The recent Gender Pay Gap reporting and the government’s focus on addressing the graduate employment progression gap for BME students has shed a light on the lack of diversity at board level in many organisations. In this article we talk to Samantha Budd, Chief Executive at Bristol University Students’ Union and Trustee of the National Union of Students (NUS Charitable Services) about how we can use these findings to positively effect change.
What can organisations do to positively encourage more diversification not only at a board level but more widely?
Diversifying workforces in terms of gender and race is no longer a moral issue but quite simply a bottom line business imperative. Businesses need to embrace diversity of thought in their planning so that they can ensure that monoracial or monogendered design doesn’t result in unconscious barriers to organisational development.
I would always suggest that the first place to start is to explore the views and experiences of current staff. The valuable insight that this research gives you into the barriers experienced by particular groups will provide the starting point for developing a plan to diversify the workforce at all levels.
The options are plentiful and can range from a wholesale review of an organisation’s employer brand through to training and education on Equality and Inclusion so that staff and leaders become more confident in discussing and understanding the issues.
Most importantly the significance placed on this activity must come from the top; what the Chief Exec and the board pay attention to speaks volumes and dictates the culture. If this work is left to the EDI officer or HR team without visible senior commitment, then the organisation is unlikely to succeed in its ambitions to diversify its workforce.
What blockers need to be removed to encourage diversification at board level on a broader spectrum.
For me the most important thing is for individual board members to be prepared to reflect on their own understanding of these issues and to be open to challenging their unconscious biases while recognising that change might feel uncomfortable, but they are the people who have the power to invite others to the table.
I recently attended a training day on Leadership on Race Equity where I was challenged in a safe space to identify my biases and ambiguities, and to explore both my personal and professional responsibilities. I learned that as a black woman and a senior leader I have a lot to learn, we all do and that is absolutely fine. However, without other senior leaders also recognising this, and the need for change, the progress forward will be slow.
What benefit can a more diverse board bring to an organisation, particularly those going through a period of change?
As I mentioned earlier, the key is the diversity of thought that produces much better decisions. If an organisation needs to change, for whatever reason, it is probably the case that the way things are run also needs to change and that the people that are in charge need to adjust their point of view. Unfortunately, doing that in a bubble without the stimulus of alternative perspectives is very difficult.
Do you think that there are any challenges that may be unique to women and BME people in senior roles?
Yes, there are a number of challenges that certain groups face when in senior roles and I wouldn’t want to diminish these experiences by simply listing examples. I think that it is important to understand that there is a scale of challenge or oppression that goes from interpersonal / everyday sexism or racism including the insidious impact of microaggressions, through to cultural and structural barriers that have come about as the unintentional or sometimes intentional result of a hierarchical societal system largely shaped in the Victorian era.
How can women and BME people in senior positions be positive role models for the next generation of leaders?
I believe that if you don’t see something then it makes it hard to believe it exists. Women and BME role models are valuable not only for other women or BME people, but for everyone. It is a big ask to expect someone to be negotiating their own career in the face of adversity and then to also expect them to become an organisation’s role model. I know of many BME emerging leaders who find it uncomfortable when they are ‘wheeled out’ or expected to represent all people of colour.
However, I also recognise that those of us who have managed to get a seat at the table have a responsibility to pay it back and to ensure, where we can, that we continue to encourage diversity and not just pull up the drawbridge to safely ensconce ourselves in our positions of privilege.
For anyone looking to restructure their board, and considering using this as change to diversify, what advice would you give them?
I would recommend starting out with a facilitated frank and open discussion about what this means to you and your current board. Encourage everyone to share their fears and embrace the discomfort because I believe that feeling uncomfortable is a key function of learning. And as I mentioned earlier, I would then gather the evidence and understand what the issues are in your organisation and then put together a holistic plan for organisational culture change.
The diversification of your board restructure needs to be embedded into an evidenced based strategic plan because the introduction of a few different board members won’t make the difference that you hope for if you are not sending out the message that these changes are part of a much wider cultural change.
At Moon Consulting’s we see first-hand the challenges that boards are facing. While the impetus for change is there, the reality of implementing this change can be much harder.
However, organisations should consider the difference that diversification can make - adding diversity to the board might enhance creativity and innovation, increase financial productivity and open-up new marketing channels.
For more information on board diversification and how this can be incorporated into your board structure contact the team at Moon Consulting – 01275 371200.