Square Peg, Round Hole: How leaders can support diversity in the workplace

amandasantos

My journey is not typical of a CEO, and my background is not particularly exciting - yet,  like all people I have faced my own set of challenges. I haven’t ever fit into a stereotype, which at times, particularly in my career, has been a disadvantage.

Recently I was asked to speak for International Women’s Day on how leaders can improve the systems and structures within a business to embrace diversity and bring about change - and I think there are lessons in here for everyone.

 Audience at the IWD event at Southwards Car Museum

Audience at the IWD event at Southwards Car Museum

I’m a natural introvert - always have been. I excelled rapidly at school in the UK, and was very interested in technology. However, being a bright student held disadvantages when it came to my interests.

I was fervently told that because I was a top student - this meant I was likely to find a husband and therefore should focus on sewing and cooking so I could better look after him in the future.”

Of course, this statement is now laughable - however, at the time, it was very much the norm. It impresses me how far we have come. Yet my daily experiences as a CEO show me how far we have to go.

There are small things that every leader can do to achieve embracing diversity and making everyone feel accepted.

PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT

One of the quickest and most efficient ways of doing this is through your physical working environment.

 Tekron International's office showing how spaces and working areas encourage diversity

Tekron International's office showing how spaces and working areas encourage diversity

When I first arrived at Tekron, a NZ technology exporter that specializes in world-class precision based timing, it was not surprising that there were only two females working there.

The first order of business was to create a space that reflected the brand and welcomed diversity into the team and business.

With a few small changes, we have created a space (see my blog on 'Do offices make a difference to staff culture?') that attracts female and male workers, has reduced the number of sick days and has created a happier, healthier and more productive staff.

 

HIRING PROCESS

What is most surprising to me as a CEO, is how outdated the traditional hiring process is. If you want to bring about change and diversity - change the way you recruit.

Recruiters and leaders tend to ask for certain backgrounds, but if we continually look for certain routes to a promotion we will leave out a lot of people. This was particularly applicable to me when looking for roles. 

Look for hobbies and how people spend their out of work hours – let's look at the whole person and let's value the efforts people put into the other things and how they spend their time.

I was turned away repeatedly by recruiters because I “wasn’t what the client was looking for” - however, I know I was - because the client hired me.

Explore different ways of recruiting - this will attract different types of people.

BOASTING

Good people that are great at their jobs won’t necessarily have high confidence. This is important to take into consideration when you are expecting someone to boast, particularly on a CV or in an interview.

As a CEO I see this all the time in my office. Men are most likely to knock on my door and tell me about something awesome that they have achieved, while the women will only bring it up when asked in their performance review. I have had to learn that just because they are not knocking on my door it doesn’t mean they aren’t achieving wonders for the company.

Speaking at IWD.jpg

I now go and talk to my team regularly and often. I set meetings to discuss what they have done and I work with them to set Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) that they have to report on.  I ask for feedback from them and so even out the playing field against those that are in my office frequently. 

LEADING

It’s time to change what we see as the ideal CEO and how we judge who are good leaders. Nowadays leaders need to be more culturally aware, think differently and communicate more.

It’s time to ask for more from our leaders and to really benefit from leaders that build cultures that create wealth.

As a leader you have the ability to:

  • Change the status quo
  • Change the hiring process
  • Set fair and measurable KPI’s for staff
  •  Listen and learn from staff
  • Create flexible working environments
  • Understand that profit and culture are intrinsically linked
  • Mentor your team to shape them into a high performing culture

As a leader you have more power than ever before to support diversity and bring about real change. For more of my thoughts on this or to assist with your company culture - please fill in the form on the contact page.