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Time For a Chief Reality Officer ?

Posted on April 30, 2013 at 6:50 AM

With all the talk in the UK, US and Europe about more women in the boardroom, more women in the executive pipeline and generally better conditions for men and women in the workplace for better business, it is easy to forget something.

Bandwagons - and those who stand up at the front to give them direction- almost always also have a few personal agendas as well.

So it's worth taking a moment to think about a thought that isn't revolutionary : each business will have to do it its own way. That means differences in local approach across geographies. 

The UK and Europe has its own urgent call to heed - not least because the growth markets for their businesses are elsewhere. There has been quicker reaction from FMCG companies than many other sectors - but then these companies have known for some time they need to involve women.

I see from my Twitter feed just now  @RuthSealy (Cranfield)

#eu2013ie Very impressive figures from Procter Gamble: 50:50 male/female graduates and figures are maintained right up to senior management.

And then there's today's news from the FT : "Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods group, has announced that it will spend up to $5.4bn to raise its stake in its Indian subsidiary, Hindustan Unilever, to 75 per cent, the largest ever acquisition deal in India’s consumer goods sector."

The FT story quotes Paul Polman, Unilever CEO as saying that the company’s decision to increase its stake in Hindustan Lever was part of its strategic focus on emerging markets. “The long heritage and great brands of Hindustan Unilever, and the significant growth potential of a country of 1.3bn people, makes India a strategic long-term priority for the business,” he says.

Indeed. Long-term priorities actually require quick thinking and Mr Polman is certainly not a CEO who has shown himself to be lacking in those - his business requires a diverse and inclusive workforce - and Unilever appears to be 'on top of it' all the way through the business.

But other businesses are less homogenous and more dysfunctional, including many in financial services. Doing some work for a corporate client, I came across a very interesting plc experience - noted by an international bank. 

As recently as three or four years ago it realised that after each big conference it opened an alcoholic bar- with no soft drinks available. This meant that it immediately excluded many ethnicities - and may have discouraged some women. The senior woman who revealed this said that at the meeting in which it was suggested, it seemed insignificant- and yet it turned out to be very significant indeed.

I am somewhat 'blown away' by the fact that any international bank can be that blinkered. Time for a Chief Reality Officer, preferable under the age of 35-40?

At any rate, the point of the story is that embracing diversity - by which I mean and have always meant inclusivity, not just women as in gender diversity - is probably all about lots and lots of "insiginifcant changes" as much as it is about mentoring, sponsorship and the things that costs lotsa money and take lotsa time and put plcs in the spotlight where they don't always wish to be.

New thinking required. Revolutionary thought: why doesn't someone set up a database of clever young things who can help brainstorm from time to time in the boardroom and disseminate 'how it is' ?

Instead of Big Chief Reality Officer, we just need a hefty dose of reality across all our boardrooms. Another way to get it is for experiences - like that of the bank and the alcohol-only bar - to be shared anonymously.

And on the subject of alcohol, make sure you buy an FT this Thursday, May 2nd. I'm coming back and looking forward to picking up mine.


Categories: Representation, Appointments, Communication