice it, the better you get at it – and it’s an absolutely vital skill for any good leader.

  1. Switch on your Unconscious Bias Radar

Let’s face it:  we are all guilty of unconscious bias!  You knew that, right?  And while there is an enormous amount of Unconscious Bias training going on, the first thing we need to understand and accept is that it is perfectly natural and is in fact our brain’s way of protecting us.

Unconscious bias is the brain’s way to group similar facts and experiences and arrive at quick judgments without having to analyse afresh each factual scenario.  It is, in fact, part of learning.  For example:  if, as a child, you are bitten by a dog, chances are you will be avoiding dogs at all costs because your brain will surmise that all dogs bite and remember that you didn’t like that experience.  That’s unconscious bias at work.

Of course, most people who may have had a bad dog experience as children grow out of being afraid of them and in fact learn to love them.  So the good news is that we are able to teach our brain to discern between those dogs that may bite and those that won’t.  In other words, we have taught our brain to challenge our unconscious bias and, as a result, have reaped the benefits of having a loving and loyal pet and friend.

But how do we make that transition from being afraid of dogs who bite to loving them?

This is where the Unconscious Bias Radar comes in handy.  In the example above, it was probably a friend or a parent who helped us switch on our Unconscious Bias Radar.  And we learned to challenge our brain’s rash judgment that all dogs will bite.

When it comes to unconscious bias at work, however, it isn’t quite as simple.  Most of the time, we are unaware of our biases; we don’t tend to know when we judge others unconsciously.  So we must make a conscious effort to switch on our Unconscious Bias Radar and challenge our judgments in those situations when they are not welcome.

So next time you’re discounting someone because they’re dressed differently, ask yourself, does that matter? And if so, how?

Next time you assume that a woman with young children will not be interested in taking up a secondment overseas, ask yourself, am I judging her by my own standards or is there any objective evidence that helped me come to that conclusion?

Next time you meet a man who prefers to spend time with his family rather then hold a lofty corporate title, and you think something is wrong with that, ask yourself, what precisely is wrong with that?

Challenging our own judgment is the first step to overcoming unhelpful unconscious bias.  Switching on our Unconscious Bias Radar will ensure that we utilise our brains’ filters in the most effective way and reap the benefits of our diversity.

Want to learn more about how to create inclusive cultures?  Give me a call and see how we can support you.

And don’t forget to come to our Inclusion Conference: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Contributions on 21 June 2017.  Featuring speakers who are walking the walk, you will meet role models, be inspired by those who have found strength to share their hidden talents and learn how to encourage and nurture extraordinary contributions from colleagues and team members.  Meet the law firm partner who founded Inspiring Women – a mentoring charity with 20,000 female mentors.  Meet the athlete who, having reached the top of her own ambition, is now helping other retired athletes to integrate into ordinary life.  Meet the man who calls himself a feminist and who –as a senior management consultant partner - is using his influence to help professional women get ahead.  You will also meet some extraordinary charities – run by ordinary people – who are changing the world, one person at a time.   Join our speakers, charities and delegates, all of whom are creating and nurturing inclusive corporate cultures.

 

The top 3 trademarks of an Inclusive Leader

At Voice At The Table, we know that companies with inclusive cultures benefit from the diversity of their workforce.  We also know that a more diverse workforce achieves greater business success.  A key driver of business success, therefore, is having an inclusive culture.

In our view, an inclusive culture is an environment in which every individual feels welcomed and valued.  It is the ideal setting in which to cultivate engagement,  tap into authentic contribution, breed accountability and independent thinking and encourage learning and development.  It is within this type of culture that the benefits of diversity can be fully harnessed and lead to the discovery of new markets and products, introduce innovation in processes across the entire business, attract and retain the talent of the future and develop a distinguished and sustainable competitive edge.  In other words, inclusive cultures encourage diversity of thought and directly contribute to the growth of the business.

In order to create an inclusive environment that leads to the benefits described above, we first need to ‘create’ inclusive leaders that make inclusive cultures within their own teams a reality.

So what are the key ingredients of a leader who values the contribution of each team member, knows how to motivate them, and makes them feel welcome?

Here are our top 3 trademarks of an Inclusive Leader:

  1. Empathy

Empathy is described as the ability to understand another’s feelings as though they were your own.  In other words, it’s the ability to put yourself in the shoes of another.

An empathetic person doesn’t just have the benefit of understanding why others say and do things, he or she will always strive to understand another, especially when their behaviour or statements aren’t obvious.  This is a key attribute for inclusive leadership because understanding the team members’ motivation, background, preferences and behaviour traits allows the team leader to utilise team members to the best of their abilities.  In doing so, the inclusive leader will not only benefit from each member’s strengths, he or she will have the benefit of engaging team members by appealing to their preferences.

Empathetic leaders will also gain the team’s trust by being able to relate to the team and by understanding how to develop and mentor them.

  1. Listening Skills

Listening has been described is one of the most important skills of great leadership.  In an excellent article for Forbes magazine, Mike Myatt expresses as follows what we hold to be true:

Great leaders are great listeners, and therefore my message today is a simple one - talk less and listen more. The best leaders are proactive, strategic, and intuitive listeners. They recognize knowledge and wisdom are not gained by talking, but by listening… The best leaders possess the uncanny ability to understand what is not said, witnessed, or heard. … astute leaders know there is far more to be gained by surrendering the floor than by dominating it…. In this age of instant communication everyone seems to be in such a rush to communicate what’s on their mind, they fail to realize the value of everything that can be gleaned from the minds of others.

Read the rest of the article here.

In her book Are you listening or just waiting to speak? my good friend, coach and advisor Jane Adshead-Grant points out that hearing and listening are two very different processes.  Hearing what’s being said doesn’t necessarily make a connection with the other person, whereas when one listens, the listener has committed his or her perception to what’s going on with the listener beyond what’s being said.  This is called ‘active listening’ and requires the use of all senses.

In the context of building inclusive cultures, listening is critical.  A leader who listens creates trust and commitment, and shows team members that he or she cares about them. A leader who is an active listener will also read between the lines and hear what’s not being said – a crucial skill for anyone who seeks to influence, motivate and galvanise people into action.

  1. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness can be described as the ability to understand who you are, to have a clear perception of your personality - your strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions. Being self-aware allows a better understanding of others, how they perceive you, your attitude and your responses to them in the moment.

Becoming self-aware is the first crucial step to developing emotional intelligence, and emotionally intelligent people are not only successful in their own right, they are excellent communicators, leaders, thought leaders and philosophers.  Becoming self-aware allows a person to take charge of their emotions and thoughts and change them.

Self-aware leaders will naturally be more inclusive leaders.  They will be more aware of their innate biases, be more inclined to question their actions, thoughts and feelings, and allow diversity of thought to thrive.  Being self-aware also makes it easier to retain newly-developed skills, such as listening, empathy and others, in times of turbulence or high stress.  It’s during those difficult times that our leadership styles, personalities and preferences are tested and tend to revert to a more ingrained foundation.  Emotional Intelligence can help navigate those tricky waters and sustain a more calm and rational approach.  This, in turn, helps us to remain healthy, balanced and in control of our own emotions.  Naturally, in the context of inclusive leadership, being self-aware and emotionally intelligent helps sustain the trust that we have worked to instil and lead the team calmly through periods of uncertainty, change and challenge.

So, in our view, an inclusive leader will be a master of many more leadership skills and traits, but the above 3 are the cornerstones of any leader who wants to create a culture that benefits from the valuable contribution of each person in his or her team.  At Voice At The Table we understand not only the significance of this culture for the success and growth of a business, but we are also equipped to help leaders and their teams to attain an inclusive environment in which every person thrives and, as a result, delivers their best.

If you’d like to learn more about how we do this, please email us.

Leveraging Diversity as a Business Opportunity: Capturing the Creativity of Each Individual Team Member.

eggs-in-blue-bowl-1623490The case for the benefits of a diverse corporate culture is well made.  Report after report, measure after measure prove to us that (1) the financial benefits of balanced company boards cannot be underestimated (2) the case for what is often referred to as ‘feminine leadership’ is becoming incontestable, and (3) talk of business survival in the future appears to hinge on that business’ ability to adapt to a more flexible, more collaborative style of management. [1]

So if your company is considering diversity for the sake of diversity, for the sake of appearances or for the sake of complying with client demands, it is missing a trick!  Embracing diversity – the traits which we refer to as 21st century leadership – must become central to any leadership strategy of a company that wants to continue to thrive in the future.

But where do you start?

In my last post, I talked about mirroring the client’s team composition in your own.  This post is about getting the most out of each individual team member, thereby making the most out of the diverse pool of talent that populates our teams.

Stephen Covey famously said "Strength lies in differences, not in similarities."   This makes sense.  After all, what can we learn from someone who has the same views, upbringing and experiences as we do?  Not much!  It may feel more comfortable to have a colleague confirm our decisions, but it doesn’t make that decision better.   Well-considered decisions are those that have been scrutinised from as many perspectives as possible.  Understanding what the repercussions of our decisions might have (like Brexit) requires scrutiny from every angle.   And that can only be achieved if we allow each person to contribute fully and authentically.

Team leaders who understand the strength of diversity recruit diverse teams; teams that are represented by different experiences, personalities, preferences and traits.  It’s only then that a team leader may be able to hope to deliver the most effective and impactful team.

But how does one bring out the contribution of each team member?  After all, a diverse team also means that each person will have a different preference in the way they contribute, participate and respond!  And in a typical meeting, 70% of contribution at a meeting comes from 30% of contributors.

There are a number of strategies that team leaders can employ to change this dynamic. As a starting point, the team leader’s role should be to set up the meeting in advance in such a way that everyone knows they are expected and welcome to contribute.  Meetings should not be about sharing unilateral information; any information that needs to be shared with the team by their leader should be sent in advance or shared in a way that does not require face-to-face interaction.  Meetings are the team leader's opportunity to benefit from the team’s thinking and should therefore be set up to motivate team members to deliver their best thinking.

One way to do so is to understand in advance what contribution you want from the team and set the agenda for the meeting with this in mind.  What is it that you want the team to accomplish?  Is it to come up with a new strategy?  To discuss the pipeline? To consider the financial results of the team to-date?  Whatever the aim, when setting the agenda, a team leader should ensure it is clear from the agenda what that objective of the meeting is.

We also know that our brains think best in the presence of a question.  Therefore, the best way to set up an agenda is to turn each agenda item into a question.  Item One, for example, might be: “Minutes from last meeting:  How can we ensure that all residual actions are completed?”. Item Two might be: “Strategic Direction:  How does your role fit into the bigger strategy of the company?”.  And so on.

This way, each participant understands that not only are they requested to attend but they are also expected to answer the questions on the agenda in the form of a discussion.

Once you have introduced the agenda in the form of questions, the meeting itself will run very differently, with most members standing ready to contribute.  There are a number of other meeting applications that will ensure the questions are then fully addressed and discussed by each member, which I will share with you in a future publication.  If you can’t wait, do get in touch with us so that we can help you transform your meetings into effective business solutions.

Leverage Diversity as a Business Opportunity: Reflecting your client’s composition in your teams

team-ii-1238320Talk of the benefits of diversity is everywhere.  Gender in particular.  So much so that people are starting to look at it cynically.  Yet the benefits of getting more women (and other minorities) appropriately represented within each layer of the organisation are profound.  Report after report, measure after measure prove to us that (1) the financial benefits of balanced company boards cannot be underestimated (2) the case for what is often referred to as ‘feminine leadership’ is becoming incontestable, and (3) talk of business survival in the future appears to hinge on that business’ ability to adapt to a more flexible, more collaborative style of management. [1]

So if your company is considering diversity for the sake of diversity, for the sake of appearances or for the sake of complying with client demands, it is missing a trick!  There is really no if’s or but’s about it:  embracing gender diversity – the traits which we refer to as 21st century leadership – must become central to any leadership strategy of a company that wants to continue to thrive in the future.

But where do you start?

One thing you could do is look at your clients and mirror them.

Easy, right? After all, we all know what our clients look like, what they like, how they assess transactions, where there pressure points are.  We also know what their teams look like, the composition of their decision-making bodies, and those who are likely to make the deciding call on any new deal.

Yet increasingly so, clients are starting to challenge service providers to show them that our services will heed relevant diversity requirements:  a certain percentage of women on the team delivering the services, a certain number of other minorities represented in the business.  We’ve encountered a number of businesses whose pitches for new business didn’t succeed because they couldn’t evidence the requisite diversity required by the client.

If your company has been in this situation before, the best way to ensure it doesn’t happen again is to understand clearly the composition of the client’s teams – not only today but their aspirations for that composition tomorrow.  Many clients will have targets that they will want to meet reflecting certain percentages on their teams and on their promotion lists.  Find out what they are and reflect them in your own business.  You may not get there tomorrow but you will have taken the first step to show the client that you are as serious about diversity as they are; that you’re not just assembling a team to meet their requirements but are genuinely interested in reflecting the client’s own attempts to become more diverse.  They will thank you for it in many different ways, one of which might very well be that new deal.

Voice At The Table are a boutique gender diversity consultancy.  We work with professional women to build confidence, resilience and initiative.  We also work with companies to make them more inclusive.  In this way, we aim to build and sustain your female talent pipeline.

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