In our network, we count 9 wemen (out of 35), 1 Algerian, 4 Americans, 1 Australian, 3 Belgians, 5 Brazilians, 7 British, 3 Canadians, 1 Congolese, 1 Dutch, 9 French, 1 German, 1 Lebanese, 1 Swede, 3 Swiss (yes it counts more than 35 as we have double nationals) and we are based in Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Honk-Kong, Malaysia, Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States. We have heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual partners, some of us are married, single, divorced, remarried or live with their beloved ones. One runs almost a full zoo at home. We have academics, actors, artists, business graduates, engineers, medical doctors, models, psychoanalysts, psychologists and therapists. The youngest must be 33 and the oldest in their mid 60’s. Does that make the Enablers Network a diverse organization? NO!!!
Diversity in business can be apprehended in three ways:
- Denied/rejected: It is a statistical fact of life: “Let us ignore it!”
- Neutralized: Tolerance driven and politically correct: “Let us tick the boxes and be good corporate citizens”
- Embraced: A formidable source of conflict, irritation, doubt, sometimes apparent inefficiency but an extraordinary field of creativity, energy, experience and joy: “It is irritating and difficult and let us enjoy it”
Unfortunately, crisis of all sorts raise the barriers of exclusion and protection. And we see it in politics (the rise of exclusionists and isolationists parties) or in trade (protectionism).
Lynda Gratton, a Professor of London Business School, coined the terms of Bonding (let us regroup against a common enemy) vs Bridging (let us open-up and seek to connect with others).
A friend mentioned to me the visit his team recently was paid by some of my favourite victims (a high flying household name consultancy). They were coming to check his “Diversity policies”. And, of course they had thought of the symbolism: 2 wemen and 2 men, all the colours of the rainbow were represented and came from all over the world. They opened their laptop and started to download tons of useless data about diversity… “The problem, he said to me, is that they were all dressed the same, in grave diggers black suits, with ties from the same brand, with the same language and jargon. They were all moulded the same. They inspired anything you liked but not diversity!”
And that is exactly the point!!!
Diversity is not just about race, gender and location as this consultancy seems to think. They can be proxys or a place to start from. But, before anything else, Diversity is a state of mind, a Value, and a set of Behaviours!
I am frustrated, as the Managing Partner of the Enablers Network, because we grew too accustomed to each other (at least the “core team” of us). Like in those great sports team, we expect each other’s reactions, we care for each other, there is a strong shared behavioural style and set of beliefs about what Leadership Development is about! And that is great. But, little by little, we (and I am the first one) drifted into becoming an exclusion machine. Our uncompromising attitude with competence and professionalism also starts to fossilize into impatience and rejection of anyone that wouldn’t be able to perform at our (high) level of expectation, forgetting that it took me years to get to where I am and many more years to continue to where I’d like to be. Our jokes and humour drifted into “Men Club sexism”, ignoring that we may deeply offend, even unintentionally, ladies, or others in the team. Our stories refer to past situations, forgetting that new comers haven’t necessarily lived those “glorious moments”!
My team has never been as good as it is now. I honestly consider that, on many themes, I am miles behind those I once used to advise. I now see some of my partners at the top of their game, and it is a humbling and rewarding feeling. However, the Enablers Network may not last if it does not embrace Diversity!
Embracing diversity is not tolerating it. It is:
- Looking for diverging opinions
- Selecting different characters
- Having open, constructive and respectful conversations about what surprises us in the other
- Encouraging constructive and reinforcement feedback
- And before anything else, maintain a High Challenge and High Support leadership stand and culture
When I took my MBA at IMD, one of our Leadership Professors kept on mentioning a study nicknamed: “The Paradox of Friendship”. In it, Bell Labs had apparently discovered that the creativity and capacity to innovate of their project teams drastically dropped 12 to 16 months after they had been assembled. The sociologists and anthropologists that the management had invited to understand what was going on, found out one mechanism: People had grown too comfortable with each other. They would always sit at the same place, relationships had become a routine, conflicts were neutralized and people were spending more time trying to get along rather than challenge and support each other. The recommendation of the experts was to introduce (and strongly protect!) an “agent provocateur” in the team who would rock the boat, ask smart questions and let the team find back its edge and high performance level.
This is why we need Diversity in our teams and organizations and it has very little to do with politically correct. This being said, my companion is an African born, woman, financial controller and ESTJ. If anyone knows the consultants I mention above, please ask them if I ticked all the boxes.