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True diversity is ‘hugely powerful, and enjoyable’

Balanced workplace leads to ‘collective brilliance’ according to management guru

Irish workforces have become more diverse in recent years but we still have a long way to go before they are truly gender and ethnically diverse and balanced.

A report published by PwC last year found more than half of Irish women born between 1980 and 1995 believe their employers favour male colleagues when it comes to internal promotion.

The report also found that two-thirds of Irish women aged between 20 and 35 years believe that while companies may talk about promoting diversity in the workplace, opportunities are not really equal for all.

PwC surveyed nearly 9,000 so-called millennial women for its international study, including 139 participants in Ireland.

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The study shows that while Irish women employees are more sceptical about companies’ commitment to helping them to climb the corporate ladder, many still believe they can progress in their careers.

For management consultant and motivational speaker Manley Hopkinson, a truly diverse workplace means “collective brilliance”.

“A team may well be made up of bright individuals, but it is only when we come together in a meaningful way that the bright becomes brilliant. Brilliance comes from difference; different experiences, different viewpoints, different motivations and different perspectives. Any activity that can create a team where there are greater differences at a human level will add to that brilliance,” he says.

Hopkinson says the more monolithic the workforce, the less potential there is for growth and development

“One of the troubles is that we tend to surround ourselves with people like ourselves; it is comfortable and easy. But then where does the difference come from? The brilliance? What creates the tension and the spark? How can we innovate and create if we all agree at the start? No, we need diversity, huge diversity, not just within the overall headcount, but within specific teams. We need diversity at every level and at every opportunity,” he says.

‘Large imbalance’

Hopkinson says while many workplaces around the world are becoming more multi-cultural, the gender balance remains skewed.

“I still see a large imbalance, particularly between the sexes. It is still much tougher for women to advance within the corporate world, and that to me is an imbalance that is imperilling our world. Man’s dominance is the biggest imbalance and, I believe, the biggest threat. We must focus on creating a true and more compassionate society through a more compassionate and nurturing workplace. The drive for 2016, ’17, ’18 and beyond needs to be to enable women to take the reins.”

Hopkinson says for real diversity to happen, employers need to move beyond window dressing and enforce it.

“Be serious about it. Really serious. Accept the challenge. Step out of existing deep-held prejudices and expose yourselves to difference and diversity. Employers seem stuck in limiting beliefs that only they and their type ‘can do’, and seem afraid to let go and trust others, different others. The trouble is that you cannot change behaviours unless you change the beliefs that are driving them,” he says.

“This has always been the toughest aspect of any behavioural change; think about how many failed new year’s eve resolutions you may have made? How many failed organisation transformations have there been as people revert to the ‘old ways’? This is all due to an unchanging belief.

‘Courage and commitment’

“For employers to make the workplaces more diverse, they first have to ‘believe’ that that is a good thing, and I am not sure that they do. Making a workplace more diverse is not hard, but it will need courage and commitment and a new belief.

“Only last week I worked with an organisation that is truly diverse, with a heady and energetic mix of race, nationality, age, sex and sexual orientation – it was a real and inspiring example of ‘collective brilliance’, a high-performing ‘natural’ culture. It can be done and when done properly it is hugely powerful, and enjoyable.”

Hopkinson says employers need to move beyond their internal biases and think deeply about the kind of workforce they want to create.

“We focus so much on the external concepts of diversity that we forget about the need for internal diversity; diversity of experiences, motivations, viewpoints, perceptions etc. We are focusing on colour, creed and sex. To ‘tick-box’ the minorities is not to create a true diverse workplace.

“Diversity practices must be implemented with regard for both external and internal diversity parameters, without prejudice and with courage and discipline. We need to do it properly, but, by definition it may be perceived as a threat to the ‘established order’. It is and rightly so,’’ he adds.