Achieving cultural diversity in the leadership tanks has been on the agenda for many organisations. The trouble is, despite working hard to add diversity to its leadership ranks, why are we seeing little change and movement?
There are three main reasons why diversity is too hard for some organisations:
- How can we even begin to quantify cultural diversity?
When we talk about cultural diversity, one of the first things that people would ask is if it is really measurable. Unlike gender where we can put an exact quota down for a 50/50 women/men in executive board, culture or race is not the same. We can’t say that by 2020, we want to have 25% Asians, 25% Middle-Eastern, 25% Caucasians, 25% Aboriginal in our executive boards. What about those of a mixed race? What about those who just don’t fit in one category? How are you even going to collect this data?
It is easy to put cultural diversity in the back of the agenda. In a world of big data, we want the numbers and the stats. We need to present ourselves as diverse society, which is why if it can’t be quantified, we’re tempted to drop it and focus on other measurable goals.
- We are uncomfortable with it and don’t like change
People are uncomfortable with change, which is why the “stereotypes” that we hold become our safe guards. Having a non-Caucasian CEO is different. Their physical appearance is different, their surname is different, and their accent is different. We have our doubts that because they are different, the decisions they make may not fit into our existing prototype of leaders we hold in our mind. Change is when we stretch out of our comfort zone, and familiarity is always a more preferred security.
Having that same old 50 something year old male Caucasian CEO becomes our prototype, and familiarity with his ways is what we often prefer to deal with as our comfort zone.
- History likes to repeat itself
How does one get elected to the executive board? The election process is often not transparent. Some believe that it is the connection that gets you to the upper echelons of the organisation. If your uncle was high school mates with the head of strategy, or perhaps dad was in the same rowing club as the CFO, those circle of connections will eventually trickle down to you and increase your ability through these ties. Although belonging to the ‘boys club’ may not always be the reason why someone is elected an executive, but like the first point, we are often accustomed to our own community circles. We choose to believe that our historical lineage is what keeps our management team homogenous. If my relatives or closest friends don’t have the connections, how is it possible for me to obtain the benefits of the trickle-down effect? Perhaps it’s better that I just be complacent and get on with my work. Someone will watch over.
If we continue with the above three mindsets, we eventually end up raising the white flag to give up on ourselves. We doubt the bold statement that “diversity starts with me”. How can one individual make an impact on changing the current homogenous stance of our leadership boards? Good news is, the power of individuals coming together for a common cause, can.
Conversations of diversity, and most importantly, inclusion is what can get us forward to break up the stereotypes and homogeneity in the upper echelons of leadership.
Of course, this is not to say that the aim is to eliminate all the middle aged white male executives in all our boards – because this is NOT what diversity and inclusion is about. It is about sharing the leadership with different individuals from different genders and racial backgrounds. We need to have leadership teams that is representative of the diversity in our multicultural community of Australia. Just like the Women’s Suffrage was overcome, cultural diversity in leadership is possible.
Now here’s three reasons why it can be achieved
- Fear of diversity = fear or creativity
Groupthink is a concept that has been done to death in Management 101. Here I am reinstating it because it is at the crux of why we need diverse leadership teams. If the people making the decisions at the top continue to be of the same background and same way of thinking, how is any innovation or creativity likely to come about? Start-ups in particular should have most diversity in order to be globally competitive.
- We are in a relationship based system
Leadership diversity does start from you. We need to be able to stretch out of our comfort zones and develop relationships with people who may not be similar to us. We need to recognise that indifference is not a bad thing. Through forming relationships with different people of different backgrounds, we can learn about ourselves. We come to an understanding of why there is a difference, and how we can implement solutions together so that we are not constricted within our comfortable group of like-minded individuals.
- You need to accept that we learn through failure
Diversity and inclusions plans don’t always succeed. In fact, most times it fails. It has taken a great many years for women to achieve gender equality, and yet we still see a lot of cases where gender diversity has not even crossed the minds of teams within organisations. We need to accept that we can only learn through our failures. Achieving diversity is hard, but it is not impossible. Evaluating the ways in which we have implemented the policies, and understanding other people affected by it, is a bold step we have to make to reconcile with what went wrong. Remembering that everyone has their own culture, and racial background, and that there is no right or wrong in belonging to one’s respective culture. Believing that there is no “prototype leader” is perhaps the start in order to erase our biases and limiting our potential to make our diverse community, translate into diversity in organisation’s leadership.
Achieving diversity is hard, but it is not impossible. Have you implemented a diversity plan in your organisation? Are you also experiencing the above challenges? Please share your thoughts with us on what worked well and what didn’t.
Kimberly is a full-time academic and part-time blogger in Sydney. Without succumbing too much to the Asian stereotype, she enjoys her quiet time alone over coffee, researching productivity hacks and planning her next travel itinerary. For Kimberly, exercise is a chore, but yoga an indulgence. A follower of the Oprah divinity, she hopes that the spark she has in her work, can one day be used as a light to illuminate the world.