The Loudest Duck
Laura Liswood
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The author of this recent book states her claim on diversity boldly.  “Many major businesses have taken a serious and informed strategy for incorporating diversity in their workplace.  Most offer a strong business case for doing this, e.g. the war for talent; trying to recruit and retain the best people; the need to better reflect the organisation’s clients; the higher profitability; the global nature of the firm, the legal scrutiny and laws now prevalent in many countries... (however) I don’t believe these foundational efforts will actually change cultures,  While I am not suggesting that we get rid of these building blocks, I don’t think they will ever level the playing field or create true meritocracies in corporations”.

The problem, the author suggests, is that most diversity in the workplace, is of the ‘Noah’s Ark’ variety: “if you bring two of every kind aboard an organisation then you have solved the problem – except you really haven’t.”  Instead of this “numbers game”, the author says, we need a kind of diversity 2.0, where there is a conscious effort to overcome the problems a superficial embrace of a diverse workforce can create. “You have to shape the attitudes and tendencies of the people in the organisation, from the top down to the bottom up.  You have to foster an environment free of subtle advantages and subtle disadvantages so that all employees work on a fair and level playing field.  You can’t just throw a team of corporate animals together and expect them to get along.”  This requires heightened levels of awareness from both managers and employees about what is truly inclusive, and how communication styles and habits favour or disadvantage particular groups.  It also requires clear and consistent feedback to get genuine changes in behaviour and attitudes.

This is more easily said than done, of course, but the author provides lots of examples and insights throughout the course of the book.  An interesting aspect of this book is the author’s own background,  As well as the requisite corporate background at leading corporations, culminating in a position as managing director for Global Leadership and Diversity at Goldman Sachs, the author is also Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders.  In this capacity, she has personally interviewed the few dozen women who had been a president or a prime minister of a country. Late in life and in response to 9/11, the author also embraced a career as a ‘first responder’ by spending just on a year full time training as a reserve police officer in a Washington DC police academy.  Together with the author’s obvious interest in examining the many unstated assumptions about how people interact and behave in the workforce, these broader perspectives inform the book and make it a more interesting discussion on this thorny issue that many CEOs are grappling with.

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