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Diversity in Business

22 February 2016 - Steven Maisel
Categories: Business Trend
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DIVERSITY IN BUSINESS: Fitch Bennett Partners is on the stage

Steven Maisel, Partner Fitch Bennett Benelux/UK was invited to share his views at a conference organised by the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium, alongside Erik Kerkhofs, Director DX, Microsoft and Joanna Maycock, Secretary General, European Women’s Lobby. Diversity is no longer a side issue; it is a business reality. This conference was designed around the idea of ‘content-based networking’. Please find below a synopsis of the presentations and subsequent discussions with the attendees.

The impact of unconscious bias in recruitment
Steven Maisel, partner, Fitch Bennett Partners, drew on his many years of experience in executive recruiting stating that biases are present – consciously and unconsciously – although he had never experienced overt bias around gender. Participants agreed that the selection process (i.e., finding and recommending a diverse slate of candidates) might be effective, but that in the end the hiring manager makes the choice. And this selection may well then be a ‘safe option’, conditioned by the manager’s own frame of reference that is likely to be influenced by personal biases. The group felt it would be beneficial to re-frame and emphasize the values defined for roles to be more inclusive – e.g., valuing leadership, team building, communication rather than only the hard skills.

Diversity in practice
Erik Kerkhofs, Director DX, Microsoft made some framing remarks that focused on the dynamics of today’s workplace. He talked about the pervasive use of technology and the impact of the changing demographics in both the workforce and the customer base, especially in terms of age, ethnicity and gender. In the conversation that followed, Erik encouraged participants to share their own experiences about diversity and what works or not. There was a general view that diversity needs to be embraced by all business leaders collectively, and not ‘left’ to HR. It was also felt that corporate cultures need to evolve to be more understanding of the benefits of diversity, taking cues from the ‘outside-in’ and drawing on real experiences. Practical suggestions included training on unconscious bias; using personality profiling techniques to build diverse teams; creating a workplace environment that is gender friendly (e.g., not scheduling meetings after 5pm); measuring people on the achievement of objectives rather than time in the office; as well as using peer pressure to bring about the needed change rather than imposing targets, e.g. for more women in senior roles.
The conversation ended with a strong agreement about the need for diversity and authenticity to go hand in hand.

The role of legislation in gender equality
Joanna Maycock, Secretary General, European Women’s Lobby suggested that gender equality progress has ground to a halt and encouraged participants to consider why, and what to do to kick-start it again. They talked about quotas – a necessary evil perhaps – but the means to an end, which has worked in many countries. However, whilst policy and legislation can help, everyone agreed that business must engage in order to bring about meaningful change.
As we are still living and working in a male-dominated society, the group felt that a cultural and mindset shift is needed, and this is necessary at personal, educational, institutional and societal levels.
As the conversation came to an end, participants took a vote on whether quotas should be introduced to achieve gender equality on boards. The majority said yes.

Thanks go to Rosie Halfhead for chairing the event

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