I recently hosted a dinner with a bunch of top New Zealand CMOs. We were lucky enough to have Scott Duncan, the Managing Director of Aspire Executive Search as our guest speaker. He took us through a few themes and provocations on the future of the workforce, and I’d like to share them with you.

Scott identified three primary themes that will determine our future in the war for talent. It’s not just Scott who thinks that the ability to recruit and train talent may be one of the biggest challenges businesses face.

The New Zealand Herald reports that Industry of Directors (IOD) surveys show top executives to be increasingly worried about how they’ll be able to replace key staff members should the need arise.  83 percent of survey participants rated this concern as the biggest risk their businesses must overcome.

War on the War for Talent

Scott wasn’t just there to cast gloom over the gathering. Instead, he came with a positive message. If we can address the three themes of diversity, flexibility, and technology, we can take our businesses to the “hire” ground.

It’s up to us to become sought-after employers: “My hire is higher than your hire,” and throwing money at the hire isn’t the most important factor.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at theme 1: Diversity. Are we really tapping the talent pool as comprehensively as we think we are? Are we overlooking golden opportunities that could flow from greater diversity at executive level?

I’ve borrowed some thoughts from Scott here, and I’ve added a few of my own. Now it’s time for you to put on your thinking cap too.

Diversity: Lip Service or Reality?

It’s easy to say we’ve heard it all before and we’re 100 percent behind the idea of diversity at executive level. But are we really? Let’s think about some of the realities we currently face:

Gender Diversity

Gender diversity, a basic that has been identified by the UN as a serious sustainable development challenge, is surely old news by now. How is New Zealand faring? Surely the country which was first to give women the vote must be at the forefront of the movement?

Regretfully, this just isn’t the case. The figures don’t lie. In 2016, New Zealand had 19 percent of executive leadership roles occupied by women. In 2017, this figure rose to…. 19 percent. This stagnation indicates that we’re overlooking close to 50 percent of our potential leadership pool.

Meanwhile, the EU is getting impatient about the lack of growth in board-level gender representation for women. EU-wide quotas are under consideration, and individual EU countries are also making moves in the direction of mandatory gender representation quotas. France, with 34.8 percent of its executive position occupied by women, seems to be making the most progress – but with enforced quotas to spur it on.

It’s a worldwide phenomenon but does that mean we should overlook it? On a personal level:

  •         Do you think this is an issue?
  •         What do we do about it as leaders?
  •         Do you have targets or goals?
  •         What are your views on affirmative action and quotas?

Age Diversity

It’s a far less-talked-about issue, but it’s almost as important as gender diversity. Each generation has its own characteristics, and each has something special it can bring to the boardroom. Are we getting the benefits of age diversity, or are our boards predominantly “white, stale, and male?”

Baby Boomers: They were born between 1946 and 1964, and they’re still highly productive. In fact, they’re inclined to prioritize work over their private lives. They’re bold and dedicated, and they don’t altogether approve of the work ethic we see in the two “younger” generations with whom they share workplaces. Boomers want job security, and with retirement within sight, they’re less motivated by dreams of “something better.”

Generation X: Born between 1965 and 1980, they’re educated, adaptable, and self-sufficient, but not as inclined to take risks as baby boomers or the succeeding Generation Y. They’re also more likely to have a good work-life balance – less stress-related meltdowns and unclouded thinking could be among the benefits your business realises.

Generation Y: Also known as millennials, these are our young, up-and-comers with Generation Z hard on their heels. They’re tech-savvy, used to affirmation, and they’re high-maintenance. But what you do matters to them. Give them something meaningful to sink their teeth into, and opportunities for advancement, and they’re all yours. But they’ll expect a lot from you too. How are you linking your CSR to your recruitment activities?

Whereas Boomers and Gen-X are happy with command and control, Gen-Y and Z want inspiration. What impact does this have on your leadership style? Scott says he even knows of a company that creates “new” roles for young workers after just six months. The roles aren’t really new, but the firm uses the concept as a tactic for engagement. Would you go that far?

Special Needs and Disabled

According to the United Nations, one in five people in New Zealand has a disability. And in developed countries around the world, between 50 and 70 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed. While certain disabilities might make it difficult for a person to follow a career, a great many do not. Yet employers shy away from hiring disabled candidates.

By contrast, the tech industry is uncovering the very unique abilities of a group previously thought to be “unemployable.” Microsoft is among the firms to recognize the potential of people with autism: a group often characterised by above-average IQs, a high level of focus, and “out the box” thinking. Other companies are jumping on the bandwagon, looking for ways to identify and attract autistic candidates.

Have you ever considered the potential of special needs or disabled candidates? Or do you shy away from them because they’re “different.” And isn’t difference part of what diversity is all about?

Ethnic Diversity

Finally, we have ethnic diversity to consider. Whether your business operates internationally or locally, surely there are benefits to obtaining the views of people from different ethnic backgrounds. The world is increasingly becoming a village with people from all over the world settling in whatever country they feel will give them the best opportunities for growth.

While over 70 percent of New Zealanders are of European descent, stats New Zealand predicts a rise in ethnic diversity. Will your company be ready to adapt to the new markets, new approaches, and new mindsets this will bring along with it? Your workforce could have the answers.

A Diverse Workplace: Are You Using the Opportunity to the Full?

If we are to be honest with ourselves, we’ve still got a long way to go before we can boast a truly diverse workplace. Different points of view, various attitudes towards employment, and unique skills all form part of the missing link if we overlook the opportunities that diversity presents.

A 2015 McKinsey study found that ethnically diverse firms could outperform their competitors by as much as 35 percent. The same study found that a gender-diverse organisation has a 15 percent better chance of outperforming its competitors.

If you can accept that diversity is linked to organisational performance, you can see that NZ’s poor performance in this area is hindering our ability to be globally competitive. It’s time we gave diversity some serious thought and stopped looking for “people like us.” Instead, we can expand our recruitment reach and strengthen our businesses by looking for people who are not like us.


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