"An investment in knowledge pays the best interest"
I have a lot of conversations about diversity and inclusion. With experts, with professionals, with passionate advocates and, less often, with people who have little interest in the subject. Especially at the moment, where the whole new world of work is beginning to highlight some intriguing questions about what that future world might look like.
There seems to be 2 that keep coming up.
Given all our efforts to improve diversity & inclusion, why are we not seeing a faster rate of progress in better gender balance in work?
Will the approaches to manage the pandemic (social distancing, working from home, furloughing, etc.) help the cause for a more inclusive workplace or will it be deprioritised down the leadership agenda?
The first certainly pre-dates Covid. The second is clearly a direct result. Let's deal with the second one first.
I had the great fortune to be part of an excellent panel event last Friday, hosted by the brilliant Virginia Phillips which explored this very question. The panellists and audience had a great debate on both the positive and negative consequences for D&I of our current situation and it was great to see that on balance, we were all optmistic that our current situation can help move the needle. Here are some of the reasons we came up with:
Companies have seen that their people can work more flexibly between their work and personal lives and still deliver against their company objectives
Perceived barriers to being seen as talented workers can be removed (e.g. disability)
We are connecting more as humans with a little bit better understanding of our colleagues lived experience - seeing snippets of their home lives, their children, their partners and their pets and realising that's ok, it doesn't detract from what they do in the work lives
Good managers who really connect with their staff and take time to make sure they are ok and engaged and motivated will be more clearly differentiated from the managers who don't take that time and continue to try and manage by command and control
But, we all recognised the very real risk that the programmes focused on improving diversity and inclusion and creating a more gender equal work environment, could be the victims of companies' re-assessing priorities when they are fighting to stay in business.
Which brings us back to our first question. Why are we not seeing more progress?
I believe that this is fundamentally a question of investment. Of time, of resource, of money. Because this is not easy; we are trying to undo millennia of cultural stereotyping. And it takes time and needs a real investment in learning. Learning about not only how we've been conditioned, but also learning about how others perceive the world and how their lived experience is different to ours. And then having ongoing conversations and dialogue to increase our understanding.
That's not to say that companies don't care and aren't trying. Many (although certainly not all) are genuine in their desires to make every single one of their employees feel welcomed and valued in their organisation. But are they doing the right things?
So here are 2 more fairly obvious scenarios in a post-covid (or at least a covid-contained) world:
Companies will need to maximise their investments more than ever before (including their investment in their staff)
Companies will have an even clearer picture of the really great talent in their organisations and if they don't invest in them, they are going to lose them
Hey, I realise that a lot of the above is guess-work. But it doesn't have to be.
One of my business partners, the incredibly talented Diana Parkes, has been seeking the answers to these questions for some time. Every year she issues a survey aimed at employees at all levels in an organisation to try and understand how they feel about their careers, their companies and their levels of engagement and motivation. It generates real insight and allows both individuals and organisations to pin-point strategies that will work for them.
However, with Covid, it has all changed. We need fresh views, fresh input, fresh perspectives. Diana's 2020 survey is now open and we need your help. Please take part and encourage your staff & colleagues to do so as well. Insight from the results of her 2019 survey and details about the 2020 version are here.
The title of this article is a quote from Benjamin Franklin. Now is the time to invest. In yourself and in your people.