Listen to the rants of some right-wing individuals and you may hear the word ‘woke’ crop up.
Is our society too ‘woke’? What does that even mean?
Society continually evolves. And, as a result, some things that may have been acceptable decades ago are—quite rightly—no longer tolerated today.
But some critics of diversity and ‘wokeism’ claim the movement has gone too far. They don’t believe television programmes, for example, should automatically feature people of different races and cultures, nor those with disabilities. They claim that they represent only small minorities rather than the wider population and see it as simply a desperate move by producers/creators to show how woke they are. Should it be argued that such diversity on TV instead demonstrates how inclusive and multicultural our country is?
Greater diversity in the workplace should not be seen as wokeness or a trend either—it actually makes logical business sense.
For instance, there are as many women in the workplace as men, yet power definitely favours the male of the species. According to Jo Ling, writing for GWI.com, ‘Women are 26% less likely to be in senior management positions than men’. However, females outnumber males in entry-level roles (52% vs 48%), at senior management level, this imbalance swings to 62% men vs 38% women. The ITK magazine article,” Why women feel colder in shared workspaces” purports that we’re living in a world designed for men…but diversity does not just cover gender. (although the glass ceiling is no nearer shattering than it was a few decades ago—but that’s another blog post).
Actively promoting difference and diversity
In the third sector, funders have got behind the idea of diversity amongst leadership and management roles, with many actively promoting difference and recruiting diverse trustee board members. They demonstrate this preference when awarding funds, favouring good causes that include people with ‘lived experience’ in decision-making roles.
This makes sense, certainly in the charitable sector—if someone on the board or steering a project understands the plight of the beneficiaries because they’ve lived through the same experience, the support offered will undoubtedly be appropriately tailored, more effective, and infinitely more welcome than decisions made, and help given, from someone who has no idea what it feels like to be in their position.
This ethos should be inherent in the public and private sectors, too. If you have a board or leadership team comprised solely of ambitious white men aged between 39 and 55, for example, their biases, output, decisions, and approaches will likely be very similar. Innovation often comes from disruptors looking at the current status quo and questioning whether aspects should or could change. If you’ve got the same type of people perpetually on the same page, who’s there to challenge anything? To promote a different train of thought? To go against groupthink?
On top of that, in this same scenario, if you have employees who aren’t ambitious white men aged between 39 and 55, they’re not going to be able to relate to their leaders as well as they might if they themselves were represented in the leadership team—i.e. with a role model and possible mentor who’s the same age, culture and/or gender as they are. In addition, the lack of leadership diversity, especially when leaders have little or no synergy with their team members, the likelihood of low levels of engagement and higher levels of conflict may be greatly increased and amplified due to Out-group biases
Leadership is a privilege not a right
We live in a world that sometimes sees leaders enter an organisation at the management level. Such positions should be seen as a privilege rather than a right, and whilst some people in such a situation would take the time to learn the intricacies of the business from the ground up, others just plough forwards from where they’re sat. It’s clear to see why this would be a mistake, however…understanding the pressures of the business and what staff face on a day-to-day basis in their various roles is incredibly valuable information. Information that will undoubtedly help the leader make decisions, as they’d have increased empathy for their people and a better understanding of the impact any changes will have. Leaders who gather such experience also receive more respect from their team; they’re seen as more approachable because they are able to empathise and relate to issues their team members may raise.
Leadership diversity impacts the whole person
Diversity can also cover aspects of people’s lives away from work. For example, if your leader was a parent of young children, there’s far more chance they’d understand that members of their team may need to leave work promptly if they have the school run to attend to and/or care commitments. They would probably also agree that family commitments come before the job and understand the importance of being with your children when there’s a school play or sports day.
Having a diverse leadership team doesn’t just look good to stakeholders and customers—it can improve a company’s bottom line too. Kathy Lockwood, writing for Employment Law Advice, says: ‘Previous research showed that companies in the top 25th percentile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 15% more likely to experience above-average profits; the latest data shows this probability has increased to 21%. If there are more ethnically and culturally diverse employees at the Board of Directors level, profits are 43% more likely to be above average. Businesses that have an equal number of men and women on the team outperform male-dominated teams when sales and profits are compared.’
The benefit of a diverse management team will also trickle down to the consumers. If they can easily put themselves in the shoes of the company’s customers, it’s much easier to understand the challenges they will face as leaders. They will also understand (and can overcome) any hesitations or reservations consumers may have when considering buying from the company. They will know the approach(es) their team will need to take, to ensure potential leads know, like and trust them.
Diversity for diversity’s sake is the antithesis of the points above. No company wants to simply tick boxes; the people they appoint as leaders still need to have high levels of intra and inter-personal skills, as well as being experienced people managers and, having a relevant career background, and so on. It’s great when everything comes together and diversity happens naturally, but we don’t live in an ideal world. It may be that, in order to benefit from the rich experience and knowledge leadership diversity could bring, compromises may need to be made in other areas. Bear in mind, however, that, skills can be developed, experience can be gained, and knowledge can be instilled. You can’t, however, change someone’s gender, culture, age, etc.
Encouraging diversity in your leadership team is not a symbol of wokeness nor should it be an empty demonstration of inclusivity—i.e. something that’s done to be seen. Diversity at the leadership level and all levels of an organisation can have a real impact on a company’s profits and culture and should be encouraged and nurtured.
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