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Leading by Example and Valuing Diversity

Often seen as a leading organisation in the governance arena, the Institute of Directors (IOD) came into the spotlight recently for all the wrong reasons. As reported by the BBC back in March, Lady Judge, the chairwoman of the group resigned pending an investigation into allegations of racism, sexism and bullying.

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The IOD

The IOD story was a contradictory one. On one hand it seemed there was lots of positive action in terms of promoting diversity (particularly in regards to encouraging more women to come into the organisation), saying the ‘right thing’ to the right people. But on the other hand it appears that the leader at the very top used highly controversial language and implied that a combination of a pregnant woman and two black people was “the worst combination” on the IOD secretariat. If the leader of an organisation openly holds such views, all the positive talk of diversity and inclusion is pointless.  It is claimed that up to 12 staff members made complaints about the Chair on such (or similar) grounds, which appears to confirm that this was a deep held belief and therefore threatened the very credibility of the IOD being an open and diverse organisation.

As Entrepreneur Luke Johnson (who was previously considered for the Chairmanship) said to the BBC “it is clearly not setting a good example to the business community.”

It makes you think more deeply about how many companies have diversity policies in place, and further still, how many boards and senior management teams lead by example and follow them?

Diversity

The issue of diversity, by its very nature, goes hand in hand with equality. As a topic, diversity & equality gains more and more media coverage year on year with companies of all types and sizes realising the importance of diversity and equality with appropriate policies in place, often signed off by the Board at the highest level. But how many Board’s actually lead by example? How many Boards that continue to be dominated by white, middle class men of a certain age sign off on these important documents, preaching that equality & diversity is really important for success…? We all know that whilst some strides have been made in the Board room to increase diversity, genuine diversity is still a long way off.

This isn’t an article about equality per se but we are all familiar with the recent  introduction of the gender pay gap reporting requirements in the UK and the fall out from the likes of the BBC whose published data revealed that just one third of top earners were female. The BBC has a whole sub-site on its website dedicated to diversity, inclusion and equality covering a number of avenues including understanding audiences and ensuring that the work place is diverse and fair. But how much of this is then undermined by having to publish such shocking inequality in pay?

The technology industry

The technology industry is often looked up to as the leading light in change and innovation, what direction the world is heading in and where businesses should be focusing next, but there are some very worrying traits within that particular industry that definitely should not be followed. Research shows that sexual harassment, bullying and racist stereotyping are rife. The 2017 Tech Leavers Study carried out by the Kapor Center for Social Impact, makes some interest reading and although it applies to the tech industry, it is easy to assume that many of the problems will be reflected elsewhere. More importantly its finding that “having a comprehensive diversity and inclusion strategy in place has a much greater impact than having single efforts/initiatives” could be well utilised by organisations across industry regardless of type and size.

In recent years, there have been public claims of sexism and discrimination at numerous high-profile technology companies, including Twitter, Apple, Tesla with Google also admitting that it has a significant diversity problem. And while no one can argue the financial success of these companies, public confidence in their reputations appears to be waning and who knows how damaging scandal after scandal will be…

All of these household names have policies and dedicated web pages in place outlining their commitment to diversity. And while this should be commended, the world needs to see more action and more positive results flowing from these.

Every company and organisation needs to look at its diversity and equality strategy and ensure that it doesn’t just start and end with the ‘Policy’ – the board and senior management need to lead by example and ensure that what it commits to on paper is what it delivers in reality.