By Nikki Walker, diversity and inclusion expert, More2Gain
What springs to mind when someone says Finance Director? Or Diversity Director for that matter? Very different skills and personalities, I am sure, based on some fairly ingrained stereotypes. But, actually, does anyone really care?
I certainly did. When I moved from being a Finance Director to Head of Diversity & Inclusion, EMEA, at Cisco Systems, I found myself battling a tidal wave of stereotypes and bias.
“What on earth are you thinking of?” was a typical reaction from many of my finance colleagues. Followed closely by, “I’ll give you three months before you are begging to come back to the real world of finance.”
And from my new diversity colleagues, both internal and external, I also encountered a fair amount of scepticism. “Why would a finance person want to do this job? She hasn’t even worked in HR! Will she really be able to get to grips with this?” And this, no less, from diversity professionals!
And so I found myself in the rather novel position of having to defend my choices, prove I hadn’t taken leave of my senses and overcome some pretty ingrained views about the value and abilities of two very different professions – from both sides of the camp.
This is a real pity and a missed opportunity. Because it is when we work together and blend different skills that we achieve the best solutions. Whether it was offering a fresh pair of eyes, critiquing strategies or applying “forensic commercial” analysis to combine many strands of employee data and surveys, the new insights I shared helped leaders understand the opportunity they were missing shape thinking and bring about lasting change.
The very fact that I was an “outsider” gave me a huge advantage, enabling me to challenge orthodoxies and come up with new perspectives and solutions. My finance and commercial skills enabled me to anchor the case for change in measurable business benefit.
I also learned a huge amount from spending time with people whose viewpoint is not “centred on the numbers.” In short, I realised how much I had to offer… and how much I had to learn. A journey that is still ongoing now that I have changed careers again to run my own inclusion and diversity consultancy, More2Gain, focused on helping organisations realise the power of Inclusion and Diversity,
And so I would like to leave you with a final thought. In finance, we focus heavily on measuring “returns.” Well, I can say with absolute certainty, that there are rich returns to be gained (for you and your organisation) whenever you connect with people outside of your group.
So reach out to your diversity colleagues and offer to help. Partner with them to jointly seek out new ideas. Be bold, make new connections, use your finance skills and help to advance diversity and inclusion in your organisation. Whatever you do next, do not allow convention and stereotypes to hold you back. I didn’t and I really am the richer for it.
ACCA, in collaboration with ESRC (Economic Social Research Council) and Brunel University, is launching a paper about diversity in business later this month.