Diversity Works


Diversity works. I know this from personal experience, I’ve always sought to hire people from a range of backgrounds. I know I don’t have all the skills needed in my team so there’s no point hiring more of me. To be specific I’m not great at fine detail; I can go through massive ugly spreadsheets but it’s not my strength. I hire people into my team who have those skills and I value them – partly because I admire the skills and partly because I’m so grateful. In addition for me it’s more fun to hear about Romanian culture, Spanish idioms and Turkish cuisine over lunch than all Dutch stories.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. McKinsey’s research reports a “diversity dividend” of 15% for companies that are gender diverse, and a rocking 35% for companies with ethnic diversity. Correlation does not equate to causation; it may be that high performing companies choose diverse workforces and executive teams rather than diverse teams causing improved performance.

Harvard Business Review unpacks behaviours around diversity a little further and reports on some behaviours that point to diverse teams being smarter. Apparently diverse teams focus more on facts, which contributes to better decision making. Diversity also contributes to innovation.

The studies mentioned so far focus on gender and cultural diversity, but we should look at other personal characteristics such as national origin, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, and ability/disability. I’ve also heard one argument that the NASA team responsible for the first moon landing was more diverse than today’s team; back then there weren’t specialised astronautical studies programmes so the team was the best they could find from a range of fields. Which suggests we should be open to different training and work experience backgrounds (when the role allows it; don’t hire a plumber to a medical team!)

Global PillageFor a very light-hearted look at diversity, in fact an experiment in diversity, listen to the Global Pillage podcast. Each episode takes on a theme and opens with contestants identifying the ways they are diverse – gay, transgender, brown, immigrant, multi-lingual, vegan, left-handed all get a mention. The format is then a quiz between two teams of two people, with the audience able to give their answer. Spoiler alert; the audience (a bigger and presumably more diverse group) usually wins.

To get a more diverse team you have to change how you hire and how you work. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  1. Writing the vacancy notice
    Use gender neutral words, define the role in human language, state your diversity policy (don’t have one? write one). More tips here.
  2. Place the vacancy where it will be visible to diverse groups
    Look for publications, online communities and organisations associated with a range of groups. Reach out to Women in Tech groups for example.
  3. Interviewing across cultures
    Take some time to understand what cultural differences might exist between you and your interviewees. Habits of eye-contact may differ, some cultures show more deference which may seem like a weakness through an anglo-saxon filter.
  4. Flexible working environment
    Are you ready to accommodate someone with disability needs? What about someone who observes Ramadan? Or who celebrates Easter a week later than your company does? Are you able to allow people flexible hours and working from home options? The more you can answer “yes” to these hypotheticals the easier it will be to hire a diverse team.
  5. Culture of inclusion
    It’s not enough to just hire a cast of diverse colleagues, you need a workplace culture that is inclusive – where, as a colleague put it, “everyone can be their best selves”. The more widespread this is, the better. But you can have it in place in your own team, after all, you’ve got to start somewhere.

I’ve lived in several different countries, I’ve learnt several languages, my influences are from different sources. For me diversity is an important part of the work environment and yet from the outside I appear to be of the majority. Maybe diversity practices are good for us all.

Image: WOCinTech Chat  |  WOCinTech  | CC BY 2.0 


What Does a Great Leader Look Like?

This month the Harvard Business Review asks a pertinent question; “what makes a great leader?” From the image accompanying question, the answer seems to be “a white guy”.

We know that images have a bigger impact than text, we know that role models are hugely important, so I decided to tease this out a little and have a look at what happened when I searched for images of “leader”.

The first search I did was “leadership icons” on Google. I thought that by using a search for icons the results would be relatively untainted by any news items. Here’s the result.

Most of the icons are explicitly male, and wearing a tie. Apparently that’s our standard impression of a leader.  In fact when I clicked on “more images for leadership” I still had to scroll past about 80 images to find one that had a figure that could be identified as specifically female. Let’s call her Eve, here she is.

You’ll notice that Eve is ahead of a group of people as if to lead them, but she’s not alone. Apparently Adam can lead alone, but Eve cannot.

If I search for “leadership” in Google there is an image using a fish metaphor for leadership that ranks higher than any image featuring a woman.

That’s just one search engine, do others perform any better? Bing and Duck Go Go deliver roughly the same set of images. My hopes rested on Yahoo!, with a female CEO perhaps it would be reflected in their search results. I tested it and the answer is, maybe. At position 45 there is an icon of a woman leader.

A leader who bears a passing resemblance to Marissa Mayer, in as much as icons can resemble people. However she’s very lonely on the page, I found no other representatives of women leading in the next 50 or so images.

Just for fun I tried the same test looking at “programmer icons”, the results were depressingly similar, although google did manage to have a female appearing icon in the first group.

I’m not blaming Google et al for this, search results are a reflection of our collective choices, over the lifespan of the internet we’ve created more images of men as leaders, and chosen images that depict tie-wearing males to represent leaders. I’d like to see this imbalance redressed; perhaps if we all started depicting leaders with a range of icons and images reflecting the range of people in leadership roles. And any designers out there working on icons, or photographers working on stock images, please include a gender balance and a mix of ethnicities in your depictions of all occupations. Of course changing the number of icons won’t automatically result in massive increases in the number of female CEOs, but it may help women leaders be seen as normal, and help young girls and people of colour to have that level of ambition.

Going back to the HBR issue; it features an article on the 100 best CEOs of this year, of which just 2 are women. The “white guy” on the front seems to be Lars Sørensen who topped the leader-board this year.

What does Leadership Look Like?

I was looking for an image to illustrate my version of leadership, for once Google was not helpful. Here are some of the images Google provided and my first, somewhat snarky, reaction to them.

Apart from an apparent gender bias (none of the stick figure appear to be female), the images all show leaders in a sort of exalted status that I’m not comfortable with.

I’m drawn more to a version of leadership that relies on inspiring people, of helping them to be the best they can be.  As John Quincy Adams said “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”. Academics describe leadership as “a process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task” (Chemers M. (1997) via wikipedia). I’ve always liked that wise quote from the Tao te Ching  “When a good leader is finished, the people think they did it themselves.”

None of the images I found in common search seemed anything like my version of leadership, although I did recognise the truth of  Gaping Void‘s brilliant cartoon.

So I decided to make my own image on leadership.

I wanted to convey that for me leadership includes the idea of “we do this together”, that there’s a team of individuals who bring their differences to the table, that we’re equal and the contributions of all in a strong team are valued.

It’s hard to get all of that into a single image, here’s what I’ve come up with (which you’ve already seen if you came here via twitter – sorry for the recursion).

How would you visualise leadership?

(And for those of you worrying about the gender depiction in my image, you needn’t).