Written by IoD Member Laura McBrown from G&B Electronic Designs Ltd
I walked into our board room to greet the audit team of a potential new client, “Good Morning” I smiled warmly “I’m Laura, I’m the Managing Director”. “Nice to meet you" came the friendly reply “So….. does your husband work here?
I withheld the temptation to advise the gentleman, who by this point was looking for the nearest window to jump out of, that I was totally unsupervised but not to panic because I could call my husband at any time should something important come up. Sadly, I’m well versed in handling potentially awkward situations such as this. So instead I politely advised him that we do have another gentlemen working as part of our team with the same surname, but we are not married. I’m sure that poor man went home that evening and said to his partner “you’ll never believe what I said today!!”.
Depressingly, this is just one small example of the unconscious bias that is rife within many organisations and sectors due to the lack of diversity. Having said that, I feel you would be hard pushed to find a company that does not recognise the value of a diverse workforce. The many benefits diversity brings to an organisation range from creating a vibrant company culture to a better understanding of the customer base and everything in-between. All of these benefits have been well documented in the press and appear to be universally agreed; the issue is HOW to Implement?!
I recently attended a Women and Diversity in Manufacturing event that brought together over 100 women from across the UK. All of these ladies are working in manufacturing companies both large and small, producing products ranging from aircraft to the malt for Malteesers and taking on roles from apprentice to CEO. Spending time with these talented and inspiring women was amazing. As I watched them and listened to their stories I started to realise what it is that all these women have in common….. they are all Alpha females; all a little rebellious and all comfortable and confident in their own skin. Clearly, none of these women were the least bit phased by being in the minority for most to their working life, in fact in many cases this appeared to be a source of inspiration and drive. Sadly, not all of us fall into this category and not many of us want to be trail blazers, so how do we begin to balance the numbers and encourage our sisters to step up with us and reach their full potential? We believe, that we are developing a reasonably diverse workforce. With this in mind I decided to take a look at my own business to see how we measured up. Our business offers electronic product manufacturing services and we make products on behalf of other companies such as medical devices etc. Traditionally quite a male dominated industry. To my surprise and delight I discovered that we are an exact 50/50 split of men and women. So, I took it a little further and analysed our Senior Management Team, again an exact 50/50 split of women and men, this includes a small team from the LGBTQ community. So I began to think what is it that we have changed within our business to give us this result because we haven’t always been this way?
After some thought I believe it is down to two elements, the first being human nature to gravitate towards people who are like us, who share our way of looking at things and our values. We feel comfortable and safe in this kind of environment. Within our organisation we have developed a culture of compassion, kindness and teamwork. We look out for each other and all pull together, this resonates with the more feminine traits of all our personalities and has resulted in an environment that more women want to be a part of and contribute to. The second element of our success is down to promoting and developing women into senior strategic positions and this coupled with encouraging our more senior team to focus on the development of the people they have around them. I am very proud to say that our most technical assembly re-worker is a women, as is our technical in house trainer.
I do not believe that quotas are the way to go. Everyone wants to be selected on their merit and because they are the best candidate for the role. No-one want to be made to feel excluded because the rest of the team just see them as the token female adding no other value than to even up the numbers. This, in my opinion is only going to make it more difficult for anyone to see the benefit of diversity within the workforce and will also discourage the less confident of individuals to step forward and be counted. What I have seen in my own organisation is that diversity within a company can make a big difference. Whether this be the male to female ratio, the mix of cultures from ethnic groups or the LGBTQ community a diverse workforce equals a diverse way of thinking and an environment that people enjoying working in.