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At the latest in a series of thought-provoking events chaired by the FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance, talent-focused executives from leading organisations gathered to consider and discuss the challenges of managing a diverse talent pool.
Question: How can we train managers to bring out the best from - and make the most of – diversity in the workforce?
Answer – The Right Honourable Baroness Usha Prashar, Crossbench Member of the House of Lords: “Stop flirting and commit to diversity! The increasing complexity of our work and the increasing interconnectedness of the world, can be met by and helped with diversity. I was born in Kenya, with Asian parentage, and with a multiple sense of identities which has taught me the importance of seeing things through different eyes. The same is true of institutions. But it is not only ethnic or geographical diversity which is important, but the diversity of different sectors an individual has worked in, and the diversity of perspective that brings. This all adds value to you as an employee. If you want an institution to be relevant in the modern world, then diversity needs to be part of your DNA.”
Question: What are some of the pitfalls or common mistakes corporations might fall into when it comes to managing diversity?
Answer - Michael Skapinker, FT columnist on business, language and society: “When looking at diversity – you really do want people from everywhere. One of the biggest enemies of creative thinking, is consensus, or group-think – everyone thinking the same thing. One of the greatest challenges of management therefore, is how do we nurture our dissidents: the people who disrupt. I would also say there is a dangerous tendency to think of the world as an ‘English speaking’ world. You lose out there. Look for broadest possible set of experiences. Ultimately, you need a diversity of diversities.”
Answer - Vandyck Silveira, CEO at FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance: “Working in an investment bank in my younger days, people would say diversity is the biggest value. But it was only lip service, and it was only skin deep. People looked different, but they were not people that thought differently. We were all essentially motivated by the same thing. So when the financial crisis hit, the problem was that they were all the same type of thinker.”
Question: Do employers endorse this in practice? Do they look for different profiles?
Answer - Amber Wigmore, Head of Careers at IE Business School: “Increasingly we are finding a key intermediary in a company for us is the Director of Diversity and Inclusion. More and more work is being done to tackle the fact that we still all have unconscious biases in hiring; unconsciously hiring people like us. There is significant work being done with neuroscience tools to bypass biases and go straight to the meritocracy of talent. It’s not true yet of every country in the world, but for the most part companies are seeking to increase diversity. Crucially I think, an effort is being made to bring people from one sector to another; injecting outsiders into a process to give a fresh spin, and a perspective from somewhere entirely different. This is not just ethnicity, not just gender, but diversity in ‘think’.
Answer – Kai Peters, former Chief Executive Ashridge Business School: “In tech they are doing this as well, to great effect. They pose a provocative or thorny question, and answers stream in from all over the world, and they hire people off the back of that, from far-flung places, on the merit of their interesting answers.
Question: Three generations are now coming into work at same time, each seeing the world differently. Managing millennials is very different from managing ‘Gen X’, ‘baby boomers’ et al. What can we do about it?
Answer – Michael Skapinker: “The media is writing a huge amount on this ‘clash of generations’. For me the differences between generations are vastly overrated. I look at millennial colleagues and do not see an alien strange species! There are differences, but ultimately I see serious, committed young people with the same basic concerns as my generation and generations previous to that. There is a big danger here of saying every individual within a group will think alike. Look beyond the label to the individual.”
Answer – Amber Wigmore: “Another trend we are seeing in careers is a role like Director of Employer Branding. Employers increasingly courting employees. Also companies are reducing their selection processes, often with technology. They know they are losing top candidates to start-ups who are much more agile (and sometimes more attractive to millennials).”
Answer – Ushar Prashar: “The key I think, is that rather than see this a group distinction, you can see it as group learning opportunity. Older members of the workforce can learn from younger ones, and vice versa. For me this is very energizing and another major facet of what diversity brings to an organisation.
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