The market demands that large companies innovate differently, embrace digital, create ecosystems and transform customer relationships at a breath-taking pace. Succeed, and the rewards may be exponential; fail, and irrelevance quickly follows. With disruption raising the stakes, shouldn’t the C-suite be optimally structured to rise to the challenge?
Yet according to research by EY, most CEOs, board directors and institutional investors from the world’s largest companies and institutions believe that the current C-suite model fails the test.
There are many reasons why inclusion and diversity should be discussed and focussed on at all levels of society both consciously and subconsciously. However, the fact this is now a subject which has only recently been openly discussed as critical to business over the last few years is something that should be seen as a distinct failing of business, rather than something to celebrate.
It is important to acknowledge that inclusivity is critical to improve and create a fairer society but also to stimulate innovation, progression and ultimately of course, business profitability. It should be openly discussed and embraced that by having different voices from different backgrounds a business will ensure different voices and opinions are heard. This can only help business leaders make informed and forward-thinking decisions. Even from a negative context, by having different voices and thoughts, critical scenario planning will help the business map out the consequences, intended or otherwise, of any decision. It removes the blinkers of likeminded thoughts focussing down specific paths thus better mitigating risk and putting in place disaster recovery plans.
Diversity in a workplace at a fundamental level means employing people from different backgrounds where the differences might be nationality, religion, education, age, gender, sexual orientation or physical appearance. In an ideal society diversity is a natural derivative of companies employing talented individuals based solely on their abilities to perform the role required and their ability to enhance the culture of the company, without any prejudice from those people involved in the recruitment process.
This should happen at all levels of the company. As you look higher up the management structure of the company, then the concept of experience and length of service in a company historically has probably been the most valued asset for anyone seeking promotion within a company.
As such, across all sectors of business, there is an overwhelming consensus that the diverse nature of an organisation seems to be less prominent resulting in the senior leadership team appearing to have similar backgrounds, thoughts and values. It is important to mitigate this position by stating that many companies are understanding the negative aspects of this position and are positively putting active steps or decisions in place to remedy this. However, my view is that this process of positive diversification (for want of a better term) is a process of continual firefighting and a lack of understanding and acknowledgement of the fundamental problem from a pure business context.
To reiterate an early statement, diversity will ensure the leadership team are hearing the full range of opinions and ideas over any business decision to ensure they make the correct (or at the very least the most informed) decision at that moment in time.
Stripping back the C Suite to its core functionality, its sole purpose is in the role of direct responsibility for the company’s day to day operating and profitability. And this is where the problem lies because if the C Suite are made up of likeminded people will they be making decisions beneficial to the organisation? Or, if there have been positive steps to create a more diverse C Suite, has this been based on the fundamental rationale behind why diversity is beneficial to the organisation or has it been done as a box ticking exercise?
Indeed, have the roles within the C Suite been evaluated so the ‘right’ person is in each role based on their abilities to perform the role without any prejudice and where experience is only one factor in the decision? As an example this is probably best demonstrated in its starkest forms when talking about the role of CTO and looking at the rate of change in technology we’re all experiencing. Are businesses asking the question, are there better people in the business who are more embedded in the latest technological developments than the CTO who might have the best experience but not expertise?
As another example, if the clients a B2C company is serving are of a specific sector in society, surely it would make sense that the CMO of an organisation is someone who understands or even better is the demographic the company is targeting?
I fully understand these are very simplistic views and the C Suite executive perform a myriad of functions critical to the success of the business. This column is not recommending a definitive rewrite of the C Suite profile but rather a relook at the role of functionality of the C Suite and how decisions are made and validated.
With the wealth of talent, opinions, ideas and expertise in any business of any size, why would a company restrict the decision-making process to a group of people who are not representative of the diverse culture the business is either already achieving or at least aspiring to achieve?
The question which needs to be asked in any business that strives for a diverse workplace and understands the transformational benefits of what this diversity can bring to the bottom line of the company is how can all levels of the company ensure this thinking is never compromised due to historical and traditional structures of the organisation.
To conclude, businesses need to evaluate how to become inclusive so the right people are making the final decisions on the right processes or changes, and are enabled by the C Suite to undertake this, rather than the decision resting with the C Suite who maybe are not the most qualified to even ask the right questions.
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