Tia Castagno, global head of innovation at Vizeum, reflects on the diversity panel debate at this year’s Dmexco event in Cologne, Germany.
As the tech world globally, in show at Dmexco, has unfortunately so far failed to recruit a representative percentage of women, as well as other minority groups in general, I was very much looking forward to attending this session. And it certainly was as interesting as it promised to be, moderated by our very own Nigel Morris.
I have attempted to summarise the points, which resonated more strongly and which are most relevant to our network.
The entire panel agreed in unison on what makes great leadership in the fast moving world we live in today. Of course, having a strong and clear vision is fundamental. But it is equally important creating an environment where people can fail and feel empowered to be creative.
Motivate and inspire your team to realise the vision. Vulnerability in leaders, in the right measure, is a very humanising trait that strengthens the position of authentic and being true to who you are.
Walk the talk
As a leader you must be prepared to walk the talk and think about all aspects of how you run your life, even in your down time. I would add that we should all feel in our right to question our leaders when we feel they are not being authentic or fail to lead by example.
We moved on to talk about the state of debate around diversity, the positive effect of which on businesses and bottom lines is very well documented. However, the debate seems to be stuck. Facebook’s Nicola Mendelsohn made an extremely valid point by saying that we keep doing what we have always done, and expect different outcome – which of course won’t happen.
Programmes for managing bias are a very powerful way to lead change but they are very rare. We often take a passive and defeatist approach to the fact that there are not enough women in tech. But as Nicola says, “Go out and do something about it.” She offered the example of #GirlsCanCode, which I encourage you to check out on Twitter to get an understanding of the growing scale behind these topics.
OMD’s Nikki Mendonca also stressed the importance of “diversity of thought”, travel experience, and working abroad.
Diversity of skill sets
In today’s world, you often need someone that understands data, content, tech, management and much more. I like to refer to this type of individual as the ‘polymath’, a figure that dates back to the Renaissance – personified by geniuses like Leonardo, Michelangelo and so on.
Nigel also added another dimension to this alchemy of the individual, the importance of ‘alchemy of teams’, as well as leaders making sure we are not just paying lip service to this principle. The right conditions must be created so that it is not always the alpha male who wins in those mixed scenarios.
Nigel quoted the recently-reported ‘Three T’s’ winning formula for companies to succeed: Tolerance, Talent and Technology. Again, if there’s such documented awareness, why is this change not happening quickly enough? The answer seems to be the lack of concerted effort in creating the right culture, the right platforms for sharing knowledge, and also for shining, as Nikki pointed out.
Facebook runs a women’s leadership day, across the world. Everyone makes a pledge to female empowerment. I was truly inspired by that and have mentally made a pledge for the next months, which I will roll out in the form of a programme for my female colleagues at Vizeum and in DAN. Watch this space for more news on that.
From mentoring to sponsoring
On the subject of mentoring, a couple of very interesting spin offs came out. Many of us are mentors for someone – but how many take that further to sponsoring someone?
How many of us receive reverse mentoring by younger people in the business? It should not be a one-way process. Unilever, for instance, runs a digital-reverse mentoring programme. How many companies can say they don’t need that? Not many would be my very approximate guess.
Furthermore, how do companies effectively work towards ‘bridging the gap’ between the older work force and millennials? Adapting rigid processes to flexible and agile ways of working that can make the work environment appealing to millennials, rather than alienating them from the work world, which we see happening far too often.
Rigid processes vs digitally born
Nikki stressed the importance of questioning what you do as a leader so that everyone feels empowered to question. Millennials want more of a work-life balance and leaders need to be able to accommodate that. In Nigel’s words, it’s one life.
So, in conclusion, how do we get past the dire percentage of female leadership figure currently painfully reported, especially in technology?
There’s no quick fix, as we need to start working on the root cause of the problem. Nicola observed that women are put off studying computer science degrees and similar from a very young age. This suggests to me that governments and industries need to work closer together to make these subjects cool and appealing for young girls.
It goes without saying, as Nikki pointed out, that we also need to create the right environment – offer training and coaching for young females in a free environment.
Nigel also encouraged not to forget the other side of the coin: older people. What to do to encourage them to embrace technology? They can often bring a different perspective.
The answer is the same: creating a comfortable environment for learning. But also, Nikki added, be better at talent mapping. I couldn’t agree with this more, as too often we give up on people too quickly, without questioning whether we have done our due diligence of putting the right people in the right jobs and created the optimal conditions for them to perform as we expect them to.
As you can guess by the length of my report, this session was my Dmexco highlight today. Looking forward to day two!