Reflections from International Women's Day 2018 - Improving diversity and inclusion at work in the coming year

Zelda La Grange, Nelson Mandela's personal assistant, was the keynote speaker at the AHRI IWD Event and offered an insightful perspective on inclusive leadership. 

Zelda La Grange, Nelson Mandela's personal assistant, was the keynote speaker at the AHRI IWD Event and offered an insightful perspective on inclusive leadership. 

My key takeaways from last week’s 2018 International Women's Day (IWD) celebrations and #pressforchange discussions:

Gender equity, fairness and inclusion continues to be a hot topic as we surf the 4th wave of feminism that continues to gather strength; mobilising more people to help address gender inequality. Last week we saw extensive media discussion and a wide range of events to mark 2018 IWD. If you are trying to convince someone why gender inequity is still an important issue that they need to help address, look no further than

-       The 2018 Australian facts and;

-       The top 10 topics for discussion summarised here by journalist Georgia Dent.

Are we there yet was the topic debated at AHRI's IWD breakfast with Zelda La Grange and then again at the Sydney Ideas “Fearless Women” event, both of which I attended last week.

Zelda’s description of the most important lesson Nelson Mandela taught her is so important in today’s public debate about how we can manage difference in our workplaces – instead of walking on eggshells around difference, we must;

‘Respect people irrespective of their appearance, wealth, status, conviction or religion.’
— Nelson Mandela

As a fabulous storyteller, utilising her experience alongside humour, the entire room of HR and business leaders was captivated as she shared her story working as Mandela’s personal assistant in his ‘rainbow nation’ team, a diverse team reflecting the South African community that Mandela consciously built around himself to show the way forward after Apartheid. As part of her journey with him she described shifting her thinking from seeing Mandela as a terrorist to seeing him as an outstanding leader, who worked tirelessly to achieve equality without anger or divisiveness.

I also loved the 5 powerful lessons she shared on how to be an authentic leader. 

-           The ability and willingness to listen with the intention to understand - not to respond.

-           Discipline – be punctual by respecting people’s time.

-           Respect – the way you approach another person will determine how that other person treats you. Respect yourself and know that you are good enough. 

-           Integrity and ethics -  “if you have integrity nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity nothing else matters” Alan Simpson.

-           Change – It’s easier to change others than it is to change yourself.

What else stood out for me over the week?

We know what women want –

There is no question about what women want – they want a fair go in the workplace, at home, and in education. As University of Sydney Professor Robyn Alders succinctly stated ‘Women don’t just want a seat at the table. Women want to be able to fully contribute to help solve the complex problems of today’s world.’

We have amazing female talent everywhere we look

I see outstanding female talent no matter which field I look in; the media, sport, government, academia and business. Diverse women everywhere are making a massive difference in their field of choice across the world. So, there is no excuse to not be able to find competitive female talent for every short-list for every role.

At this stage of the journey there exists both hope and frustration

Currently diversity practice is still too inconsistent. The rhetoric does not always match the reality and it is often a matter of luck whether you end up in a great inclusive team or a toxic work environment. From this, we hear inspirational stories about women thriving in some bright pockets with inclusive practice, but sadly there also still exists darker pockets which lead to frustration between women’s career aspirations and their current working realities. Some of these gaps and traps faced currently by young Australian women aged 18-40 were identified in this Sydney University Women & Future of Work Group’s study launched last week.

The issue is systemic, so we need systemic solutions –

Too often with D & I we play around the edges and end up with a “fridge magnet” approach to diversity – on the surface we implement policies and programs, but the practice isn’t embedded into the cultural DNA of the organisation, meaning when the going gets tough with a change in leadership or economic downturn diversity goes backwards. This is not sustainable. It’s time to diagnose the systemic structural & cultural patterns that are undermining “a fair go” for many in our organisations who don’t fit our often too narrowly defined successful leadership style. This definition must be broadened to match the diversity of the 21st century talent pool.

So what can we do to make a sustainable difference to our organisations and #pressforprogress:

-          Diagnose the systemic and cultural challenges that are undermining equity for everyone, develop and test hypotheses, then take action to address the challenges.

–         Educate and/or remove “blocker leaders” who choose not to display inclusive leader mindsets and behaviours and create toxic cultures.

–         Mentor diverse talent with a focus on increasing business acumen rather than resilience.

–         Sponsor diverse women as well as men, opening doors to help them achieve that next career step on their leadership journey.

–         Become an “inclusion rider” and use your bargaining power to help drive change, as outlined by Oscars 2018 best Actress winner Frances McDormand.

Image via Daily Mirror

Fiona KrautilComment