Putting diversity into practice

04 September 2017 -

Diverse Management TeamBusiness schools and businesses share an interest in delivering on diversity, says Professor Nic Beech – and what’s more, the joint CMI-BAM research sought to that principle into practice

Professor Nic Beech

The British Academy of Management (BAM) and CMI have a shared interest in the management population of UK business – their skills, knowledge-base and their ability to adapt to the uncertainties of the future.

Business Schools have been expanding for many years and account for a significant proportion of all students at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and the student population is highly diverse. This diversity enhances the quality of the learning environment and produces graduates who are well used to being in teams where difference is the norm.

However, when they enter businesses, these graduates enter a much less diverse world. Particularly in the case of ethnicity and race, the business student population is considerably more diverse than the business management and leadership population. This poses a significant problem and there is a clear need for change.

The Delivering Diversity report published by CMI and BAM on diversity in the FTSE 100 not only highlights problems in the talent pipeline but also proposes a developmental approach which can inform practice in both business and business schools.

As Professor Andrew Kakabadse points out in his CMI blog ‘Diversity of thinking’, the key criterion for selecting top teams in global enterprises is diversity of thought – the ability to engage in dialogue and not presume that you are already right. The Delivering Diversity research supported by BAM and the CMI is an example of putting this into practice.

Practising diversity was important for the research in three ways: building a diverse research team; engaging in equal dialogue between research and practice; and producing outcomes for diverse audiences and future participants.

Robert Burns’ poem ‘To a Louse’ ends with the phrase:

O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

Which in modern English is: ‘Oh, would some Power give us the gift, To see ourselves as others see us’ as it would ‘free us from many blunders’. Building a diverse research team does enable people to avoid blunders, but more significantly, it enables a level of creativity which is unlikely to be achieved with a mono-cultural group.

The research team split into subgroups to produce research streams aimed at answering different questions such as: What is the big picture? What practices are claimed and enacted by companies? What is the lived experience of BAME and non-BAME managers? How can learning be enabled from promising practices? This meant that new methods in a new combination needed to be developed. The dialogue between researchers enabled each stream to recognise how it was seen by others, how it could improve and how it could contribute to the whole.

A research advisory board was formed of leading practitioners from the FTSE100 and beyond. Burns’ observation was particularly apt as a group with a focus on academic rigour and a group concerned to develop outcomes of practical relevance got to know each other over time.

More importantly, we did get to know ourselves as others see us a little better, and the final research report – with succinct findings, underpinned by a considerable richness of data analysis – is an outcome which represents the shared purpose of making a difference and helping companies move towards increasingly adaptive cultures.

Indeed, the report seeks to do more than report findings. Its purpose is to enable people to join in as participants in future research-practice activities. The findings show that uptake of promising practices is relatively rare, even in the FTSE 100.

However, given that all the companies, metaphorically, are on a journey, many just starting out, others progressing and some leading the way in particular aspects of practice, the crucial thing is to enable everyone to progress. The report lays out how this can be done and incorporates a set of practices that companies can use to benchmark themselves against and measure progress.

The new CMI Race network is one important way to promote these practices. From a research perspective, it is important to evaluate change over time and to broaden the data base from the FTSE 100 to other groups, sectors and countries.

BAM’s partnership with CMI, bridging academic research and professional practice, will be the perfect platform to build on what we have already delivered.

Professor Nic Beech is Vice-Principal (Provost) at the University of Dundee and Chair of the British Academy of Management. His research interests are in change management and leadership and the construction of identity

The Delivering Diversity research team also included: Udy Archibong (Bradford), , Nelarine Cornelius (Queen Mary, University of London and BAM), Lisi Gordon (St Andrews), Geraldine Healy (QMUL), Emmanuel Ogbonna (Cardiff), Gurgh Sanghera (St Andrews), Chidozie Umeh (QMUL) and James Wallace (Bradford)

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