How is diversity a mark of great leadership?

by | May 2, 2019 | The Inclusion

Written for The Inclusion by Patricia Hamzahee, Founder of Integriti Capital and Senior Advisor of The Good Economy.


Diversity is a mark of Leadership

Why are many more companies running to embrace Diversity and Inclusion beyond the token appointment of a few women and even fewer ethnic minorities to management positions?

Do the leaders of these companies see Diversity and Inclusion as an essential element to success, that a welcoming workplace culture that values Diversity and Inclusion promotes innovation, better decision-making and ultimately profitability? McKinsey & Co’s Diversity Matters research is part of a number of authoritative studies that has shown how diverse gender and racial composition in company leadership has a statistically significant influence on financial performance.

Or is it more likely they are driven by the threat of reputational damage, as Starbucks found to its cost last year when it decided to close its 8,000 U.S. coffee shops for racial bias training following the controversial calling the police for two Black men waiting in one of their stores.
In the UK, recent publication of the gender pay gap has put companies under an uncomfortable microscope. The Power of Colour Report from 2017 showed only 3.4% of the leadership of Britain’s leading private and public institutions were from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds and less than 1% of these were women. The more recent Race in the Workplace report highlighted 6 out of 10 FTSE100 boards have no minority presence.

Why then is progress on Diversity still so slow? Why are too many companies still uncertain about how to become truly Diverse and Inclusive? Why is it still possible for companies to cite ‘meritocracy’ as the reason large numbers of people don’t advance? Or why opening up to Diversity will ‘lower the bar’? How can you be an Equal Opportunity employer when you only recruit degree holders from Oxbridge or at most from Russell Group universities? Can anyone define what unconscious bias actually means? Will handing recruitment over to AI algorithms eliminate bias or will it just be programmed into the screening process?

The elephant in the room with all of these questions is that those in power, even those who have had mandatory Diversity training, rely on a superficial foundation of tolerance and acceptance. That (almost always) white men in charge of our companies do not recognise the inequities of the systems they operate. Even liberal ‘colour-blind’ executives are oblivious to the harm that is caused when they deny colour or gender (or both) is a major factor on how someone is treated in the face of evidence and experience.
How often are they asked if they are in the right place or are assumed to be a security guard or delivery person? What would they do if propositioned by an important client or asked to make the tea?

This is not ancient history. These are daily occurrences for many female and minority employees.

What can you do as a leader?

If you are a company leader who wants to be truly transformational, there are a few fundamental, existential changes that need to happen:

  • · Use your position of privilege and power to positively advocate for fairness and equal opportunity.
  • Have honest conversations about what it would take to shape the company culture to break down rather than protect barriers of privilege.
  • Be open to recruiting for ‘cultural add’ rather than just ‘cultural fit’.
  • Pay attention to who you recruit and put into leadership positions.

While Diversity training courses are an easy way to tick the corporate governance box, such training only slightly changes attitudes. While helpful, they don’t really change behaviour.

The most significant factor in changing behaviour is for the leadership to show how important Diversity and Inclusion is by putting it into practice themselves through their actions.

Patricia Keiko Hamzahee, FRSA

Founder, Integriti Capital

After some 20 years in investment banking and financial communications, Patricia now helps social enterprises attract private capital and advises companies on their responsible business strategies. She is a Trustee and chairs the Development Board of Black Cultural Archives as well as chairs Friends of International House New York UK. She is a Director of The Student View, an Associate Director of The Finance Foundation and Senior Advisor with The Good Economy social value consultancy. She is also a member of the BVCA’s Responsible Investment Advisory Committee, Women in Social Finance, Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation and Economic Research Council. Patricia received a BA in Political Science from the University of California and studied for an MA at Columbia University’s School of International Affairs and East Asian Institute. Speaking five languages, she has lived or worked in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, South America and the United States.

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