Why diversity supersedes the old boy's network

9th February 2015

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The UK and other Commonwealth countries, have a long established tradition of gentleman’s clubs. Elite schools and their alumni are also often referred to as an ‘old boy’s network’. The sorority and fraternity traditions are deeply enshrined in the heritage of the US university system. In Chinese society the concept of guanxi – a person’s network of influence – is central to someone’s success. In organisations managers tend to hire in their own image. It is nothing new that we all like to be with people who are ‘like us’. It makes us feel comfortable and understood as we can relate to one another through shared experiences.

Yet, in today’s global multicultural society and evolving business environment, this often unconscious bias and mono-cultural mind-set stops organisations succeeding. McKinsey recently published an article on ‘Why Diversity matters’ which once again clearly shows how diverse organisations outperform those that are not. This and other research shows that greater diversity enables better business performance.

Everyone wants to go to work and be valued for who they are and what they bring to the table – regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. Everyone wants to be given an equal opportunity and judged on their merits.

What this means for organisations is that everyone, especially managers, is required to check their own biased assumptions around ‘performance’ and what constitutes ‘leadership’. Successful leadership in an Asian society is vastly different to Western societies. The three adages below illustrate the point: in the West often the ‘squeakiest wheel gets the grease,’ whereas in Japan ‘the nail that stands out gets hammered down’ and a Chinese proverb warns that ‘the loudest duck gets shot’.

This has profound implications for the modern workplace. Global managers need to learn to adapt towards a multicultural mind-set which allows them to shift their behaviour in an appropriate way. Managers need to learn to engage effectively with people who are different to them in order to ensure they are able to get the best performance out of their global teams. This means people need to step out of their comfort-zones.

For any business to succeed in a global world, diversity and cultural empathy is now a business imperative, rather than a nice to have. An organisation’s client base is diverse, its employees are diverse and the old boy’s network is no longer a long-term sustainable competitive advantage. The richness of thought and experiences that diversity brings, however, is what will propel organisations forward in a globally competitive market.

This article was written by Astrid Kirchner. Astrid Kirchner has over 13 years experience in the Talent and Leadership Development industry in multiple sectors. Astrid’s latest role in a major Investment Bank involves running executive development programs, leading the Diversity & Inclusion curriculum for the Asia Pacific region, as well as leading the learning strategy for 8 divisions. Her previous experience includes roles at two UK-based national professional membership bodies, where she worked with chief  executives and next generation FTSE Finance Directors. Astrid is also on the board of a Hong Kong based Arts and Health charity. Astrid obtained her MBA in 2008 and has also completed several coaching qualifications.

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