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How can a firm with a diverse workforce acquire skills to get up to speed?

‘Our programme ... is an in-depth developmental programme for women leaders’

A good diversity training programme isn’t a once-off or tick-box exercise. File photograph: Getty

A good diversity training programme isn’t a once-off or tick-box exercise. File photograph: Getty


Women in Leadership

Deirdre McLoughlin and Hetty Einzig are the programme designers on the Irish Management Institute’s Women in Leadership programme.

“Our programme is not a diversity and inclusion training but an in-depth developmental programme for women leaders,” they explain. “The aim is support women in taking the lead: they get to decide what kind of leader they want to be, rather than fitting stereotypes and inherited male models of leadership; they explore how to navigate power and unconscious bias and how to change workplace cultures to be more valuing of women and indeed of a more diverse workforce. We focus a lot on self-leadership including managing boundaries, assertiveness, developing purpose and building courage in your own voice.”

The four-day programme is conducted over three months and is intended for women in middle and senior leadership programmes but it also attracts women near the start of their leadership careers seeking to accelerate their ambitions, those transitioning to more senior roles and those seeking to change direction in their work altogether. It features regular guest speakers including Bríd Horan, who has more than 30 years experience in senior executive roles and on boards.

“A central plan is to identify a work-related or personal change project that the participant wants to bring forward,” McLoughlin and Einzig say. “It is vital to cultivate an environment where female leaders can flourish. From the feedback we have received, the programme has acted as a catalyst for change for many of the participants.”

Both women note that “increasing awareness” without developing practices to reinforce and integrate the learning will not bring about change. “A key feature of the programme is its focus on integration of learning as well as awareness raising.”

See IMI.ie/product/taking-the-lead-women-in-leadership/

Intercultural development

At UCD’s Smurfit School – consistently ranked one of Europe’s top postgraduate business schools – Dr Linda Yang has created an intercultural development programme, the first and only of its kind in Ireland.

“It is about developing intercultural and global competency – a set of knowledge and skills to be able to work and interact effectively with people from diverse backgrounds,” says Yang. “In Smurfit, we have 64 different nationalities and they need to work in different groups all the time. But there are also regional differences within countries, as well as issues around age, gender, religion. This topic is to help students understand those differences and be able to work in any team in any location.”

Yang says that the programme is specifically focused on racism but that inequality and disrimination are all underpinned by a lack of knowledge and skills.

“People look different and don’t always think the same but what matters is how you deal with those differences: do you see them as a threat or – the essence of intercultural and global competency – as an opportunity?”

A recent viral tweet from comedian Killian Sundermann highlighted the power of minor cultural differences. In the post, Sundermann plays the role of an Irish person offering cake to another Irish person, which is repeatedly refused until they are persuaded into taking it. He then plays a German person offering another German person a cake, which is immediately accepted. When the German person offers cake to the Irish person, the Irish person proceeds to turn it down – only for the German to immediately take them at face value and walk away.

“Ireland is an indirect and high context culture where you need to interpret the meaning associated with a word, whereas German and Polish cultures are lower context and people say what they mean,” says Yang. “We also look at individualistic and collective cultures. Smurfit has a lot of Chinese and Indian students which tend to have a more collective culture, but we also have a lot of American students where the culture tends to be more individualistic. Ireland is somewhere in the middle.”

For Yang and her UCD colleagues, the course – an optional module taken by all but a dozen or so of 1,500 postgraduates – is about helping international students to integrate into the campus and increase opportunities for Irish students.

“We want to maximise internationalisation at home, as not everyone can study abroad. And we offer this because the world is globalised and employees need intercultural skills so they work effectively in any team and any workplace.”

For more information, see SmurfitSchool.ie/icd/

The Irish Centre for Diversity (ICFD) works in partnership with organisations of all sizes and from all sectors to help them embed EDI in all they do. IFCD has created a diversity and inclusion performance accreditation mark using tried and tested tools to help transform a workplace’s practices and cultures.

“One of the most popular ICFD development courses is inclusive leadership, which covers the business case for diversity and inclusion so that leaders understand the benefits of getting it right and the costs for getting it wrong,” says Caroline Tyler, managing director.

A good diversity training programme isn’t a once-off or tick-box exercise, with the ICFD programmes starting the conversation but not ending it there. “It is necessary to keep it going with tangible and measurable progress,” says Tyler. “Our investors in diversity staff survey is conducted every two years and this clearly shows areas of excellence and areas for further improvement in inclusion. If the strategies are not fully holistic and don’t deliver inclusion for everyone, organisations risk challenges with staff retention.” 

Email enquiries@irishcentrefordiversity.ie for more information.

Mentor programme

The Irish Management Institute’s Network Mentor Programme offers the chance for mentors and mentees from completely distinct backgrounds and with different expertise to interact. At least 50 per cent of mentees must be female.

“The programme has provided the AdRoll management team a great platform to avail of external mentorship with subject matter experts outside of our field of expertise,” says Eileen Gregory, vice-president of people, AdRoll BU at NextRoll. “As a mentor on the programme, I have found it rewarding to take time out to talk to individuals from other industries to share insights and to be an independent, listening ear.”