There is a great lack of diversity of perspectives in organisations. This is visible at tables where decisions are made, of which an important one is in the boardroom. In this article, we reflect on our experiences of more than 20 years of working and leading in mainly tech(nical) organisations. We have worked with MTs of large organisations in various sectors; in meetings we were often the only women. We have translated our experiences into insights to bring a broader perspective to the table.
What is going on?
There is work to be done in boardrooms. Top management holds the key to the code of organisational culture. To crack the code, new perspectives are needed.
The unsaid is slowly coming out of the shadows, confidants and organisational culture experts are overloaded with questions: What can we do to create a safe working climate? Why doesn’t information about new initiatives (positive) and breaches of behaviour (negative) reach us? How do we ensure that the perspectives of the minority and subordinates also receive our attention? How do we do this?
The answer: tackle groupthink. Research shows that encouraging diversity of thought reduces groupthink. When maintaining agreement and unanimity is more important to a group than critical consideration of the facts, it leads to poorer decision-making. In addition, it allows organisations to do a reality check before deciding to start new activities or stop existing ones. There are organisations where this is well organised, but for the majority of organisations there is work to be done.
In the past two decades, we have noticed quite a bit. In the early days, we mainly enjoyed working as ‘one of the guys’. Later in our careers, when we were in leadership positions ourselves, it became clear that we could bring more to the table than the masculine values that many organisations rely on. When we stood up for our values and our personal story, our impact increased exponentially. And it was not only us who had this reflection. In various conversations we had, it seems that this applies to both women and men. We seem to conform – consciously or unconsciously – to the prevailing norm. Historically, men have set the (business) standard. What if we were to look at it from a broader perspective?
What we have noticed is that people do want to change, but that they often feel held back by the system, their manager or themselves. The risk of doing nothing about this as an organisation is great; in a labour market where employees have the upper hand, it is very important to take social responsibility and to remain relevant as an attractive and future-proof employer.
A few questions:
1. Do you keep your own staff motivated? McKinsey conducted research into the reasons why people leave their jobs in covid times. Number one according to employees: lack of appreciation. More than half of those questioned felt insufficiently seen by their organisation or manager.
2. Are you personally motivated to be genuinely open to diverse talent? It is crucial that management sees the power of diversity of perspectives and appreciates it visibly and audibly. Creating diversity, also in thinking, means consciously hiring and giving opportunities to people who are not the same, instead of unconsciously hiring people who think and act like you.
3. Are you able to attract young talent? The expectations of people in their twenties and thirties do not match how things work in organisations. They want a good life-work balance and to work for organisations they are proud of.
Diversity in thinking results in a greater availability of different perspectives and unique insights. It creates opportunities for innovation, entrepreneurship and unexpected collaborations.
Why is this important?
In order for managers to keep up with the rapidly changing context that organisations, employees and customers face, it is essential to work together to understand the complexity. To be able to do that, diversity is needed. Diversity of backgrounds, expertise and life experience.
We need it, now more than ever. In order to do this, space is needed. And that can only happen when the old school hierarchical management makes way for a different, more inclusive approach. With attention for different perspectives, feelings and space for vulnerability. Various studies validate the value of diversity. If a board wants to think out of the box, it is essential to also have board members or a voice at the table of those who are not insiders.
The key lies in the hands of the board. Pass the key on to someone else so that diversity of perspectives can be encouraged. In this way, innovative visions can find a place in the boardroom and send an important signal to the entire organisation.
A healthy ecosystem
To invite new perspectives, it is necessary to create a psychologically safe, supportive environment. To speak with ecology: you can only start when there is a healthy, fertile soil. In nature, a healthy soil is a precondition for flowers and plants to grow and flourish. The same applies to people in organisations. In order to create and maintain a good soil, an important role is reserved for managers. Firstly, in the role of leader as role model. Leaders who are not afraid to bring their head, heart and soul into the organisation and who bring clarity and vulnerability by living it. Second, in the role of standard-bearer of the importance of diversity. By seeking out, inviting and appreciating the different perspectives themselves in a visible or audible way. When this kind of leader is at the helm, you see that people regain confidence, open up, dream. That is the basis for wanting to work together on a bright future.
When this works well, we speak of a healthy ecosystem. A system in which people, teams, organisations and customers cooperate and influence each other. In an ecosystem, there is a dependency on multiple actors; as soon as one of them disappears, there are two options: another actor in the system takes over the function or it dies. Translating this to organisations, it becomes clear that mutual understanding, space for dialogue and the need to focus are important to maintain the health of the ecosystem (Carboni et al, 2021).
Change starts with sharing your own story
Through our experience with various directors, teams and our own careers, we have seen that creating space for other perspectives can only happen when a director first makes space within himself.
In order to understand others, it is first of all important to understand yourself.
Why do you think what you think? What (limiting) beliefs have you developed through the various experiences in your life? Have you actually had any relevant experiences? Why do you behave the way you do? Once you understand a little more about your own behavioural preferences and personality, you will be able to communicate with others more effectively and empathetically. By doing this, you will most likely experience a dip in your self-confidence at first, but it will grow again over time and you will be able to really stand up for your story. To what extent can you use your life lessons as a basis for your own leadership? Do you dare to really look into the mirror and see yourself as a total human being, with all that this entails? And do you dare to use what you encounter to tell your story?
Dare to invite new perspectives
Inviting and embracing different perspectives starts with creating a safe environment to step off the beaten track. Where it is okay to try new things and to fail and where openness is appreciated. But also by balancing feminine and masculine qualities, so that both men and women learn to use their feminine values in addition to their masculine ones.
Doing and being, thinking and feeling, freedom and trust, with a connection between head and heart. Because if you dare to follow your heart, doors will open in places and moments that cannot be predicted (rationally). You learn to really see the world and to rediscover it in a playful way. With a new way of looking, a new way of thinking arises. The courage to be open to the unexpected provides room for other perspectives.
An invitation to dialogue
We see this blog post as an invitation to enter into dialogue. There are many people in the Netherlands who have been working on this theme for a long time, but do not have enough of a platform. There is much more to be said about it and we believe that all valuable perspectives together form a bigger picture.
📣 CALL to ACTION: Since the summer of 2021 we have been writing a book with the working title: “Imagine all the people”. We are exploring principles and tools to bring everyone’s perspective to the table. How do we break the pattern that some people’s voices are heard more than others? We would like to discuss this theme.
If you would like to contribute your perspective, feel free to share it. We will have a broad discussion. Instead of saying: our door is open, we want to lower the threshold. Please leave your contact details and we will gladly visit you (virtually) with a mirror (and a cake).
- The Problem with Saying “My Door Is Always Open” Megan Reitz and John Higginns, 2017, HBR
- No team is an Island. How Leaders Shape Networked Ecosystems For Team Success. Inga Carboni, Rob Cross, and Amy C. Edmondson, 2021, Berkeley
- ‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours, Sept 2021, McKinsey Quarterly