Last night was the concluding conference of this years Leadership Perspective Series, organised by Trinity’s own Student Managed Fund, the first of its kind in Europe. The speakers invited to this conference were, for a lack of a different expression, very diverse. Declan Curry, a Northern Irish journalist, moderated the discussion between panelists Heather Melville (Director and Head of Client Experience for PwC UK), Brian O’Sullivan (CEO of Fulfil Nutrition), Cecil Martin (Sky Sports Broadcaster, Motivational Speaker and Former NFL Fullback) and Amanda Pullinger (CEO of 100 Women in Finance). Between the many questions asked by audience members and the former NFL player Cecil Martin asking everyone to stand up and stretch, the conference was an incredibly insightful experience into how leaders look at diversity and how they have been affected by it.
1. Diversity of Thought
This was probably the most talked about topic of the night. Each speaker offered a unique perspective into what they believed was the most vital type of diversity: thought. Overall, the panelists agreed that diversity of thought implies the breaking of the fundamental barrier of following the easiest path and rejecting challenges to one’s own ideas. O’Sullivan mentioned that at the start of his time with Fulfil Nutrition, he noticed the company had, unlike industry giants with very rigid structures, a culture that incentivised openness to learning and challenging ideas, which in turn led to the creation of an extremely diverse team. Cecil Martin also added to this in that his recommendation was to ‘strengthen as many “muscles” as you can’, in the sense that one should be involved in as many things outside their own skillset as possible. In other words, in order to grow as a leader within business, one needs to grow in other areas which will then feed unique ideas into an organisation. Pullinger approached this idea by accepting that as leaders, business people need to acknowledge the fact they don’t know everything, and that for a team to be successful, being diverse in terms of age, gender and specially ethnicity is essential, as research has already shown.
2. The Power of Visibility
During the discussion, it was stressed how important it is to have role models, who give visibility to minorities across a range of senior positions. Melville mentioned how not being able to see people like yourself in these positions makes it almost impossible to see yourself up there, and that the path you would need to take is practically invisible. Organisations should be, in theory, fishing in diverse talent pools for new positions but directorial boards of most large corporations still tell a story of inequality that is becoming less and less antiquated as new generations enter the workforce demanding diversity as a basic pillar of organisational culture. Pullinger’s 100 Women in Finance launched an initiative to put some of the world’s very few fund managers, who make up for an alarmingly small proportion of total fund managers across the world (around 7% and numbers haven’t changed much for 30 years), in the frontline of the media, in their website and even supporting a handful of these fund managers to pitch at American news channels. Pullinger said that the results were clear from the get-go: the women brought diversity to these panels on television, and with that came new ideas and discussions. Being exposed to the general public allows these women to become role-models, and inspire a younger generation of soon-to-be female leaders.
Another recurring theme throughout the night was authenticity. The panelists agreed that believing in oneself and being confident in the skills one acquired during college and with extracurricular activities are what can set apart a successful candidate when it comes to job hunting. The best talent comes in the form of diverse candidates that have been able to gather skills in a wide range of specialties, which makes them able to reach a level of problem solving that will be hard to replace with AI. Furthermore, Melville commented that knowing one’s self-worth is extremely important as you rise through the ranks of the organisation. It’s important to be grateful , she says, but it’s even more important to know that you’ve worked hard and that you deserve to be where you are and that it was your skills and competence that are leading you through the corporate ladder. This becomes especially relevant when the discussion turns to diversity policies and quotas that may not necessarily pick candidates based on their skills, but rather as a tool for image improvement.
Finally, it appears that organisations have realised that diversity is something that has to be rooted in their cultures for them to remain relevant for the generations to come, which will continue to demand more diversity at the bottom as well as at the highest ranks. Without this diversity, any company will face the risk of becoming obsolete and inefficient when compared to those who have truly embraced it. These will be the companies that will head into the future with an enormous advantage, as their leaders finally begin to realise the power of diversity.