I recently went to the cinema to see the movie ‘Hidden Figures’, and found it a wonderfully crafted and presented story about human endeavour underpinned by the real story of the time being segregation and fear. Along with the movies central story there were several other multilevel themes that make this movie so right for our current time.
It is quite easy to look on voyeuristically at the way people were treated and say ‘wow wasn’t that era terrible’, but what is not so easy is to look at is that this behaviour is still so recognisable in our workplaces and boardrooms today, and realise that not much has changed.
Homogenisation – the scenes of males all wearing the same black suits and ties with a white shirt – is still a strong image today when diversity at executive levels and on boards is such an uphill struggle, despite compelling research that shows that organisations with diverse boards and teams are much more financially well off than those without.
Females being banished to the backrooms and secretarial jobs is not just 1950s; it’s still a struggle to get diversity a seat at the table, let alone at the helm.
In the movie, the female coloured toilets are a symbol of the hurdles put in the way that restrict outsiders being able to contribute and practice their craft successfully, and be successful. Of course, those dealing awkwardly with these hurdles are often met with words such as ‘they knew what they were getting themselves into’. This line still reverberates in boardrooms and through the media today by those who purport to have risen there by hard work, but in many cases, get there through privilege and circumstance.
The boardroom is supposed to be the rock of wisdom and blue sky engine room of every organisation. In its purest terms, it is a space and place in time where a considered and deliberately crafted group of passionate people look beyond the horizon and plot a path for the success of the organisation.
The important thing here is that we all see things differently, have different filters and see different possibilities. If a board is just a reflection of the status quo then it would be more efficient to leave it to senior management or just have an accountant check the books once a month.
Diversity should be built into policy and strategy. It should be as just as important an agenda item as finance and risk. The board should seek diversity in all its forms to build rich understanding and discussion and take the time to explore what is conceivable.
To truly build diversity that leads to courage and true leadership, our boards need to take deliberate steps that enable them to see all possible futures, not just the familiar ones that look like the past. I am passionate about helping boards take the first steps and look beyond today. I hope this inspires you to take such a step with your board.