Charlottesville Highlights Issues about Diversity and Leadership: A Business Guru Speaks Up

Posted by on August 23, 2017 in Green

acharlotteSEJJMerck’s CEO Kenneth Frazier, the only African-American business leader in the group of CEOs who were serving on a presidential advisory council, was the first to resign after Trump initially failed to explicitly denounce the far-right rally in Charlottesville, VA. His resignation highlights the lack of real diversity in the top ranks of executives—Frazier is just one of a handful of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

The importance of diversity in business isn’t a new topic, as many reports flag up the importance of women and minorities in high-profile industries like technology, or in key leadership roles across industries. It’s widely acknowledged that diversity boosts sales and revenue, creative thinking and innovation. Yet, while many companies have put mentoring programs and networking events in place for these underrepresented groups, there have been few results at the top. But now, through social media and the Internet, a spotlight has shone on how big the diversity problem is, and what is needed for change.

In his book, SPIKE, René Carayol, MBE one of the world’s leading business gurus specialising in leadership, culture and transformation, shares the magic and simplicity of the SPIKE (Strength, Positively, Identified, Kick, Start, Excellence) philosophy. In the world of SPIKE, there are no losers – everyone has something they are great at. The book brings together a proven formula for personal and business development. I asked Carayol about diversity on boards, including the challenges he may have faced from his own unique experiences on the boards of some of the biggest international organisations – from Marks & Spencer and Pepsi to IPC Media—SW.

Why don’t more leaders and organisations make diversity a priority?

RC: It still appears to be really difficult to “walk in the shoes” of the marginalised when you have never shared their experience. There was a time when the need for diversity had to be explained, educated and proved. Thankfully, that is no longer the case, as most people definitely get it. Unfortunately, many are still working on the business case for diversity—that proves that their organisation still has a way to go. It is just the right thing to do, no queries or challenges stand up anymore!

What are the challenges of making a board more diverse?

RC: The most unfortunate and hurtful saying that we still hear far too often is, “we are not prepared to compromise our standards”. Nobody wants to be a token! There is a wide and highly available talent pool of diverse candidates, yet we are still not seeing the necessary appointments. This is both implicit and unconscious bias in action. First impressions still tend to carry the day.

What challenges have you faced as a black person on boards? And how did you overcome the challenges?

RC: At the top of the organisation, the pressure is high and it drives peak performance. As soon as you are able to tangibly ‘contribute’, it becomes easier to be treated as an equal. On occasion, things can go awry, and this always requires confronting. Strangely, in the more robust atmosphere of the Board Meeting, it is highly appropriate for these issues to be tackled immediately and directly. It can be extremely uncomfortable, but it is necessary, as the learning and experience at the top of the organisation soon starts to trickle downwards. As a Board Director, every individual carry’s both the burden of responsibility and of leadership. All transformation best starts at the top.

Is there a difference between a diverse board and one that is inclusive? Or are they both the same thing?

RC: As the old saying goes, “diversity is being invited to the dance, inclusion is being asked to dance”. It’s no longer good enough to be just present, and in many respects, even inclusion is no longer enough – today, it’s more about the feeling of ‘belonging’. As soon as you feel you belong, it changes the feeling of being different from a negative to a positive.

What advice would you give President Trump right now about diversity and “making America great again”?

RC: Apart from “resign immediately”?!

We are all proudly different, and that’s a huge strength. What made America great is that people from different origins came together as one, to build the most powerful nation on the planet.

We have just had the pleasure of watching the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London. We watched the American athletes of all races compete and win by far the most medals and then fully embrace the American flag. Witnessing their collective pride as they receive their medals and stand to attention for the Stars and Stripes is the picture of how great America really is. Then we witness the tragic scenes in Charlottesville . . . the President has an enormous part to play in healing the divide, not fueling it.

Photo Credit: National Equality Standard

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