Bring your whole self to work
By seeking greater input from diverse voices, we make our profession that much stronger, says Catherine Burnet CA
Diversity is often regarded as a politically correct distraction, an issue of morality and social justice, but not of performance and innovation. It is often debated in vague terms, people talking past each other. Our conception of diversity is not just incomplete but radically defective.”
Those are the words of Matthew Syed, author of Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking. By examining case studies, management theory, and the latest research, Syed advances a “science of diversity” to help explain why a wide range of thought and demographics helps teams to innovate and reach new heights.
I picked up a copy of Syed’s book at the beginning of lockdown and it has served as a powerful, evidence-based reminder of why diversity and inclusion are so important in business. Diverse teams approach problems more creatively, find more efficient solutions, and improve the overall productivity of businesses and organisations. The message is simple: if you are neglecting diversity, you are neglecting your business.
Catherine Burnet CA on Black History Month
Realising the benefits of diversity is not as simple as ticking boxes and meeting quotas. Although such measures can help to kickstart change when building from scratch, employees must feel like they are truly part of the business, whatever their gender or socioeconomic or cultural background. It brings us to a word so often associated with diversity – inclusion.
In business circles, we often speak about the benefits of “bringing your whole self to work”. It is admittedly easier said than done, and we certainly can’t expect professionals to offer authenticity and perform their best if workplaces appear uninviting. Diversity becomes inclusion, and people’s potential is unlocked, when it is embedded in businesses and becomes part of everyday thinking.
Diversity is something I have always been conscious of. Entering the profession more than 20 years ago, female faces in senior roles were much rarer than today. Some sectors, including financial services where I spent my early career, did not always communicate that they offer varied and rewarding career paths to people of different backgrounds. Have we missed out on recruiting some of the most talented minds of recent generations as a result?
Nowadays, the subject has risen to the top of the corporate agenda and we have made significant progress in righting this wrong. By better reflecting the varied backgrounds and beliefs found in society, and creating more opportunities for these different voices to be heard in the workplace, organisations have unquestionably changed for the better.
One initiative I have found particularly effective, which is also promoted by Syed, is the creation of a “shadow board”. As he puts it: “These consist of young people who advise executives on key decisions and strategies, thus lifting the conceptual blinkers that can attach to age. After all, each of us grew up at a particular time, and absorbed a particular cultural and intellectual paradigm. It influences the way we think in so many ways that we can become unconscious of it.”
The shadow board at KPMG in Scotland consists of around 20 graduates and managers who work with leadership to bring new, different and often challenging ideas that help develop our strategy. It’s similar to the thinking behind reverse mentoring programmes. By recognising our own limitations and inviting different voices to the table, we make stronger decisions. Leaders should not fear debate – it’s a healthy and constructive part of any process.
The Guthrie Group, which was established in December 2019 to promote equality, diversity and inclusion at ICAS and across the profession more generally, made a call for new members to join in June 2020. We were pleased to receive responses from over 30 volunteers and began recruitment for a new group chair. The new chair will be appointed at the end of September and members can continue to get involved with the group’s initiatives by logging in to CA Connect.