Diversity: If You Want Different Results, Set Realistic Expectations

fdu’s guest blogger, Julia Warrack talks about the importance diversity in today’s corporate world. Julia is an inspiring Interim CIO, highly experienced business leader and entrepreneur with a proven track record across a range of industry sectors, including Financial Services (both Investment and Retail Banking), FMCG, Hospitality, Manufacturing and the Public Sector.

Tackling diversity is never going to be solved with a single action plan and a tick sheet which is often the place where most insurgencies on this topic begin, but they can prove to be catalysts. Tackling diversity requires systemically different norms to be established within the culture of an organisation.  It almost certainly will end up a generational play for organisations to truly appreciate the value a diverse employee base can bring, gaining greater momentum as the Millennials and those following, who have learned about equality and the value of diversity from birth, surge forward into leadership roles in the coming years.

That said, we should not throw our hands up in despair and say ‘Well, that’s that then!’ and carry on ignorant of the topic as many corporations have and continue to be.  A movement has started and is gaining increasing momentum which suggests there really is something in the theory that a diverse workforce is happier, more productive and more creative and can create real advantage equally for employees, employers and customers.

The first movers need now to be ready to offer support and encouragement for those who are considering taking their first dip in these treacherous and intimidating waters (and not throw stones), for in truth internal criticism will follow – the diversity needle will move with insufficient pace and corporate exhaustion and apathy will abound.  Breakthroughs happen all the time but in reality some hard yards need to be made first as the foundations are laid, so setting realistic expectations is a must. Nothing will change overnight but if we don’t start, nothing will change … ever!

I have, for a long time, subscribed to the belief that an individual can act their way to becoming a good leader. Practice after all makes perfect.  Any musician or athlete can attest that muscle memory built from repeated practice can deliver game changing performance. If we transfer this idea into the corporate world, surely a company can act their way into creating a diverse culture, so its just a matter of taking the first step and practicing thereafter to normalise.

Much as I have historically railed against quotas and targets, I imagine that is what pioneering companies who went down this route over the last few years were really pinning their hopes on – that they were, in essence, building the muscle and helping the organisation to learn, whilst waiting for the game changer ideas to arrive down the line as the impact of their increasingly diverse workforce shaped the future conversation. The same can be applied for the continual dominance of programmatic rollout of unconscious bias training and the numerous focus groups or D&I initiatives favoured in the corporate world. They all serve to build the muscle and open the door for breakthrough thinking down the line.  Don’t be shy – give them a go – they really can help you act your way into a creating diverse culture.

The single greatest thing companies can do today is to start on their journey, to celebrate diversity and practice, practice, practice, knowing they will falter and there is unlikely to be an instantly gratifying result but to be confident they are paving the way and gaining momentum as they progress.  Changing organisational expectations will free an organisation to try many of the techniques the early revolutionists introduced, the output of which will automatically be the creation of a more mindfully diverse organisation.

So go on then – who thought I was talking about gender diversity?  That’s your unconscious bias right there!