Blog > Victoria Brown CFO: Diversity is Key

Victoria Brown CFO: Diversity is Key

23 February 2022 by CustomSolar

In diversity there is beauty and there is strength – Maya Angelou

A strong board, indeed, a strong company, only achieves that status by challenging themselves.  Homogeneity, whilst comfortable and safe, is a huge risk for a business, leading to groupthink, complacency, an echo chamber and potentially sleepwalking into dangerous positions.

There are a number of ways to ensure that challenge is not just accepted, but encouraged and robust. The first step is to find strength in our differences.

A good director should exemplar a number of attributes, (the following are those considered by the Institute of Directors, source

Many of these can be attained either through training or by experience.

However, in addition to these, there are individual characteristics that are also valuable; logical, creative, courageous, kind, thoughtful, spontaneous, prudent, receptive, confident, flexible, enthusiastic, empathic, steadfast, bold, and diligent, to name a few.  It would be a rare individual who encompasses all these qualities to a high level, therefore ensuring that the board cover these traits between them is important. A start would be to understand the skills and values that each director or employee brings, there are a number of free online assessments that will help to evaluate the board.

By necessity, directors presenting opposing traits will have to work harder to agree, but the challenge that they will provide to one another will lead to more informed decision-making. IF the differences are respected and appreciated.

But differences go deeper than character traits. Background and experience can bring very different viewpoints to the fore. Even in 2022 British business leaders tend to come from a fairly small population group; white, male, British born, degree educated, over 45. Whilst I am by no means suggesting that people from this section of the population can’t be great leaders (and I fit into 4 of the 5 boxes), they don’t have the diversity of beliefs, values, and experience that can really help a business fly.

Companies need to try and harness a wealth of diversity, and there are a variety of ways to do that.

It’s not difficult to imagine how the perspective of someone from your shopfloor could be incredibly useful in decision making, in my experience both the most operational obstacles and the most practical solutions will come from people that have direct exposure to the process.

As a Generation X-er (born in the 70s) I am at best a tourist in the world of technology, we just weren’t bought up with a computer in our pockets. In my generation IT guys are specialists, this is not the case for the generations that follow, it seems that everyone has a basic understanding of computing and the potential that can be harnessed by utilizing technology. If you don’t have an IT specialist on your board, I hope you have someone who understands the possibilities.

In the same way reverse mentoring is a great way to gain new insights into various topics of strategic and cultural relevance. It also ensures that your team feels valued and listened to which in turn will increase employee retention. 

Cultural differences open another largely untapped area for exploring alternative opinions, people with different backgrounds have different viewpoints, solutions and highlight potential stumbling blocks that wouldn’t be considered within a more uniform group.  

Bringing neurodiverse individuals into both the workplace and the boardroom adds a further dimension to debates. Neurodiverse employees may be more creative or have increased cognitive skills, all of which will lead to more interesting solutions to issues that a company could be facing.

So ultimately my message is embracing differences, seeking out people who can provide a different perspective, and then, most importantly, listening to them. 

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