Still Need A 'Business Case For Diversity?' Wake Up
Feeling the need to make a “business case for diversity” in the way that many have been doing for years is outdated, and has been for some time. For all our businesses to deal with the most urgent challenges they currently face - a long awaited wake-up call on the dangers of climate change as well as the implications of technological innovation- they need appropriate skills in setting strategic direction.
In acknowledging that as fact, UK business would be better placed to view diversity in all its senses to be a must-have, rather than a sop to regulation and external thinking on best practice in corporate governance.
When it comes to gender diversity, the focus shouldn’t be on the women by gender, but genuinely on differing perspective.
Much has been made in the UK, for example, of the fact that women don’t progress in the corporate world because they take time out to be mothers. So, alongside the repeating of demands for affordable childcare, the focus has turned to flexible working, and business support. But the corporate attitude to the contribution of motherhood (or hands-on fatherhood) to the valued set of skills of any human being remains largely derisory. It seems to me that is a big mistake.
Any successful parent - whether a natural one or a foster one - has had to learn or hone their skills around empathy on the job. And empathy is what we are increasingly valuing as we turn to the possibilities of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation replacing our most repetitive and soul-destroying jobs. With any luck, much of what is done by the so-called ‘gig economy’ today will be replaced by automation before too many human beings feel like robots.
The best ethical choices are made with empathy. As I argued in my last post here on Board Talk, it might, for that reason be time to look again at the assumption “that ethics trickles down, better corporate governance filters downwards, leaders set goals and engaged employees aim for them, directed by company ‘strategy and vision’.” I was suggesting we could use technology better, via apps allowing the anonymous contribution of employees to best practice in, for example, the supply chain.
Opening up businesses to thinking differently about some of the skills they need would inevitably make a big difference to diversity in hiring. Just as the blog post on ethics suggested that it’s time to redress the balance on where the leadership comes from, it is also time first to fix the imbalance of power caused by gender inequality, where gender has been defined as it has historically been.
An interesting development on the political landscape in the UK, supported across gender, demonstrates that we are getting there in understanding the importance of compassion. As The Guardian reported earlier this month detailing a new political initiative : “New laws should be checked against a “compassion threshold”, to ensure they will not harm future generations or the most vulnerable in society, a cross-party group of MPs will argue this week. The Green MP, Caroline Lucas, the former Conservative sports minister Tracey Crouch, and the Labour MP Thangam Debonnaire are among those backing the idea that compassion should play a greater role in decision-making at Westminster.”
In case you did not notice, all three MPs mentioned there happen to be women.
I posted that Guardian piece on a social media platform to help spread the word,and there was a (male) comment to say that it was ‘“impractical.” I am really not sure why that would be the case. There is nothing impractical about compassion. It is implicit in many of our ethical decisions, and implicit in every single decision on publlc policy.
If ‘compassion’ is too ‘touchy-feely’ for the British establishment to handle, one could always think of it in terms of a phrase deep in the governance and rule books: ‘duty of care.’
The point is that we need to remind ourselves of two points : on ‘normality’ and also on ‘power.’ The definition of ‘Normality’ is dictated by convention. As such, it reinforces itself if you do not challenge it. Power is defined by the OED as ‘the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behaviour of others or the course of events.’
But that is not true, is it ? Power cannot be achieved unless you are placed in a position to direct or influence behaviour, and it is not just about having the capacity to do so.
Greta Thunberg, a young Swedish girl, spoke to the world, and also to the UK Parliament and is being listened to on what is now being recognised as the urgent issue of climate change. She took power - it was not handed to her. In doing so, she has highlighted the importance of looking at individuals across a traditional spectrum of human skills, to include those with autism.
It is wonderful that she has done that. But I fear that the focus on her Asperger’s in the media will have the inevitable effect of detracting attention from the fact that she is also a young girl who is committed, compassionate, brave, outspoken and willing to claim power. We need more of those for engagement in politics and business, and for more of that change to happen.
So I am looking forward to this alumni event soon, at Somerville College, Oxford. The banner headline question might seem a bit dated. I am hoping that the responses will also help us to think about the need to claim power together across gender differences, but with shared values.
Because that would then mean we were using gender and other differences well, for a better working world.
Cover Image credit: Mayur Gala on Unsplash
A cheat later add-on: (via Linkedin)