Fast forward: Digital and diversity
Formula 1 is an obvious example of an industry considered as a perennially male-dominated world, but in former Williams test driver Susie Wolff making significant inroads into the sport there was hope that its diversity agenda could move forward at a faster pace.
There was understandable dismay therefore when F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone said earlier this year that female drivers would ‘not be taken seriously’ in the sport and that they are ‘not physically’ able to drive a car fast enough to be competitive. Sadly, this presents a mixed message to the sport with only last year Ecclestone telling Forbes that ‘it is inevitable that there will be another female driver.’
In reality, it took Wolff immense hard graft to achieve what she did, telling Management Today’s Inspiring Women conference in March that she insisted on doing the same mountain-climb training as the men when joining Williams: only then was she properly welcomed into the team. For their part, Williams claimed last year that ‘we have done a huge amount of work around education and particularly around trying to support females coming into motorsport.’
Needless to say, these are not issues confined to sporting environments, and extend deep into the business world. But how do businesses ensure a diversity agenda is more than just good PR messaging and is actually embedded into the organisation?
Our view is that a digital culture is inherently more supportive for women and minority groups, and there is emerging evidence that digital literacy is making it easier for these populations to progress faster.
By prioritising the development of a digital culture and investing in digital literacy for existing team members and new hires, a business would be creating a more inclusive environment, making it easier to attract women and minority groups and to clear away the inherent barriers that can slow progression. The shift could ease the closing of gender gaps and allow faster progress towards diversity and inclusion.
Digital is not a ‘thing’, or simply a technology product, instead it should be seen as a way of being, thinking that is fast-paced and inclusive. There is a growing consensus about the definition of digital culture and the underpinning values. Some of these values include creativity, delivering a genuinely innovative workforce; efficiency, with a newly agile, proactive team; an open collaborative working environment; and a more knowledgeable, insight-driven team.
Adopting a digital requires changes across the organisation and operating model and very significant shifts in leadership style and behaviour, with a greater focus on the customer and creating an environment of collaboration and trust. Companies who successfully exploit digital will likely have senior leaders who directly steer the transformation.
Businesses should be aware that the modern workforce necessitates a digital culture, not just encourages it. As Susie Wolff mentioned, the next generation coming into F1 ‘grew up with women achieving, with women working and with women being capable of doing let’s say important jobs not just in a company but also in general. Their perception of what women can achieve and do is a lot different to the older generation.’
Leadership teams need to be mindful that this extends into the business world: by 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be Millennials, who will expect a digital and mobile-enabled workplace consistent with how they live the rest of their lives. Adopting a ‘digital’ culture not only makes it easier to attract talented, younger employees, it helps the business to address the current competitive context and drive higher levels of profit.
We believe that the fastest route to landing such an inclusive digital culture is to adopt Agile as the way of driving change and innovating. Moving to a digital culture may be seen internally as a bold approach, and we would recommend implementing the initiative section by section within the business, tested in iterations, so that when it is rolled out across the business the leadership team can be confident that it will land successfully.
The benefits of doing so can be profound: it will create new ways of thinking about delivering value, optimise value within the core business, and enable people to thrive in a digital environment and create future change.
The benefits of successfully moving to a digital culture would provide a genuine point of distinction in fast-forwarding the diversity agenda.
Sue Grist, Director, Stone & River