Words by Rosie Halfhead, owner of R-˃Co and chair of the British Chamber’s Diversity Dialogues working group
Diversity is no longer a side issue; it is a business reality. Consequently, the chamber has launched a new initiative, Diversity Dialogues, to put the spotlight on a variety diversity issues and best practices.
Our first Diversity Dialogues event took place on 19 October. It was designed around the idea of ‘content-based networking’. Over 60 participants from a range of backgrounds and sectors engaged enthusiastically in three different hosted conversations.
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 (eg, 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, eg 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.
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 – conscious and unconscious – although he had never experienced overt bias around gender.
Participants agreed that the selection process (ie, 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 – eg, valuing leadership, team building, communication rather than only the hard skills.
Given the success of this kick-off event, the Diversity Dialogues Working Group* is currently planning four events in 2016, one per quarter, and we are now looking for speakers and sponsors interested in getting involved.
The topics we will explore are:
Making gender equality a reality – a high-level, moderated debate on the issue of women in leadership and executive roles; women on boards as well as the role of men in making gender equality a reality.
Creating a corporate culture that embraces diversity – a listen and learn session that will feature practical insights and experience from 2-3 companies from different sectors that are leading the way in embracing diversity in business, with follow up Q&A.
Understanding and dealing with unconscious bias – a practical, hands-on training session.
Reflecting on progress and shaping the future agenda – mid-November we will organize another content-based networking session that builds on the successful formula of our launch event.
In addition, in order to keep the dialogue going and encourage connections, information sharing and on-going networking, we have created a DiversityDialoguesBXL group on LinkedIn. Please join to stay connected & informed and to share thoughts and continue the diversity dialogue. Please also help us raise awareness of the topic and initiative by using the #DiversityDialoguesBXL hashtag on Twitter wherever relevant.
Rosie Halfhead chairs the British Chamber’s Diversity Dialogues working group. Rosie is a former C-suite executive in global financial services who now runs the Brussels-based brand & marketing consultancy, R->Co, working mainly with non-profits, startups and SMEs. She is a strong advocate for diversity in business and was Programme Director, Diversity on Boards for the Hong Kong non-profit Community Business, co-authoring a guide on ‘how to improve governance through board diversity’. On her return to Brussels recently, Rosie began working with the chamber to develop an initiative around diversity, which has now materialised into the Diversity Dialogues programme.
* Working Group members
Melanie Barker, The Fry Group
Inge Boets, Porter Novelli
Linda-Jean Cockcroft, Risk & Policy Analysts
Kristel De Prins, TIMESMORE
Rosie Halfhead (Working Group Chair), R-Co
Angela Jones, RobinsonHenry
Catherine Stewart, Interel
Aylin Lusi, UPS
Steven Maisel, Fitch Bennett Partners
James Pearson, British Chamber
Zsuzsanna Kovacs, British Chamber