One of my more memorable CEO interviews was with CEO of Walgreens in Chicago when I enquired why he chose to maintain Chicago as his US HQ, he told me that he liked to be based in a place where the staff looked like his customers. Simple but profound. Chicago is a melting pot for the US where rich and poor live and work in close proximity. Hispanic and Latin American people, African Americans, and white people seem to be better integrated here than elsewhere in the nation and People of Colour are visible in high political office, and it was from here that Barack Obama, the first Black President of the United States, launched his powerful ‘Hope’ and ‘Yes We Can’ campaigns.
A key challenge for many organisations in today’s environment is achieving a balance of racial and ethnic diversity, a gender balance, and an awareness that inclusivity and perceived bias is likely to be called out by clients and competitors, which will be a deterrent to future growth and success . There is also much evidence to suggest that organisations who get the balance right tend to outperform competitors, attract the best talent and experience lower staff turnover. Italian fashion brand Benneton ran a memorable and highly successful corporate branding and communications campaign around diversity, under the United Colours theme.
I was invited to contribute to an away day session on vision and values for the leadership team in the newly formed Investment Directorate at the Department for International Trade. The new team led by Michael Charlton reflects the UK’s ambition for Global Britain and is a merger of legacy teams from different parts of the organisation. What struck me was the incredible diversity in a relatively small team of 14 Directors and senior Managers. There was a good gender balance, as well as racial and ethnic representation including those from Indian and African-Caribbean backgrounds, various European nations, individuals of Arab descent, and plenty of UK regional accents. In spite of all of the uncertainty, storming and forming that comes with a new team and mandate, the atmosphere was highly engaged, warm and professional and I reflected that this sends a powerful message to the diverse client base of foreign investors from all over the world.
Government Departments are often criticised for having too many white middle aged middle class men in senior positions so it was both surprising and reassuring that at least in DIT Diversity and Inclusion is not just an empty promise, as these values are being lived and experienced. I am also immensely proud to learn during OCO’s Women’s Network session earlier this week that among our 120 staff we employ 20 nationalities and speak 18 languages. Our staff look like our clients!