Tag Archives: leadership

Getting diversity right for Generation Y

One of the things I observe in organisations is how generations think differently about diversity.  So I was really interested to read John Harris’ recent article on ‘Why has Generation Y become so right wing?’.  His article’s not about organisations.  But it highlights generational differences towards individuality and collectivism, and provokes some interesting questions about the future of diversity and inclusion in organisations that will be headed up by the Gen-Yers of today.

Here’s the dilemma.  On the one hand, as Harris says, ‘Gen Y is admirably socially enlightened: its support for gender equality and gay rights is overwhelming, and on such ideas as the wearing of traditional dress in state schools, its live-and-let-live mores tower over those of older generations’.  In my experience this is true of the workplace too.  Generation Y employees struggle significantly less with individual expressions of diversity and difference than their Gen X colleagues.  For Gen Y people know that clothes and piercings and tattoos – and gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, working patterns – say nothing about someone’s ability to do their job.  From that perspective, I’m optimistic for the future of diversity and inclusion under the leadership of Gen Y people.  Surely a generation that’s so easy-come, easy-go about individual difference would support workplace interventions that make the expression of difference easier?

On the other hand, Harris describes a generation for whom ‘postwar collectivism is increasingly but a distant memory’ and who think that ‘joblessness is usually the result of character failings rather than the state of the economy’.  He’s talking about Gen Y hostility to the welfare state, but it made me think about the objections I’ve heard from many Gen Y people (not only from Gen Y people, of course) to collectivist workplace interventions on diversity and inclusion – to things like women’s networks, for instance, and minority ethnic development programmes.  Many Gen Y people are simply not interested in getting involved in anything that smacks of lefty identity politics at work, which is often how action on diversity and inclusion is (mistakenly) perceived.

From that perspective, I’m concerned for the future of diversity and inclusion in Gen Y’s hands.  If the prevailing view of Gen Y is that failure comes from not trying hard enough, what sense will be made of the careers of those female, black, gay, disabled colleagues, who don’t make it to the top?  The reasons may be to do with institutionalised racism, or the universal challenge of combining work and family, or any of the other systemic barriers to diversity and inclusion.  But without a collectivist lens, will the story go in the future, that they just didn’t try hard enough, or simply lacked the ambition to succeed?

Successful women: what’s not to like?

At Davos last week Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, reminded the world of the ‘likeability’ penalty that women pay for success – that ‘as a woman becomes more successful, she is less liked, very importantly by women and men, and as a man becomes more successful, he is more liked’.

That add-on – ‘very importantly by women and men’ – got me thinking about the successful women I know, and why I actually rather like them.  Some of them I’ve known since before they were successful, and their success hasn’t made me like them less.  Some of them wouldn’t think of themselves as successful – and some of them you might not think are successful either.  But I do, and I have to say, I like them all.

So here, based on my own experience, are 10 reasons why I like successful women.  What’s not to like?

  • Successful women are usually fantastically good at their jobs.  They have to be.  Not one of the successful women I know has ever got to where she is just because she is a woman.  I like them for their ambition and their achievement and – yes – their gutsy success.
  • They are happy with themselves and who they are.  They’re self-aware.  They don’t pretend to be infallible, and they’re (usually, not always) the first to admit when they’ve got it wrong.
  • They’re not inhibited by hierarchy or fazed by power.  They’re pretty much the same person, whoever they’re meeting with.
  • They’re great at relationships and very well networked – and not only with people in positions of influence.  They have friends as well as colleagues at work.
  • They can be tough and uncompromising when they need to.  They are no push-over.
  • They’re optimistic – about themselves and their organisations.
  • They are great role models for my teenage daughter, and also for my son, both of whom found the question ‘Would you prefer to be successful or liked?’ almost impossible to answer.
  • They talk about their families, and they’re up-front and unabashed to let you know how much their children matter.
  • They’re generous with their success, giving up their time to mentor other women, as well as men.
  • They speak out about being a woman at work and about the barriers they’ve faced.  They rarely pretend it’s all been a breeze.

Knowing me, knowing you

A more introspective piece this week, on the role of self-knowledge in leading change on diversity and inclusion, prompted by reading an article on ‘The Self as an Instrument – A Cornerstone for the Future of OD’ by Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge which you can access here.  Mee-Yan is an organisational development (OD) guru and was voted one of HR’s top 25 most influential UK thinkers in 2012.

Her article – now over ten years old – is about the heightened self-awareness or self-knowledge required to be an effective OD consultant.  Getting to the requisite level of self-knowledge – or what she terms ‘instrumentality’ – isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight.  It means, in Mee-Yan’s own words:

–          ‘Devoting time and energy to learning about who we are, and how issues of family history, gender, race and sexuality affect self-perception.  It means also identifying and exploring the values by which we live our lives, as well as developing our intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual capacities’

–          ‘Get to know your fears, blind spots and comfort zones. Use your emotional comfort (or discomfort) as data in .. the work you do’

–           ‘Dedicating time to the on-going maintenance of both self-knowledge and technical expertise’

Three things struck me about the article:

First, everything that Mee-Yan wrote about the self-knowledge required to be an OD practitioner and consultant I think also applies to diversity and inclusion practitioners and consultants, and indeed to managers and leaders wanting to see change on diversity and inclusion in their organisations.

We can’t hope to inspire change in the attitudes and behaviour of others around difference, or understand the resistance that such attempts at change provoke, without first spending time and energy on getting to know and interpret our own beliefs and behaviours and reactions to difference.  I know myself that that can be pretty discomfiting, but it needs to be done.

Second, self-awareness is something that is generally left out of the skills and attributes required of diversity practitioners.  The competency model for D&I practitioners to which I most often refer – and refer others – is published by the Conference Board, and is called appropriately Creating a Competency Model for Diversity and Inclusion Practitioners. It’s an exhaustive collation of knowledge, skills and behaviours under eight business-like headings: change management; diversity, inclusion and global perspective; business acumen; strategic external relations; integrity; vision and strategic leadership, and HR competencies.

Written in 2008, it’s stood the test of time for me – until now.  Because now I feel it has one glaring omission – possibly the most difficult competency of all to acquire  – that of real self-knowledge.  Mee-Yan Cheng-Judge refers to use of the self as instrument as a ‘cornerstone for the future of OD’.  I think it’s the cornerstone for the future of D&I too.

Third, Mee-Yan’s article was written well before the explosion of interest in unconscious bias as an explanation for the slow progress being made in many organisations towards real change on diversity and inclusion.  Unconscious bias awareness activities are now all about building self-awareness and self-knowledge, and form an integral part of many an organisation’s diversity action plan.

The thing is, unconscious bias programmes promise self-awareness in 90 minutes.  I’ve been part of such programmes, and it’s true they are powerful and enlightening.  But Mee-Yan sees the development of self-awareness and self-knowledge as an ongoing journey, in effect a lifetime commitment, which I suspect is a more realistic – though less palatable – timetable for real self-knowledge.