Strength Through Diversity and Inclusion
My city is home to the Edmonton Eskimos, of the CFL (Canadian Football League) who hold a North American professional sports record by qualifying for the playoffs for 34 consecutive years between 1972 and 2005. This past weekend was the 106th Grey Cup and the 40th anniversary of the only team in professional sports history to win five consecutive championships from 1978 - 1982.
I know right now some of you are saying, “good lord, not another male sports story.” Well before you hit the back button, in support of gender equality my city was also home to the world famous Edmonton Grads.
The Edmonton Grads (1915–40) were a women's championship basketball team coached by Percy Page. During their 25 years as a team, the Grads won an astounding 95 per cent of their matches. They were named World Champions in 1928 after dominating world competition held “in conjunction with three Olympic Summer Games (1924, 1928 and 1936). The Grads won all 24 games, defeating their opponents by large margins.” (The Canadian Encyclopedia)
It is interesting to note that in terms of inclusion, women’s basketball did not become an Olympic sport until 1976.
My city is also home to the Edmonton Oilers and the historic dynasty of Wayne Gretzky, and four successive NHL Stanley Cups.
Truly a City of Champions of which I’ve had the privilege of observing first hand. Knowing and associating with a number of the key community leaders over the years, has been an enriching experience. It is from this perspective that I take a different approach to advocating for diversity and inclusion. What do we need to do that makes sense?
The success of these teams didn’t happen by accident. It happened because the leaders of the day were visionaries. They realized that by building a organization based on certain principles, a successful team would follow. To do that meant starting with a group of key players as a nucleus and a plan for continued development. As someone matured as a player, there was always someone coming up behind them. In business we refer to this as mentoring and succession.
The other key factor was getting the right players for a particular role the team needed, picked for their unique skill. These differences added up to something greater than the sum of their parts. The teams were and are built on diversity and inclusion. The same ideas apply to business and the workplace.
Much has been written about diversity and inclusion, the need for it, and the issues related to equal pay and equal opportunity with respect to gender, race and age. When we look around the business world today we see imbalance in gender with very few women in senior management and board roles. In much of the tech world we see a movement to the under thirty crowd, with little appreciation for age and years of experience. Throwing in racial, cultural and minority issues only adds to the disparities that frustrate and anger many of us.
Where is the sense in such imbalance in business? Perhaps the common sense, that says — differences present a broader view rather than a narrow one, and are good for business — is not so common after all.
Over the the last fifty years I have had the opportunity and privilege of putting together select teams for various tasks: combat, sales, entrepreneurial startups, and boards of directors, both in business and community. They all had two things in common: a well defined vision and goal, and members who were picked for their uniqueness, bringing different views to the table. Just like role players on sports teams.
When I selected team members, I always asked in the interview process, what sports and extracurricular activities outside of the job, they enjoyed. What I was looking for was insights into their ability to work within a team. The other attribute I always looked for was someone who shows empathy. Such an attribute goes to understanding and appreciating an individual’s emotional impact, and the ability to enjoy and appreciate a team member’s success independent of one’s own success. Again an attribute that we see demonstrated on sport teams when one of the team members makes a great play or scores.
Let’s engage in a little exercise. Imagine you are to choose team members from a group of resumes only. To make it interesting, the resumes contain no pictures, no gender, no age, no race, no colour, and no information on sexual orientation. All those subconscious (or conscious) biases are off the table. All you have to go by are straight analytical facts about their job history, their hobbies and extra curricular interests. How do you think that would go for your first round selection? Perhaps on paper you might end up interviewing an eighteen year old girl to head up a major IT project, or a fifty year old woman for your Board of Directors. I guarantee your first round selection will be notanything that you expected. You would be choosing to build your team based not on comfortable similarities but on differences as you saw them, for a set of roles, without built-in bias.
We all have biases and the most obvious ones are related to our comfort zones. We like people who are similar to us, that reflect us. Some of that is good — people that have similar values and goals. On the other hand, it can be a road block to building the best team because similar views don’t push any boundaries. One of the most interesting innovations in hiring I have seen recently is Microsoft’s inclusion of autistic adults in their workforce and the impact it has made with all their staff and at the company’s productivity level.
What we choose to do in building teams needs to make sense. If you are running a business, it make sense to hire and mentor the most diverse group of people you can get. Further it makes sense to make gender balance a prerequisite in that process. Perhaps it makes sense to utilize the little exercise above, to assist at least in a conscious way, to help take most of the obvious bias out of the process and focus on what really counts.
So here we are in 2018 still looking at many companies and organizations that are dominated by the just-like-me syndrome. I call it a syndrome because it is so prevalent and unfortunately accepted as the norm by many men. It has even become politicized. Half the world are women and we know they are just as smart as we men. Any man who does not accept that women are more capable at multi tasking, have never seen a mom manage the home and full time out of the house employment. You should meet my daughters.
So when it comes to employees, equal opportunity in action should include a gender balance across all roles and responsibilities. If you think you can’t find the right person, look harder. There are debates about quotas, whether it be by gender or colour or even age. We shouldn’t have to legislate such things if we use our common sense and include as many options as possible by broadening and mentoring our talent pool. The issue of having the right mix of people should be right at the top of our criteria. Sometimes we need to see the potential in the individual even if they don’t have the best skill set, and mentor that individual to bring out the best in them. Skills are trainable.
I remember almost twenty years ago when I was building a startup, I had a young woman working for me, a bit eccentric, but full of energy and really anxious to prove herself. She was the youngest member of the marketing team at the time but had a habit of suggesting to other members of the group, how to do their job. I could have replaced her but instead decided to mentor her, giving her an opportunity to grow. I sat down with her and together we plotted out the architecture for a marketing application that would allow us to start capturing information for sales opportunities across North America. I told her it was her task to build the application first, then we would see what we could do with it. Within a short time, after some tweaks, she had built the application and asked to begin filling it. Within a couple of months she had researched and/or contacted every one of the 35,000 opportunities, creating a unique and powerful marketing database. She created huge value for the company by giving us a significant competitive advantage while demonstrating her commitment to the team. That team of men and women ultimately developed a world class software application and introduced the first Software as a Service business model in the IT industry.
As to Boards, studies have shown that when there are three or more women on the board, their voices are heard and their contributions make the company more profitable, something all shareholders should appreciate and demand. Having set up and served on a number of boards, directors have a responsibility to the shareholders, to have the right mix on the board. In public companies, the case could be made that the board and chairman are negligent in their responsibilities if they to not have a widely diverse group, not only in terms of gender but in other aspects of diversity such as race, colour, culture and age.
It seems to me that it is a self evident truth that genders, cultures and age see and understand issues and solve problems in different ways. How could it be any other way? In my experience, woman see and understand many things differently than men do. One could suggest women are more empathetic, intuitive, often more experienced at multi tasking, or any number of other different attributes we could attribute to be the differences between the genders. In the end, why or how doesn’t really matter, they just do. We men just need to recognize, accept and live with it, see women and their uniqueness as a blessing. Having been married to the love of my life for over forty three years, I have learned to appreciate and trust her wisdom and intuition. I don’t question it, I just accept that it is what it is and be grateful. Probably safer that way too. I’m proud to say my wife is my editor and she makes me a better writer — what a team, strength through diversity.
Similar arguments can be made for people from different cultural backgrounds. Many years ago, I had the opportunity to volunteer in the Vista Program in Florida US back in the 1960’s. In the particular location, I visited homes of under privileged families in African American and Latin American communities to discover children four or five years old who had never held a crayon or pencil, nor had the opportunity to write, draw or colour. Providing them with something that many of us took for granted growing up, and seeing the look on their faces, was a joyful memory that remains with me to this day. Now when I hear individuals from minority groups describe the environment they fled or grew up in, their struggles to survive and achieve as they have, I don’t pretend to understand, but I do know if I’m building a business (or a community), I want them as part of it, to reflect the needs and aspirations of everyone involved. I know inclusion of their diversity will create the strongest possible team and produce the best possible outcome.
So let’s stop looking at gender, colour, culture and age as anything other than what it is, the opportunity to utilize our differences to build the strongest community or business. Let’s make it our imperative to see the truth that through diversity and inclusion, we can create strength, and with collective strength, we can do anything.
Leaders build teams based on differences because diversity creates strength. —Lloyd Osler
About the Author: Lloyd Osler is a veteran, professional engineer, serial entrepreneur and business leader with heart. He has seized every opportunity to reinvent himself, resulting in several challenging, and exciting careers throughout 50 years in the military, advanced education, IT and health industries.
What a ride! And #notyetdone — he is exercising his right brain in pursuing his passion as a writer.
Lloyd relishes the opportunity to give back and has a long history of mentoring in education, business and community. Husband to one, father of four, papa to five, he is passionate about future generations and is a strong advocate of social issues such as mental health, gender diversity, and equality. He currently serves on the international Advisory Board of sitatthetable.org, promoting global gender mentoring and equality in business. He is also a co-founder at cormosaic.shop. Follow Lloyd on Twitter at @powerofpapa.
At various times in one's life, there comes a moment to evaluate where we are and where we want to be, who we are and what we want to become. Seize the moment and change. No time to waste. —Lloyd Osler