It is incredible to have been named on the Financial Time Top 100 Most Influential BAME Leaders BUT it is significantly more humbling to think that only 100 were selected out of the millions individuals who could be considered BAME!
Yet, whilst I feel honoured to be in the company of some of the most accomplished individuals across all sectors; and whilst I feel absolutely overwhelmed by the goodwill and support thus far received, I am under no illusion of the significant amount of work that lies ahead - if we are ever to get to live in a world where minorities are sufficiently inspired to reach their full potential and a world where minorities are recognised on such a scale that could make minority awards effectively redundant.
I believe that it IS possible and that we can ALL play a role!
The conundrum - where we are
- Organisations: too many, whilst keen to act, still struggle to find the right approach to make a real and tangible impact
- People: too many caught between understandable anger and the inability to find the most appropriate tools to break the cycle
- Media: caught between creating momentum and leveraging the hype - sometimes accused of creating even more friction than status quo already presents
Lessons from my past - where we were
We are too often confronted by what seems to most an impossible conundrum:
how can change ever be effected when those who have the power haven't got the need whilst those who have the need haven't got the power?
Asked the question at a recent debate, I drew on an analogy from one of my past experiences.
- Team: perceived to be disjointed, dysfunctional and underperforming - also considered lacking in cohesion and low in integrity, with hard questions around underpinning values and value contributions to the broader organisation
- Culture: disconnected silos - with extreme clashes of cultures and ways of working
Radical transforming into a single cohesive, effective and efficient team – delivering across the entire and newly formed organisation - breaking down silos and resolving any implications of extreme cultural differences.
- Take the easy route and manage old heads out: getting rid of old mindsets but getting rid of potentially valuable knowledge too
- Impose new ideology, structure and culture: as the new executive leadership team was broadly of a significantly different mindset from the incumbent organisation, an easy - yet perhaps counterproductive - option was to attempt to impose the new order
- Be bold and choose to be blind to diversity: instead focus on what is best, not only for the broader organisation but, for the individuals and for the collective; act notwithstanding diversity and historical culture; focus on capabilities and potential, irrespective of age, race, sex, nationality or other discriminatory categorisations; move beyond the destructiveness of "breaking down" to the constructiveness of "connecting" silos
Necks on the line - yet hope in the air
As soon as I was clear that the preferred option was to be the bold and to be blind to diversity, the barrage of comments, which undoubtedly were intended to be helpful, began in earnest:
"Are you sure you know what you are doing?", "She just seems the wrong calibre", "Are these old heads ever going to be able to adopt a new way of thinking?", "Are you not - effectively - setting yourself up for failure?".
Yet, in record time and by engaging in a substantial collaborative transformation (including restructuring, remodelling resource allocation and refining ways of working), the team not only measurably increased cohesion, efficiency and effectiveness, but also radically increased availability, integrity and pace.
The Irony of blindness
It might seem ironic but, turning a blind eye to diversity and instead focusing on the things that really mattered - such as the substantial capabilities and creativity of minds that lie under the facade - we inadvertently ended up with a much more diversity within leadership positions than was actually representative of the broader population!
Tangible & positive outcomes
Not only did individuals who were deeply engulfed in "us" and "them" blame games move beyond being colleagues to regarding each other as friends, but, friction hit rock bottom whilst empowerment hit the roof!
The net effect of this was the kind of creativity and progress only possible within an environment where trust is firmly established and crippling fear is confined to history books - with the rewards far outweighing every risk taken and every failure endured.
Some helpful steps we can ALL action to take advantage of our inherent diversity
- Awareness: of the existence of a scale between those in need and those in power - some refer to this scale as the scale of privilege
- Bias: spare a minute to take the “Harvard unconscious bias test” - it is free and it is totally anonymous
- Progress: take small steps towards addressing any biases you might find - especially as it all adds up, not only for you but also for your relationships and for the society more broadly
- Incentive: regardless of our positions on the scale between those in need and those in power, know that change is unlikely to be effected within incentive and the most likely progress happen when solutions present wins for all
- Intervention: share this post and/or share these thoughts (perhaps over coffee break conversations as we gradually emerge from the pandemic or via social media channels)
Whilst of black African decent, I personally very rarely perceive difference. This is true not just with regards to the complexion of others but is also the case with regards my own complexion or much broader background. Such is the effect of such counterintuitive "blindness" to diversity that when I look out from my perspective, I hardly ever actually see or reflect on my own skin colour.
So, what is the ultimate purpose of awards and recognitions such as these?
Is it to provide inspiration, to enhance self esteem, and to increase self confidence? Or should it be compelled to go even deeper: reaching far beneath the layers and into the fabric that underpins our fundamental values and forms personality?
If we manage to inspire, then that would be the ultimate reward!
We can all play a role!
If we improve opportunities for diversity and for inclusion, we inevitably improve the economy and provide better financial security for all. We know we cannot change this overnight, and it is clear that it will take a concerted effort to address the root causes.
Yes, we’re on a journey. And we can all play a part of making history, right now.
And we can all play a role!