My ongoing journey with diversity

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As I have spoken about previously diversity is a topic that has been hot on the lips of many treasury professionals in recent times given the male dominated nature of our industry, and I was delighted to share my insights as a panel member at the Finance & Treasury Association conference back in November.

 

I recently came across this article written by a former colleague and friend from my time in London. Omar has encapsulated the discussion around diversity really well for me so I wanted to share. Omar is now the Chief Operating Officer at an international boutique procurement recruitment firm still based in London and I thank him for allowing me to share this.

 

Omar Akram

Chief Operating Officer at Proco Global Group

Born in London as a son of immigrants (mother Italian and father Kashmiri) I grew up in the 90’s, struggling to find my identity.

My mother was Catholic and my father a Muslim, I attended a Church of England school, and all my friends were white. While studying my A’ levels, only two pupils (including myself) were from an ethnic background.

I was raised as a Muslim but I had no interest in religion, especially one that was at odds with cultural western values. I knew that I was different to my friends around me but I didn’t realise at the time that this was a strength, not a weakness.

If only I had the hindsight to know that my parents were (unconsciously) teaching me the importance of embracing and combining together different cultures. At the time I was trying to conform to typical English, western values, when in fact, what I was actually exposed to was an authentic blend of diverse cultural values.

This got me thinking about the topic of diversity and more importantly the role of recruiters play?

Quite rightly, there has been a lot of discussion about the subject of gender equality and the importance of diversity within the leadership. But for me, addressing the issues around diversity doesn’t stop with gender, it is about gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and so much more.

When I look across the recruitment industry, I notice that there are so many businesses with executive boards who lack ‘real diversity’. They may have female representation but I often wonder if they have a cross-section of people who think and behave differently? For example, what type of representation is there from different social or cultural backgrounds?

Proco Group recently conducted a comprehensive survey of 1,120 senior supply chain professionals from 13 industry sectors across Europe, The Americas and Asia asking a simple question – does diversity drive innovation? 85% of respondents said yes. So with that in mind, why do so many businesses struggle with diversity at the executive board level?

I’m an executive board member of Proco Group, a business with 150 people in 11 different countries across 3 continents. We are a culturally diverse business in that there’s a natural blend of ex-pats and local natives in all our overseas offices. A large percentage of our offices are run by local native speakers yet our executive board (including myself) are all UK nationals.

I recently read about ‘group think’ and how this was stifling innovation in so many businesses.  At Proco Group we are definitely in a ‘group think bubble’ with an executive board made up of western middle class, university educated leaders. If we all unconsciously think and behave in the same way, how can we possibly be innovative?

Yes, we can surround ourselves with more diverse people, but as a business are we doing enough to listen and take on board their ideas?

I look back at myself when I was 18 and fast forward 23 years later to ask myself this question – am I doing enough to create a truly inclusive environment that will support innovation across the business?

So, as I approach my 20th year in recruitment I have set myself the challenge to do more. I am starting with changing my approach to decision making to be more inclusive.

“I am making the pledge to create more opportunities where there are more opportunities for all employees to have their voices heard.”

That means, not speaking just to the ‘usual suspects’ when soliciting feedback on the rollout of new initiatives projects around the business. I want to hear all views (especially if they are opposing ones) encourage new and unexpected ideas from all levels in the business to drive genuine innovation. A real shift from how I have operated for many years, but one that I am excited to try. I will keep you updated on my progress.

I am keen to know if there is anyone out there that are embarking on their own journey of inclusivity. How are you tackling this? What have you learnt and more importantly wish someone had told you at the beginning of your journey?

Please let me know how you are getting on.

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