No Women’s Day Parties at Globocorp

Last year, I was in Guadalajara having a strategy session at a smart wearable plant. On International Women’s Day, I got to the office and found a bouquet of flowers on my desk. I also had an invitation to the Women’s Day Celebration’ luncheon held for the staff. The female staff. And I got mad. Our local, mostly male, staff meant well. But I felt they were missing the point.

International Women’s Day is a day to shine the light on gender inequality and the real life-threatening struggle for women around the world, for equal rights and opportunities. No more, no less. 

It’s a useful tool to focus our attention on pressing issues – from access to clean water and sanitation, maternity health, to the gender pay gap – and the gender data gap

We need more women to thrive in tech, in business, in the economy. If you still need convincing about the business case for diversity, or have been living under a rickshaw, check out Delivering growth through diversity.

However, exactly how to build the diverse workplace is not so clear cut. Too many efforts centre on changing women or giving them access to senior positions. That’s not enough. Not only do women need a seat a the table, we need to fix the table.

Here are the things Globocorp is not doing today:

  • We are not just throwing a party.
  • We are not just aiming our diversity programme at women.
  • We are not just donating to a woman’s charity.
  • We are not just running campaigns that give women a voice for a day.

We are, however, changing the business:

  • I’ve talked to Marua so she reviews the data we use to develop wearables and make sure that our default model is not a fictional average white white male with big hands. Reading “Invisible Women” was a wake up call for me, and we will address this gap in our company.
  • Flexible working policies for all – based on balancing the needs of our business with the needs of our trusted talented people need.
  • Giving line managers the tools to spot, speak about and address bias. Not just gender bias but age, race and sexual orientation. Making decisions based on our prejudices -professional or personal – is an issue in all companies.

Now that last point has me and our HR Director, Hugh Mann, deeply intrigued. We want to give our teams what they need to eliminate bias, but the evidence around the impact of unconscious bias training is mixed. So what we’ve proposed is to play more games, and simulate scenarios where we feel bias can play a role in decision making to give employees — male and female — the language to discuss it. 

Playing to know, playing to win

Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders is a very useful for tool for this. Playing and having fun opens your brain to learning, relaxes you and breaks down defense mechanisms. Working with fictional people like me allows you to have tough conversations in a safe space. At Globocorp, Corporate Snakes and Corporate Ladders for diversity is an experiment in pilot phase, and I hope to roll it out across the business soon. 

Speaking up to eradicate bias takes three things: the language to spot it, the courage to name it, and a corporate culture open to changing its ways. Since it is very complex and engrained into a person’s history and culture, it has as many shapes as there are stars under the sky. 

You can’t address it with a one day workshop, as much as my CFO would like me to. Instead, we can give people the tools to recognize when they suspect bias is at play – and practice ways to put it on the table, and deal with it. 

Today, we commemorate the progress made and the changes needed to address the fact that globally, as humankind, we’ve build a world that marginalises half the population. Half the market.  

The world of simulation might help you navigate the waters of tricky conversations. Now that’s a way to mark International Women’s Day.

A note from Hugh Mann: 2019 is the year of you

A guest post from Hugh Mann, HR Director

Dear Carmen,

Hugh Mann - HR DirectorJust a quick note from me, your HR director, to remind you that continuing professional development is important. Indeed, Isobel Ching, our CEO – has this as a priority for all of us. As she has set out:

  1. In-person matters more than ever.
  2. CEOs are not getting the data — or advice — they want.
  3. Practicing analytical thinking and complex problem solving is mission critical.

Here are some quick ideas focused on this for the year ahead. It is a mix of conferences – which can help you learn and connect with your peers –  as well as things you can do anytime (podcasts and blogs).

And on the latter note, as learning is best with others, you may also want to encourage others by sharing these:

1) In-person matters more than ever

There are lots of opportunities – these are just a few of them. Be sure to share any interesting ones you come across that are not mentioned below:

#EMENAcomm in Bahrain

Later in the spring – in Milan there’s an opportunity to explore agile practice…

And one of the year’s blockbuster opportunities: #IABC19

2) CEOs are not getting the data or advice they want

First of all, are you too distracted?

Are you clear about your role?

You might want to revisit this brief post on etymology in the boardroom from earlier.

Are you sure you’re really listening

3) Practicing analytical thinking and complex problem solving is more important than ever

Better understanding through slowing down

How to say no – an often overlooked skill in this domain

Analytical thinking is essential – but it can also equal cognitive overload and analysis paralysis. In HR we wish people wouldn’t forget that a skill like this is best maintained through regular, careful practice. I know you enjoyed the menu of how to say no – so I thought this discussion on the same topic might also be of interest.

Most important: test your ideas with others

(Banner graphic of PRSA Employee Communications Connect 19 Conference logo) And of course: regular sessions of Snakes & Ladders. You could for example come along to the pre-conference session we’re running for #PRSAConnect.

And as a warm-up, don’t forget we have a whole collection of interviews where your peers share what they’ve learnt playing the game.

Good luck in 2019!

Isobel Ching’s 3 Take-Aways from #WEF2019

A guest post by Isobel Ching, CEO

Isobel Ching CEOAt -10°C, queuing for the shuttle that will take me from the conference centre to the Digital Technologies of Tomorrow reception, I am surrounded by my peers. These are people like me: educated, powerful, enabled, with a certain commitment to bettering the world. And yet … This year some voices are missing. No Macron, no Trump … But the key issues we are here to solve remain: climate change, gender equality, income inequality.

This make me wonder, does Davos still matter? Is it still worth me trekking to Klosters in the late January snow? Should I just send Carmen or Buck next year?

I think we are all coming next year. And here’s why:

1) In-person matters more than ever

The world might be obsessed by digital, but in-person matters more than ever. The big consulting firms bring lots of data to WEF. One example is Accenture, who asserts that trust in digital has eroded. And they have a set of recommendations for rebuilding it.

I’m struck by how digitally focused their recommendations are nevertheless – especially as they’re bringing these to a face-to-face event. So whilst I agree with the diagnosis, I’d extend the proposed remedy by saying: focus on bringing your people together more.

This why I make time to get my team in the same room. To discuss, plan and review scenarios and to learn from different perspectives. You should too.

Which leads us to the next point, where I hope to see a change next year:

2) CEOs are not getting the data they want

PwC launched their 22nd annual CEO survey. I remember being interviewed for this, and wondering what the results would be. One of the most interesting charts in the report visualised the gap between data considered critical for decision making – versus comprehensiveness of the data currently received.

2019 PwC CEO Survey Report - Exhibit 12

Part of this links to whether CEOs perceive their staff to have the right skills. In an age that is sometimes called the gig economy, I was encouraged to see that my fellow CEOs still invest in training and retraining. I encourage you to move team development from the “nice to have” to the “absolutely must” column of your to do list.

Exhibit 14 from the PwC CEO Survey Report

The report also quotes my friend and rival, Adidas CEO Kasper Rørsted – exploring the tension between following a core idea and getting fresh input:

“We look at all kinds of collaborative creation as valuable — not only within our company, but with external partners as well. We are clear about the borders of our brand, because the brand is sacred to us. But we also recognize that if we have only the inspiration and creativity of people within our own organization, we miss a lot of what’s going on in the marketplace. We articulate this point by saying that we need to be consumer-obsessed and to create the best product for the consumer. If that is your endgame, then you have to be able to confront sacred cows, and open yourself up to ideas that you might not have been open to in the past.”

3) Practice analytical thinking and complex problem solving

The insights above combined with the earlier WEF Future of Jobs report all point to the need for opportunities to practice analytical thinking and complex problem solving. Preferably in-person.

Table 4 from the 2018 WEF future of jobs report -https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-future-of-jobs-report-2018 - Comparing Skills Demand

To that end I’ve asked my colleague Hugh Mann to draw up some ideas for conferences to attend in 2019. You should think about the same for your own development.

I’m also encouraged by the number of companies bringing me and my colleagues to their offices to help their teams develop and get in touch with new ways of thinking. We’ll be in the Leeds University Business School next…

Right … The shuttle is here … Got to go. I don’t want to get stuck next to the Zuck at dinner … he always tries to practice his terrible Mandarin on me.

Are you Beast or Beauty?

Many communication professionals I know seem besotted with the concept of becoming a ‘business partner’. They say things like: If only my CEO would listen to me … I’ve got lots of great ideas but senior executives just treat me like a copy editor … I can never get time in their diaries … they only think of communication after the fact and don’t involve me in decision-making … they seem to think my job is to ‘make things pretty’.

An 1875 illustration from "Beauty and the Beast" by Eleanor Vere Boyle, where Beast is depicted as a saber-toothed panther. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:Reusing_content_outside_Wikimedia
An 1875 illustration from “Beauty and the Beast” by Eleanor Vere Boyle, where Beast is depicted as a saber-toothed panther. 

This is reminiscent of my niece’s favourite Fairy Tale “Beauty and the Beast”; where a lack of mutual understanding and tolerance initially gets in the way of a fruitful and successful relationship. The power of partnership overcomes initial antipathy. If this sounds like some of your internal relationships – with senior executives or other functions in your organizations, then read on.

For many people in our profession, creating a successful partnership with senior colleagues is a vexing challenge. The dilemma is about how to balance your professional expertise with the other skills require to create a great partnership. The problem is made more difficult by the professional curriculum of the profession.

By this I contend that companies, individuals, and organizations invest a lot of time and energy on the technical skills side of training. There are many conferences on skills and tools to become an ‘expert’, or about the last ‘shiny tools’ and techniques. But becoming a business partner is about more than just becoming a great technician. Playing in the professional sandbox is great fun but doesn’t add much value.

To help understand this, I spoke to my other functional colleagues – Buck Greenback, Lloyd Barr and Hugh Mann to get a different perspective. It seems that other functions, have also started to recognise this, invest in training and new approaches, and are therefore seen as more of a partner, whether they have the job title of ‘business partner’ or not.

Developing great partnerships and being taken seriously is more than just being a beautifully crafted expert. In the fable, Belle succeeds because she relies on more than just her looks; just as the true professional has to rely on more than just technical expertise. In fact, it is rare that your internal customers will judge you on your skills, they’ll focus instead on impact. In business – whether you are in HR, Communications, or IT – becoming a true partner is demonstrating business know-how and having great advisory/consulting behaviours.

Developing these requires investment. And sometimes training. But when was the last time you attended a training course that was about business know-how, operating models, value creation, advisory skills, consulting behaviours, or coaching?

If you want a seat at the table, for the CEO (in my case Isobel Ching) or other leaders to invest time in you, then you need to invest in them. Reciprocity: senior business people will only partner with those who understand their business, know how value is created, and demonstrate that they have done their homework. But it is surprising how few functional professionals know who their organization’s biggest customers are; who are the most important shareholders; what competitors are up to; the regulatory environment. Focusing on technical skills or new technologies is the sign of the technician, not the business partner. It’s also the sign of the vacuous beauty of Belle’s friends — the Bimbettes — who don’t have her emotional intelligence and charm.

This applies whether you are working with the senior executives, or even other functional heads. How can you help them if you don’t make an attempt to understand their world, their challenges, and their operating environment? The Beast is more than just a repellent monster. To create a partnership Belle has to understand his back-story and what drives his behaviour. Then work with him. He, in turn, invests (and overcomes his antipathy) also to discover she is more than just ‘belle’.

Once you have business knowledge, then you need to marry your experience with your business know-how with the help of the priest of consulting and advisory skills. These act as the bridge to get senior leaders to listen to your advice and guidance. These skills are about relationship building, audience analysis, creating trust, influencing skills, and being clear about what you do and how you make a difference. How you give advice is just as important as what the advice is.

The tale of Beauty and the Beast has moments of tragedy and it is also tragic that many professionals punch below their weight despite the fact that business and advisory skills are relatively easy to learn.

Advancing the profession – and advancing your own career – might be easier by focusing less on knowing the latest digital communication tools and focusing more on developing consulting tools.

If you would like to learn more about how to be a business partner, and practice your skills in a safe environment, please get in touch and we can play Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders with your team.