Archives for the month of: September, 2016

We have thought long and hard about the challenges involved in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. It is not an easy ‘fix’ – if it was, businesses would have succeeded by now.

These are what we see as the key challenges:

We are operating from a place of unconscious incompetence
We literally don’t know that there is another way. What we see happening around us is what we know, and it is difficult to grasp an alternative way of doing things, let alone the benefits that might bring. Despite strong research (research done by McKinsey), the business case remains largely intuitive and conceptual.

The human brain wants to fit in
The human brain is wired for survival – meaning that it likes certainty and to feel like it fits in. Growing up, we learn that compliance makes us safe and that belonging feels good. The shift to a diverse and inclusive workplace is going to require vulnerability, swimming against the tide and a comfort in being around people that are ‘not like us’. The other side of this coin is that those who don’t feel like they ‘fit in’ experience imposter syndrome and operate from a place of ‘not enough’ – meaning they often play small. We can help people recognise and move beyond their imposter syndrome, at the same time creating cultures which are less likely to give rise to this phenomenon.

Unconscious bias
The human brain is also wired to categorise and to stereotype. It is a universal human trait that helps us to make sense of the world. Unfortunately, that skill comes with a less useful by-product – that of unconscious bias. We, unconsciously, hold stereotypes about groups of people that may make it harder for those groups to succeed in the workplace. We may also internalise stereotypes about the groups to which we ourselves belong.

Fear of conflict
Most people have an aversion to conflict and certainly would prefer to be surrounded by people who agree, rather than disagree, with them.  Getting a more diverse range of opinions in the room is going to mean greater disagreement. Period. We need to show people that conflict doesn’t need to be feared, that it can be a place of personal growth and give them the tools and skills to have difficult, challenging conversations.

The ability and knowledge of how to build diverse and inclusive teams
We like to be right, and the current leadership model, whilst shifting, is still in the ‘all knowing leader’ paradigm. Often, we don’t have the resilience to align rather than agree and we are not aware of our greater role in the system. Asking for help is seen as a weakness, whereas it could in fact mean listening to other people’s valid, different and possibly more useful opinions. Diverse teams need a skilled leader to harness them otherwise homogeneity is probably preferable. Such leaders let go of ‘coerce and control’, understand our interconnectedness and know how to align teams on a common purpose. It is a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world and team leaders need support in being able to deal with that, when they have been taught to look for certainty.

We are too busy
This is a two-fold challenge. Often teams feel like the D&I agenda is going to be resource intensive within teams that are already stretched to breaking point, (we would argue that it requires shifting your ‘being’ rather than a series of time intensive initiatives and that operating from the current place is more time ineffective). Alongside this, when we are operating at full pelt, we neglect to access our intuition and we ignore our emotional needs. We need to listen to both to move forwards – as individuals and as teams. When systems ignore their pain, it is stressful and this makes us less socially intelligent, empathic and creative. We are functioning from our limbic brain, we waste human capital and stress shuts down our neural pathways.

We value certain ways of thinking
Culturally, we value the left brain over the right brain. We value reason, judgement, cause and effect… and yet what could be possible if we valued feelings, relationships, intuition and creativity? Some experience shame at being ‘differently brained’, again dampening their productivity.

We have developed a suite of products to support businesses in creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace. 
DOWNLOAD OUR D&I TOOLKIT
Love Rox

There was a certain irony in seeing the headline that ‘more than a third of teenage girls suffer depression and anxiety’ on the same front page as updated data on the gender pay gap (in short – there still is one; https://www.theguardian.com/money/2016/aug/23/gender-pay-gap-average-18-per-cent-less-uk-women).

(I wonder what it must be like to read the continual coverage about the pay gap, the casual sexism of the Olympic commentators, the constant trolling and victim blaming as an 18 year old girl?  Pretty bloody depressing, I’d say.)

I read the pay gap coverage with an eye roll. Here we are again. At first I couldn’t even be bothered to comment on it. Creating systemic change in this arena is complex, painfully slow and full of people missing the point entirely.

Rather than add to the complexity, I’m going to focus on one thing I think the advertising industry could change to make a difference in this area – flexible working. The biggest challenge, in my view, is that the advertising industry finds it hard to create an upwards career trajectory for those choosing not to work 38+ hours a week. And, typically it is mothers who are requesting to work in a different way – albeit we are seeing increasing numbers of men adopt this work pattern.

  1. Flexible working needs to stop being seen as a women’s issue. I argued in The Guardian last Autumn that as soon as flexible working is seen as a people issue and a way of recruiting and retaining the best talent, it will start to get taken more seriously.
  1. We need to take risks. Of course we don’t know if two people doing a job share is going to work – but we’re never going to know unless we give it a shot. Too often, people take the tried and tested route and miss the chance to discover something amazing.
  1. We need to make it easier for recruiting managers to take a creative approach. Added to this, sign off systems can make it harder to get approval for a more creative solution. I understand why a manager would choose a full timer over a 4 day a week account exec if those were the only options available to them because of head count restrictions! But what if they were able to choose between a full timer OR a three day account exec and a three day assistant? Companies need to make it possible for the recruiting manager to make these solutions possible.
  1. We need to stop hiding behind our clients. Our clients work more flexibly than us (largely) and I don’t buy into most of the arguments that clients won’t allow it. I think that’s hiding behind a convenient excuse.
  1. We need to stand up to our clients. If there are clients out there insisting on full time Account Directors, (and I know there are a handful), we need to stand up to them and explain that flexibility may be required if they want the best person for the job. Use it as a chance to get out of that subservient client / agency relationship whilst you’re at it.
  1. We need to stop using people working flexibly as a way of saving money. Yes, I know you do it. The Account Director that only wants to work 4 days a week gives you a 20% overhead saving. Just no.  That’s setting that AD up for failure and her team up for overload. Invest in getting the right back up resource and you might just see everyone thrive.

With the technology and cross border reality of 21st century work, it is astonishing to me that we are so wedded to 20th century work practices. It’s time that an industry that prides itself on being current, caught up with the times.

Rox