Everyday when I brush my teeth and stare into the bathroom mirror, a horrible truth continues to develop in front of me: I am fast becoming an old white man. It is an affliction I was born with and this inevitable and unavoidable condition seems to be spreading at unprecedented pace.
In the old world of business, the “good ol’days”, Old White Man condition would be seen as an advantage. Even now we can see the artefacts of this in the Board rooms and C-suites of most major companies. There are still now more CEO’s in Australia named John than there are female CEO’s. But I believe, while they still dominate leadership today, this won’t be true in the future. I believe this will change.
The dominance of the Old White Man stems from the work of the past. The past required process, discipline, systematic management that focused on productivity, order, structure and processing. The industrial era demanded the types of leaders who could maintain these systems in rigid order to deliver reliable, stable and consistent results. Managing in this environment appears to be the anchor skill of the Old White Man.
Now the ‘future of work’ (or as I call it: today’s work) is calling for something different. We are able to leverage technology to maintain the discipline and process. We have robots, powered by ever more powerful computers, to run the systematic pieces of our business. The new leadership gap isn’t about processes, it is personal. We need leaders who can motivate and drive highly diverse teams of creative thinkers. We need leaders who can inspire their people to break the moulds the old system relied on. We need emotionally intelligent leaders who can swim through the chaos with love and compassion, delivering on results in spite of the uncertainty.
Modern leadership requires emotional intelligence, empathy, compassion, adaptability and curiosity. So where do we find the pockets of leaders who have these skills?
One thing is for certain, we don’t see enough in the Boardrooms and C-suites of corporate Australia today. The scary question is, do these groups, of predominately Old, White Men, see the real need for diversity or are they just reluctantly buckling to social pressure?
No one should be valued purely based on being given XX or XY chromosomes. What we desperately need in business is diversity of thought, not of just genitals. Leaders today need to create teams of people with different opinions and thoughts, new ideas, unique traits and totally new ideas that can be added to what the team already has to make it more effective. Businesses of today need these types of leaders, and they need them right now!
What we know is, because of the inequalities of our society, women often have vastly different experiences and thought processes to men. Therefore, if you have a team of all men, and you are looking to hire someone new into the team, hiring a woman isn’t a sexist, unfair expression of reverse discrimination. It is clearly identifying the need for more diverse thinkers and filling this need.
Humans are not like computer game characters, we don’t measure each quality and weigh them accurately to determine who is the best fit for the role. Often we hire people based on a deeply held, tribal instinct to be surrounded by people who look, feel and think like us. But this instinct is out of date and leads to the proliferation of the Old White Men. What we need in the modern world of business is diversity of thought. Interesting, diverse and multifaceted teams coming together in unique, collaborative approaches to solve complex problems in innovative ways.
The issue with the gender debate is that we focus too much on meeting targets. Being flexible to be nice and putting up with the inconvenience that different people create in our old stable workplaces. What we really need to do is start focusing on the incredible value and amazing possibilities that can come from blending a team of unique humans into a cohesive team. That is the secret to unlocking the power of gender diversity. The era of the Old White Man is coming to an end, and I for one welcome the rise of the leaders who break all the moulds of the past.