Why Diversity is important

Posted on: September 22, 2015 by

The 7 Traits of Highly successful women within Atos

I was lucky enough to attend The 7 Traits of Highly Successful Women on Boards event with DiversityJobs.co.uk hosted in London by Atos. I felt fortunate to attend, as myself and 80 industry colleagues had exclusive access to the golden nuggets of wisdom in the form of advice and guidance provided by the diverse panel of speakers who have already shattered the glass ceiling up to the board room.

The event coincided with the recent launch of the book ‘7 Traits of Highly Successful Women on Boards,’ written by the vivacious Dr. Yvonne Thompson CBE, which looks at understanding how women can navigate their way to the boardroom. These “7 traits” framed the discussion of the evening, where the panel of guest speakers shared their own insights on the topic, with some truly inspirational stories of personal experiences related to the significance of the 7 Traits. The panel included Dr. Yvonne Thompson CBE; Antonia Belcher, Partner MHBC LL; Dr Gillian Shapiro, Managing Director, Shapiro Consulting; & Martin O’Byrne & Head of UK Strategy and Planning. Facilitating the evening was Sheekha Rajani, Director, Diversity Jobs. And our very own Ursula Morgenstern who at the time of the event was the CEO of UK and Ireland, set the tone of the evening with a talk about her personal journey to the boardroom and her thoughts on the topic.

Later in this blog series I will look into more detail about the 7 traits identified in the book, and share with you what the panel and audience discussed on the evening in regards to these traits, and which trait the women within Atos who I interviewed thought was the most important trait to their success.

We know that diversity is a mixture of people with different group identities within the same social system, however why is it so important, and why is it the buzz topic of the moment?

To answer this question I set about identifying 6 successful women across the globe within Atos who would share their thoughts with me on the topic. In this series I will share with you firstly why they believe diversity is important, secondly what advise they would give to those looking to achieve success, and finally which trait has been most important to their success.

When I asked Ursula Morgenstern who was recently promoted from CEO UK and Ireland to Global head of Systems Integration and Business Consulting, why she felt diversity was important, she was keen to point out that diversity encompasses not only gender and other surface-level characteristics but also deep level diversity. Ursula said both of these dimensions of diversity influence thinking style and management style, so having a diverse group will help to avoid “group think”, as too much of the same is harmful to the business:

“Having a diverse organisation allows us to link better into our diverse client base. We can connect easier to our clients. In addition research shows diverse organisations are successful, there is a business case for it, and namely that decision making is sounder. On a personal level I like working in a diverse organisation, it makes business more interesting”

Nathalie Pousin, Chief Administrative Officer of North America Operations related diversity to her own personal experience of having the opportunity to work in an international environment, with people from different countries, backgrounds, and age for example. She felt this made her focus on the quality of individuals, she found different people with common core values and goals see things from different points of view. This was important to Nathalie as she said it provides agility in problem solving and resolution.

Sophie Proust who recently transferred into Atos as part of the acquisition of the company Bull, and is now Senior Vice President of Research and Development for Big Data and Securities concurred with Ursula and Nathalie when she also stated how diversity is imperative to successful decision making:

“With diversity you address a problem from different angles, the problem the situation – women for instance do not tackle problems the same way a man does. It is also true that not all women have the same approach so it is not just gender but also different backgrounds, character, generation – it is important for business that we do not all look in the same direction.”

Marianne Hewlett, Senior Vice President – Chief Marketing Officer for Benelux and Nordics said that diversity is crucial as if you have all likeminded people in an organisation you will not achieve innovation or disruptive thinking, as diversity is an engine for creatively and innovation. This was a message Marianne also projected in her recent blog “Unlock your power to Innovate”, where she outlined that bringing together a diverse group will unlock different dynamics and viewpoints that are essential for creativity and innovation:

“A mixed team of baby-boomers, trend-setting millennials and digital natives from diverse nationalities and socio-economic backgrounds will provide a blend of completely different skill sets and will be able to identify and address new opportunities that others might not even see”.

Lisa Coleman, CEO for Worldline UK&I said that diversity brings different strengths to the table, and from a business perspective success can be achieved by drawing on these strengths:

“No one is a master at everything, understanding what you are good at and what others are good at will allow the business to flourish, recognising and understanding the differences in people. A diverse workforce brings different things to the table, looking at things in different way, providing a richness of knowledge. Not one size fits all”

Maria Pernas, Senior Vice President, Deputy Group General Counsel who is also currently leading the implementation of the Atos Group Diversity Program under the Wellbeing@work Program concluded by saying that:

“The concept of diversity has substantially evolved during the last years. From one side, the notion of diversity has moved from a past focus mainly on gender and race to a much broader definition which covers a very large number of differences (nationality, age, gender, professional background… among others). From the other side, in the era of the globalization, the digitalization, the war of talents and important demographic changes, diversity has moved from being just a value to being a key value driver for continuous growth and competitiveness. Today, more and more companies identify diversity as an important element for their operational performance”.

Reviewing this insight from the female leaders of Atos, and looking at recent research into diversity it is clear to see that there has been a shift from the pursuit for diversity based primarily on social justice to arguments based on “pragmatic business self-interest”. The business case for diversity has emerged, departing from assimilation and promoting benefits of pluralism, the benefits being noted as:

  1. The “mismanagement” of diversity can negatively impact the bottom-line through high turnover, high absenteeism, and discrimination lawsuits;
  2. Winning the competition for talent through creating a wider talent pool;
  3. Driving business growth though;

(i) improving market understanding by seeking access to a more diverse clientele by matching their demographics to targeted customers

(ii) Increasing creativity and innovation;

(iii) Producing Higher Quality Problem-solving;

(iv) Enhancing leadership effectiveness; and

(v) Building effective global relationships.

As we see an increase of emerging markets operating in a globalised environment the importance of diversity in organisations will increase, as it is clear that a diverse workforce leads to improved decision making process by increasing creativity and innovation, for the reason that “heterogeneous groups are more likely to possess a broader range of task relevant knowledge, skills, abilities, and viewpoints” (Roberge and Dick, 2010) compared to homogenous groups.

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