Friday 08 April 2022 06:30

Bridgerton is known for a diverse cast of characters.

Pop culture is usually the first to catch the zeitgeist. Take Disney and its redesign of the facade. Once upon a time, a Disney heroine longed longingly for a knight in shining armor to come to her aid. But Disney Princesses are now nuanced individuals with ideas and ambitions of their own. It’s one of the reasons the Frozen franchise, with its strong female leads, is such a cultural phenomenon.

Or on UK screens last month, a duo of South Asian women were at the forefront of Bridgerton. Historically inaccurate, of course. Tap into the need for representation on our screen? Yeah.

By rethinking fairy tales and happy-ever-afters, creatives are rewriting social norms before our eyes. Without representation at all levels of an organization, you simply won’t get the most out of your human capital. Despite all the attention on pipeline talent, budding Elsa needs someone to look up to.

Organizations tend to focus on the “what” and not the “how”. Instead of recognizing entry-level recruiting as a starting point for rethinking talent, it was seen as an end in itself.

Diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are often seen as a drain on resources due to the time they can involve. But this is a short-term mindset that sees these programs as ESG “feel-good” narratives, rather than valuable from a business perspective.

The notion of “psychological safety” is well known and widespread in managerial circles. Coined by Harvard business management scholar Amy Edmondson, the phrase intuitively describes the kind of environment in which people feel able to thrive.

Beyond the more obvious motivational benefits that come from a sense of belonging, ideas are rarely driven by just one person. A recent McKinsey article summed it up best, saying “when employees feel comfortable asking for help…organizations are more likely to innovate quickly.”

Good managers focus on day-to-day operations and tactical fixes. However, truly great leaders focus on their people. They become adept at spotting the “why” of their employees.

Allowing a degree of freedom in roles should also ensure individuals have enough time and space to experiment and follow their passions, interests and curiosities. Not only is this likely to lead to higher engagement and satisfaction, but it will also allow them to better identify their strengths.

There is a simplistic and unquestioned belief in meritocracy when making hiring decisions: “Always hire the best person for the job. But this logic is neither simple nor exact.

The first – underestimated potential – should come as no surprise. The second concerns optimal team dynamics.

Imagine you have a team that can score seven out of ten in a test. Unfortunately, due to cultural similarities in their upbringing and lived experiences, they all get the same three questions wrong.

You are now faced with two candidates for a new hire. You get the same score of 70%, as well as the same three incorrect answers. The alternate candidate only gets 30% on the test, but the three questions she gets are the ones everyone else is having trouble with.

Although each individual is intelligent and possesses impressive knowledge, they create what Matthew Syed calls a “clone team”. In this, “they are also homogeneous. They know similar things and share similar perspectives.” Diversity characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background, and neurodiversity are all approximations of the “difference” we should be looking for.

Back to Disney. The importance of his public models and the rewiring of stories is perhaps best summed up by the phrase “You can’t be what you can’t see”. For all their power and truth, there is another deeper issue at play.

Senior executives routinely lack talent because they can’t see it. Indeed, their way of seeing the world is rarely adapted to the future. The World Economic Forum estimates that 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025. If we are looking for people to meet the needs of today, they may not meet those of tomorrow.

When planning our future leaders, managers look for the wrong characteristics, behaviors and skills. The implications for succession planning and hiring should be clear: instead of valuing ‘difference’ and ‘potential’, many fall back on deeply held notions of ‘fit’ and ‘polonage’.

All of Disney’s business is built around storytelling. While far from perfect, the efforts of Disney — and other entertainment groups — to change perceptions and correct biases, having just named their first female president, are inspiring.