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20 December 2012

What MasterChef can teach us about inclusion

This week diversity and inclusion seemed particularly prevalent in my life beyond the workplace. 

Working globally for six years (learn more about my role in my blog bio) has meant frequent travel and late nights on the phone with other parts of the world.  This has had an impact on my TV viewing, as I found it difficult to find the ‘commitment’ to follow a programme at the same time every week.  It's only recently with advancements in digital TV - and the ability to view shows on demand - that I've been able to actually follow a few series that I enjoy.  

Seriously, how times have changed.  I vividly remember only having two TV channels at the age of eight.  It does make you wonder what TV will have to offer in another 24 years…!!!

MasterChefMasterChef Ireland is one of the three TV shows I watch loyally.

Many of you may be familiar with MasterChef in its various country formats, as it runs in some 35 countries.  The second series reached its season finale last week and there have been a few things about the show that struck a chord with me.


Firstly, the gender split of both finals has been two-to-one; two women and one man.  Secondly, both winners have been female, deserving winners, winners who have a serious passion for food and an innate talent to match.  Given the numerous disheartening corporate diversity stats (for example of the Fortune 1000 company CEOs less than 4% are female) these MasterChef results inherently make me feel good, but they also got me thinking…..

Towards the end of the season the finalists spent a lot of time cooking for Michelin Star chefs or in Michelin Star restaurants.  And well, all the chefs were men….. so while I realised I know a lot about corporate diversity statistics, I also realised I didn’t know much about the gender statistics when it comes to the world of elite chefs, so I researched it.  I am not sure what I was expecting, but what I found was that only 1% of Michelin star restaurants have female head chefs (and as an interesting aside that ‘chef’ means ‘boss’ in French).

Puppet-showWell, the story moves from the world of TV shows to a different kind of show, a puppet show, the entertainment at my beautiful niece and nephews' (Hannah and Alex) fourth birthday party on Sunday, which I think I enjoyed nearly as much as the kids. 

The puppet show had five core characters, one of which was of course a 'villain' -- the Ice Queen.  She was trying to ruin Christmas by putting spiders in the Christmas crackers and gifts and by stealing Rudolf’s red nose to wear on the top of her hat.  After a lot of child (and adult) participation to the effect of singing Christmas songs to raise the Christmas cheer and shouting ‘she’s behind you,’ her plan was foiled.  And then came the messages……. the Ice Queen proclaimed she was only a mean person because others were mean to her and nobody included her.  At this point Harry the Elf chimed in to explain that ‘we mustn’t be mean to others and that inside everybody is the same; isn’t that right boys and girls?’

I vividly remember hearing these messages as a child, but noted to myself how we seem to hear them less as we grow older. 



This brings me back to MasterChef Ireland, and the final show last Thursday, during which we got a bit more insight into the personal life of each finalist.  Nisha Maguire my favourite contestant throughout the series said the following:  “It worries me – when you look at me I’m Asian.  I kind of have that fear that when people look at me they will think what is that woman doing in Masterchef Ireland?  Does she even know how to cook Irish Stew or Roast Beef?  But my husband told me they don’t look at you or what colour you are this is a food competition it is about the look and taste of the finishing dish that is what they look at and you have that.” 

Connected, these made me think about two things – transparency and accountability.   Yes, those important messages were much more transparent and frequently heard as a child, but I feel we were also much more accountable as children.  If I ever did or said something wrong, I was made to apologise and suitably punished - the same was true for all of my school classmates.

As for MasterChef Ireland, two women have risen to the top and taken the coveted title because the audience holds the programme accountable.  No stereotypes, no bias, no mini-me syndrome no gender preferences can creep into the progression process because we consistently see all of the hard evidence, their cooked dishes, side by side.

MC-finalistsIt is this transparency and objectivity surrounding the quality of the ‘work output’ that means it is the end dish not the person who is appraised.  And so, those selecting the winner are held accountable.

Nisha’s husband is right – it is not about who you are, it is about your talent, ability and performance, because all of those things have no gender, no race, no age…..    

So, why do the important messages about inclusion get somewhat lost as we get older? Why do transparency and consistency regarding accountability not hold strong?  Research places an emphasis on making managers and leaders accountable as one key to greater gender diversity.  But for me it felt refreshing to be struck by this same important message through some of the more joyous experiences in life like my favourite TV programme and my niece and nephew’s birthday party, rather than through the reading of a research report.   

So tell me, what are your organisations doing to be transparent about gender diversity and to foster a culture of accountability?

The puppet show was reminiscent of Christmas time, so from myself and Dale we would like to sign off with this last blog for 2012 by wishing you all a fantastic holiday, no matter how you celebrate it, and a very happy New Year.   



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