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Nikki Walker

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, has launching a paper about diversity in business – read it here.

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aksaroya —  5 June 2013 — 1 Comment

By Peter Williams, accountant and journalist

HR is keen for companies and organisations to embrace social media in order to better engage with employees. But bosses have their reasons for not jumping on the bandwagon.

social-media

Statistics suggest that UK employees are not happy. Even though 75% of organisations with more than 100 people on the payroll conduct staff surveys, workers feel management aren’t listening, according to think-tank Tomorrow’s Company and advertising agency trade body IPA. The most recent research, from HR professional body CIPD, shows what it calls ‘a worrying deterioration’ in employees’ satisfaction with their ability to feed views upwards – particularly in the public sector.

The basic premise for the HR profession is the idea that there is a proven link between the existence of the ’employee voice’ and a range of benefits for organisations which include more satisfied, trusting, cohesive and productive workforce. It is not surprising that the employee voice is being drowned out by bad news: the threat of redundancies, pay freezes, the absence of bonus or promotion, the necessity to achieve more with less. The workplace has been a joyless place for many for half a decade.

Despite those outside forces, the HR profession insists listening to employees more would help to shape the future direction of the organisation in a positive way. And it wants employers to take a radical step forward and engage with employees through social media such as Twitter, rather than those annual surveys that many of us will have dutifully filled in.

HR says that a lack of social media savvy is directly harming organisations, holding them back from rebuilding trust lost in the recession and fostering a culture of openness, collaboration and innovation.

All this makes sense at one level: your favourite social media tool does give employees an open channel through which to feed views upwards, enabling collaboration and knowledge sharing between employees at different levels and different locations. And this could drive new ideas and innovation. But there are so many downsides to social media that it is no surprise those at director level are either blind to the upside or ignorant of how it works. At the heart of this is a generational issue. All ages may use Twitter, but watching people of a certain age use it (myself included) is the equivalent of being forced to watch dad dancing.

Digital natives use social media naturally, unselfconsciously and in ways many digital immigrants just don’t get. It unsettles me when those I follow on Twitter for work reasons send out messages about their hobbies, private lives and personal opinions on world affairs. But I also know that’s old-fashioned thinking.

Equally old-fashioned are the bosses who understand enough to know that the problem with social media is the absolute loss of control. The past decades have seen an increasing desire across all sectors to control the message. Social media destroys all that utterly. Give employees access to such tools and they will use them indiscriminately.

The CIPD is right: trying to stop the social media tide sweeping through the workplace is futile. But don’t expect those running organisations to embrace the ensuing free-for-all with anything approaching enthusiasm.

This post first appeared in Accounting and Business magazine, May 2013