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Blog : BOARD TALK

'Collaborative Intelligence For The Common Good'

Posted on February 12, 2014 at 2:00 PM

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in an address to the General Synod in London taking place against the background debate on the introduction of female bishops, called on them to abandon old fears, suspicions and prejudices.


Tonight, Lord Mayor Fiona Woolf is speaking at the annual City of London Archbishops and Bishops dinner. She is expected to say that 'faith' in the City is about "uniting so many different cultures in one, cohesive community." Championing diversity  - as each individual has something distinctive to offer - she will say: "We want to bring every sector and stakeholder around the table to share ideas and data: collaborative intellligence for the common good."


It's an excellent phrase, and much better than 'diversity', which everyone is heartily sick of hearing about.


'Collaborative intelligence for the common good' is essential for better business. When you think about it that way, it is entirely inclusive; not about exclusivity, or remedying former exclusivity with token appointments by gender or ethnicity. It's just about finding the best collaborative intelligence, and also putting it to the best use - common, rather than individual good. It doesn't mean you can't make a profit.


There are signs that the great 'women on boards/women in business/women in all walks of life' debate is finally shifting. It just takes being brave (which is what you need to be to abandon old fears, suspicions and prejudices) - and, somewhat bizarrely, it has come from a bank.


Just under a fortnight ago, Sky News revealed that Lloyds Banking Group was about to pledge that 40% of its top 5,000 jobs would be occupied by women within six years. In doing so, it became the first FTSE-100 company to establish a formal gender target for its most senior management positions.


It was a huge story - just like that, Lloyds had broken a barrier - by setting a target, they were implying it was possible to meet. Banks are meant to survive on innovation and there is no reason to restrict that to financial products - so let's give some credit where it is due.


(And even if the cynics amongst us noted that the next morning they revealed they had to set aside £1.8bn for PPI liabilities, it was still a big story.)


I know two weeks of appalling weather have been a distraction, but it is extraordinary they way the story sank.


Before it did, all the credit went to Lloyd's male CEO Antonio Horta-Osario...about two weeks later, it turns out (also from Sky) that he is set for bonus for 2013 just shy of £2m. In fact, you could argue that the credit for the 'brave' move of setting a target at Lloyds is not due to its male CEO at all, but to Fiona Cannon, its head of diversity and inclusion. 


This is what she said to Sky: "One of our visions is to be the best bank for customers. As the largest UK bank we are located in communities across the country and our customers are incredibly diverse.There is a whole body of research suggesting that where organisations have a diverse senior management team they are much more financially successful than those that do not." 


 Mark Kleinman's story quotes her as saying that a 40% target was 'stretching but achievable.' (my emphasis) He quotes a spokesman at the bank saying 28% of the bank's top 5000 jobs are currently held by women.


 "Creating an organisation that is meritocratic is good for everyone, not just for women" Ms Cannon told Sky. Yes, we have heard that for a few years. What we have not heard is that 'it is achievable.' Or that, as Anne Richards, CIO Aberdeen Asset Management tweeted (in a personal capacity) @AnneRichards16 : " I believe the gene pool is there- this is a great initiative."


Indeed. The gene pool has been there for awhile, and this is a great initiative. The media also needs to look at what is news, and stop using a real bit of news as a 'peg' to rehash all the initiatives of the last two years, worthy though they might have been. 


It is not about remaking, rethinking, mentoring and coaching and generally moulding women into a male-dominated workplace. Flexible working is, of course, critical for both sexes going forward - and should be more than possible with technological breakthroughs. It is more about changing mind-sets, and always has been.


Businesses need to be brave and set targets. It's a real 'if you build it, they will come' moment. Shatter the myths, and follow the vision shown by the Lloyds Banking Group. And no, I don't think all our businesses will suddenly die for lack of experience - although some of the men may have to be move over, and the ones who stay will have to be collaborative.


And while we are at it, shall we ask the young among us what they think? They don't have any trouble being 'brave' because they have no experience of 'how it has always been' and therefore often see more clearly.


I suggest starting with Poppy Noor - here's something you should watch, from Channel 4 News. If the link does not work, just do an internet search for her name and Channel 4 - and be inspired.


The 'gene pool' is not just there - it's fabulous - we just need people in power to think creatively. Never mind just 'women on boards' why not find ways to harness intelligence to contribute better to business by creating new avenues for it to do so ?









Categories: Representation, Inclusion, Leadership