Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting a thought-provoking roundtable session at Web Summit 2020 – the world’s largest technology conference. I’d like to share the key takeaways with you here.
This year’s Web Summit was held online and attracted over 100,000 attendees from 168 countries. Joining me in the roundtable were a number of business leaders from large global companies who each shared their opinions on the topic of ‘Diversity & Inclusion – not my problem!’. We explored the leader’s role in driving D&I-related change: Are many simply ‘paying lip service’ to this issue, rather than putting in the hard work?
After a lively and inspiring 45 minute session, these are my Top 5 takeaways:
1. It’s OK to be vulnerable
One of the standout moments for me was seeing the power of vulnerability. Many of our attendees admitted to making mistakes and acknowledged how much learning they still have to do – and I really appreciated this. We can all learn by listening and inviting people to share their experiences. Rebecca Louzado of Royal Bank of Canada summed it up very well in our session: “Listen, learn, link and then lead.” In her view, we’re a long way on this journey, but the largest piece right now is the learning. The views of Emily Boynton from Globalization Partners were also very interesting, as she talked about taking on board someone else’s perspective: “My gut tells me that’s a little scary, but I’m going to force myself to listen and embrace that perspective and challenge myself to see what value it brings to the table.” Wise words from both women when it comes to our own development.
2. Even if you’re white, male and educated – it’s still your problem
Deloitte’s Fabian Marckstadt was another participant who openly admitted his mistakes: “I thought it’s not my problem. I’m white, male, educated, and I don’t have a disability… It took me a while to develop the empathy that it is my problem to become a better leader.” And I fully agree with him that it’s on each of us to help other people become successful, to unleash their potential. Elcin Biren of UBS explained some of the reasons why D&I is everyone’s problem: it has a positive impact on innovation, and if we fall into the unconscious bias trap, we miss out on a huge pool of talented people – clear reasons why this topic has to be a top priority.
3. Partnering helps move the needle
One of the highlights of such sessions is hearing what other companies do well. Two initiatives were mentioned that demonstrate the value of joint efforts to achieve success. Joanna Burkey of HP explained how her company is promoting diversity within its supplier base, for example by working with minority-owned businesses or suppliers who employ a diverse workforce. Yes, it’s hard to change our supplier relationships, to rewrite contracts, but this tangible work is needed. Pastora Valero from Cisco Systems discussed the power of sponsoring a colleague and making the success of another talented diverse person your business. She further challenged each of us to sign up to the Multiplier Effect pledge, which invites leaders everywhere to sponsor at least one extraordinary person different from themselves, to advance their career and help change the equation of diversity.
4. We need to seek balance – even if it’s hard
Two of our leaders discussed the difficulties of finding a balanced approach. For Fabian, this is finding the right balance between dogmatism and a more relaxed, everyday approach, where he is able to be open with his team and everyone can learn together. Joanna commented on the balance between being strategic and big thinking while also being incremental and operational. It’s important to have both, but we also have to acknowledge that it’s challenging to balance the big and the small. Having said that, I truly believe that recognizing the problem is the start to solving it.
5. Yes, there is hope!
The fact that D&I is being addressed on a global platform like Web Summit was a source of optimism for Paul Bayle of Atos and Suresh Raj of Blue Impact, who both considered that we have a long journey ahead, but we are traveling in the right direction. Suresh also mentioned the December 1 announcement by Nasdaq on proposed new listing rules that would require all companies listed on its U.S. exchange to publicly disclose diversity statistics regarding their board of directors. This is the kind of top-level leadership that will make change happen.
Suresh also expressed his hope that we will not have to have this conversation in 3 years. As enjoyable as this roundtable was – and as much as I want to thank all attendees for their great inputs – I have to agree with him: I hope we get there too because there’s no time to waste. That’s why I say: Let’s make D&I our problem, and let’s take a lead in bringing about change.