Diversity vs. familiarity. Where is your leadership team on this spectrum?

Author: Jim Woods, Global Risk Assurance Leader Jim Woods

It was August 1995. I figured this would be a great time, professionally and personally, to broaden my career and pursue a new experience outside the UK. Ultimately, Hong Kong prevailed, and I was immersed in a rich diversity of culture - at work and play!  

Similar to my own case, CEOs are actively putting themselves in diverse environments and seeking new experiences throughout their career. According to PwC's 20th CEO survey 53% said that they have spent a year or more working outside their home country. Indeed, 20% were born in a country different to that in which their company is headquartered. In today's world, this international exposure and geographic diversity are more important than ever.

Jim Woods diversity infographic - FOR BLOGIn my discussions with CEOs about the war for talent, there is increasing emphasis on recruiting from as wide a talent pool as possible. Not only is diversity enabling innovation in the here and now, CEOs are seeing it as future-proofing their business at a time when the opportunities and risks of expanding into new markets have never been greater. A diverse team has a much greater ability to connect to, empathise with and understand a heterogeneous mix of stakeholders, resulting in deeper relationships and a stronger brand. It also translates into more informed decision-making processes by reducing the risk of group think.

Diversity is about so much more than age, ethnicity and gender. It also encompasses a wide range of skills, philosophies and life experiences. I’ve seen this first hand, as part of a leadership programme in Peru with other PwC partners for three months in 2008. Our task was to assist a local NGO in securing its sustainability. Ultimately, this project benefitted hugely from the diversity of the team - none of us were alike! It brought home just how different our national cultures really are, under the surface of apparent harmony and sameness.

This appreciation of the subtleties and strengths of multicultural and diverse teams has significantly changed my own perspective and leadership style.

Diversity for the digital age

Business is truly a global affair, but it can feel as though some companies have failed to grasp this when it comes to their own people. More than ever, CEOs need talent in this age of digital disruption. How are they addressing the skills gap? With more than three quarters of CEOs concerned about the availability of key skills:

  • 88% said that they are increasingly promoting diversity and inclusiveness;
  • 74% are seeking the best people - no matter who or where they are; and
  • 77% are moving employees to wherever they’re needed.

A key component to creating a well-rounded and agile workforce is appointing executive teams that reflect the diversity of your employee pool, customer demographic and other stakeholders. This depth of insight, perspective and experience goes a long way in making your company more adaptable to change.

I occasionally hear the (cynical) comment that diversity is all hype. Some board directors I talk to believe that they have always followed a policy of recruiting the best and brightest, and that that approach will naturally result in an optimum outcome. My view is that, in many of these cases, there is a lack of awareness of their own unconscious bias. Maybe that's because it is, after all, unconscious! But, seriously, in my experience of working closely with many of the world's pre-eminent companies, I'm strongly of the view that companies that have a CEO that lives and breathes diversity, makes it a strategic priority and builds it into the company's DNA, have a significant competitive advantage.

What’s your experience?

Jim Woods leads PwC’s Global Risk Assurance practice, a specialist network of more than 12,000 staff who deliver risk solutions to clients across all industry sectors. He is also PwC's Global Assurance Markets Leader and a member of our Global Assurance Leadership Team. Based in Hong Kong, Jim’s career spans 25+ years, where he has worked on assignments in every country across the Asia Pacific region and many other global projects.


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