Are Leaders drivers of Diversity or is Diversity riding in a driverless car?

cars

This decade is perhaps the last port of call for the companies still thinking about Diversity and Leadership. Diversity is not just Gender and Leadership is not just CEO, CFO, COO or the person who owns the company. But alas even after there have been countless articles and blogs written to this effect, endless academia research and white papers that have been published, scores of management lectures and panel discussion on the subject, it’s still the 1st thought that pops up even in most progressive leaders mind and companies. Are leaders the torchbearers of diversity in organizations? The question that begs to be asked is – Not why not? But why? It’s an idea whose time has come and gone!

To my mind, it’s because we have allowed ourselves to think like this, HR and Diversity leaders across the world have risen in unison in last decade or so and drilled the concept of Diversity and role of leadership into every leaders mind, hard-wired it into HR core processes of hiring, learning, performance management etc, to the extent that it’s now become a muscle memory of all leaders! If that be the case, why do we bemoan it?

My viewpoint is that in the corporate world, we have reduced the power and potential of Diversity to the point of trivialization and metricization. It’s a contrarian viewpoint but backed by experience and tons of data.

Let’s look at some other worlds to see how the concepts of Diversity and Leadership play out. If we reflect on any movie award function such as Oscars or Filmfare or IIFA, we will remember that on stage every performer/actor who wins an award starts by saying “I won this because of my team – my director, choreographer, screenplay writer, music director, stunt man, make up artist, publicist and so on” – what they are really saying is – They won, because diverse skills came together to create a perfect mosaic – catapulting them into realms of leadership. The producer and director of the film knows this well and spends time, money and effort putting this magic potion together. Another example is of our armed forces. There is Army, Air Force and the Navy. There is perhaps no one better in the country than the Chief of Armed Forces who knows the immense power of Diversity because it is he who brings it all together in times of unrest, war, riot, revolt etc. As an eg: the diverse skill set of different part of India’s armed forces show various aspects of  diversity – the strength of the Punjab regiment, fearlessness of Maratha troops, Guerrilla war-tactics of the Nagas and valour of Gorkha regiment among many others are legendary.

Hence, it’s the proverbial writing on the wall in the corporate world that says, indeed shouts: that leaders need to appreciate diversity, manage diversity and learn to leverage diversity to ensure competitive strength in the market place as well demonstrate their core moral value system of “opportunity for all”, “fair play” and “equal playing field”. If we continue to hire just men over women believing there are not women out there in the job market who meet our role needs, if managers continue to hire clones of themselves, if leaders vociferously keep defending that “all is well” in their organizations, we have lost the plot even before it’s even begun. I find it fairly a waste of time to keep convincing leaders of the merits of diversity, it’s perhaps the most unproductive job anyone could do in today’s age and times!

So based on my own experience of leading the Diversity agenda in large corporations for over 15years, my call to action points are as under :

1.   Weave Diversity and Inclusion into the language of the company. Sprinkle all leadership communication with the words which position Diversity in the right spirit – Get the verbiage right

2.   Articulate, document and publish your Diversity agenda and then measure it. Drive it relentlessly, with conviction and passion. Slightest of doubt and hesitation will kill it

3.   Continuously check how your diverse population feel – conduct pulse surveys, do focus groups, set up coffee chats – what you don’t know, you can’t solve for

4.   Set up employee resource group – there is power in togetherness. Groups as  Newbies to the company, First time mothers, Far from hometown…derive comfort & feeling of oneness.  Do not fear them getting together – Let them learn from each other.

5.   Run unique programs so that the leaders truly understand nuances of Diversity, such as have a diverse employee from across the company in a structured manner and rotational way attend boardroom meetings, sit through critical project discussion, travel for important client meeting, attend key marketing presentation – the insights and perspective are bound to add value to both the parties

You decide – shall we continue leaning on leadership to drive diversity or Is it perhaps time to – Explore, Experiment and Execute on diversity agenda akin to Driverless cars? 

In a VUCA world – Forewarned is Forearmed

We may well be in the midst of a revolution to bust the established theory of “Six degrees of separation” – which states that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away from any other person in the world, so that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect two people in a maximum of six steps.

Our world as we know it, is “shrinking rapidly” due to this ever increasing connectedness of human beings. Despite great geographical distances, human networks fuelled by technology have made actual social distances smaller. So let’s understand what’s going on :

1. Intersection of four major trends in technology: social media, explosion of big data, mobile revolution and emergence of wearable computing (Apple Watch, Google Glasses) has redefined concepts of Space and Time

2. Rapidly shifting demographics like gender, age, employment status, mobility, earning capabilities have resulted in rise of individualism and value shift in society, where people are starting to explore the meaning, purpose and identity in their professional and personal life.

3. Economic rebalancing has reached a tipping point in the way that global balance of economic power is shifting from developed to developing countries. As this trend continues it will have increasing impact on where growth opportunities are for companies and professionals and augur well for us to stay “nimble on our feet” and “learn on the run”.

Wikipedia defines Environmental scanning as “the study and interpretation of political, economic, social and technological events and trends which influenced a business and industry or even a total market”. Hence its critical for our personal and professional success, dare I say even survival to be constantly cognizant of our environment given it’s a VUCA world.

SHRM India Annual Conference on 25th and 26th September 2014 at Gurgaon with its theme of CONNECT – INSPIRE – GROW is designed to give us an immersive experience to be able to “Scan the environment”. Join me as we discuss Stimulating Workplaces: Creating a learning Culture at 1:45 PM on 26th September 2014 – Panel Discussion which will explore current and emerging social, economic, political, legal, and regulatory changes which make “environmental scanning” a critically important activity.

Conversations with Harlina Sodhi, SVP at Reliance Industries, a change catalyst and Learning visionary

RD> You and I are more or less in the same age group (Well! I am older ha!) — do you think the way we learned and ways we were taught is different from the younger generation that is getting into the workforce? If yes, how different?
HS> It is completely different. The younger generation, in particular when you consider that places like in India and other emerging markets where the median age of an employee is 35 years, learn differently and want to be taught differently. For example, their attention span is short, (140 characters Twitter revolution), they learn on-the-go and they want to pull information when they need it in small chewable chunks. They want technology-enabled learning with streaming media, threaded conversations, blogs, games, simulations and not just a teacher delivering lectures and batch-based learning events.

Read More: http://pakragames.blogspot.in/2011/03/conversations-with-harlina-sodhi-svp-at.html

Interview