WASP males don’t tend to get too many invitations to be involved in the promotion of diversity management; which is a shame really. I’m a firm believer in the notion that the promotion of diversity should embrace the full range of stakeholders; it should truly practice inclusiveness in the way stakeholders are engaged with the philosophy or it runs the risk of being seen as a marginal activity aimed at an exclusive audience. A “push” communication approach may be one of the reasons why the diversity flag bearers within organisations sometimes find themselves struggling for real influence at the top table.
But this thought piece isn’t to critique the notion of diversity or challenge its increasing relevance to the organisation development and employee engagement agenda. I would like to share a rare moment of Belgian enlightenment.
Picture the scene. The wonderful and irrepressibly inspirational Myrtha Casanova of the The European Institute for Managing Diversity had enlisted my help to co-facilitate a workshop she was running with the senior executives of a global producer of cereal crops and foodstuffs. They had been embroiled in a PR war with NGOs and pressure groups worldwide because of controversial growing techniques and what was perceived as an arrogant communication stance.
The workshops were intended to develop diversity strategies across their global businesses. Most of their senior executives were gathered in Belgium to that end – and they weren’t very pleased about it.
It was soon clear that their beleaguered HR Director had been forced into developing a diversity strategy by the board who were in turn responding to US legislation. The executive cadre encamped in Belgium were 90% male, mostly of Anglo Saxon origin and frankly, felt they had much more pressing priorities. In short, the workshops quickly regressed into trench warfare.
The turning point came, however, shortly after lunch on day one when, rather than push more and more statistics, facts and process at the group, we adopted a less evangelical approach and asked them to explore their brand from the customer’s perspective.
They had traditionally seen themselves as a business to business organisation but it took one of the more junior managers, who also happened to have the largest team and who also happened to be a woman, to point out that housewives could make or break their company. By drawing a simple supply chain model she was able to quickly illustrate the route their product ultimately followed to market and how it was immaterial that they weren’t putting the bread on the shelves themselves. Women still make the vast majority of purchasing decisions per household and the retailers were reliant upon their suppliers to provide raw materials in tune with the ethics and values of the consumer. An epiphany!
This simple, jaw-dropping moment proves to be a revelation for her cynical peers who had clearly spent years developing competencies and promoting values appropriate for managing their equally macho purchasing managers in the businesses they were selling to. Suddenly the link between organisational culture and their PR problems was put into stark relief. More importantly, they realised that, without a more representative management structure they would make similar mistakes. The business case for diversity had become clear and the rest of the session was put to productive use developing a central and local diversity policy, strategy and engagement approach which owed much to a loaf of bread!
If you want to find out more about the EIMD (a not for profit organisation founded in 1996, with headquarters in Barcelona and which operates across the European Union), take a look at their website http://www.iegd.org/englishok/who.htm
Or feel free to drop me a line and I’ll tell you more about this and similar stories.