Challenging inclusivity in a woke world

Challenging inclusivity in a woke world

In September last year, I was asked to present at PKF’s International Assurance and Tax Meeting, discussing how individuals fit within, represent and enhance organisational culture. It is an honour for anyone to be asked to speak at such as prestigious event but, for me, it was a unique opportunity that I wouldn’t normally be able to accept. The reason, I was able to do it was because I presented via webinar.

With my physical disability I wouldn’t have been able to travel if it had been a face-to-face event far from home. Forcing us to embrace a more virtual existence, the pandemic effectively broke down a barrier that enabled me to present to other PKF members. Was a by-product of the pandemic inclusivity?

A colleague at Australian firm PKF Sydney and Newcastle says “anyone from any background can join this network and do extraordinary things”. I wonder how much we, in our businesses, put ‘difference’ aside, put people first and truly enable them to thrive.

To be successful, a modern professional services organisation must be open to new ideas and therefore embrace all forms of diversity. This should translate across and embrace the changing and broadening nature of services and support required by our clients – whose businesses and ways of working are also rapidly evolving.

But recruiting like-minded people with similar backgrounds to us is a path that is well-trodden, comfortable and often subconsciously more appealing. When ‘different’ people come on board they can consciously or unconsciously, attempt to make themselves ‘fit’ the mould of their peers, managers and leaders.

It was something I went through as a young woman moving to Sydney from a small country town and taking my first role in an accountancy firm. I found myself looking for alignment between the strong core values of my upbringing with the authentic set of values of the firm and once I found alignment, that was an inner motivator for me.

As I became the first female Partner in 2005 but rather than embrace the difference and value I could bring, I felt uncomfortable, and attempted to fit the mould of my male colleagues. I wasn’t being true to myself. My leadership style of being collaborative, empathetic and vulnerable was cloaked by a ‘tougher’ exterior.

We often think of business culture as meaning ‘bringing like-minded people together who act to achieve the same goal’. It can certainly mean setting out a path and following it in a certain style. But culture isn’t diluted by bringing in new ideas and people from different backgrounds and experiences – in fact that should be inherent within it.

We need to encourage openness, curiosity and challenge the unconscious bias that sits within all of us – to break the mould and the stereotype.

What about allowing your team members to bring their truest selves to work? What will happen when we do? To have transparent and raw conversations so we truly understand the people we work with.

I know too well that life can change in an instant. If something unexpected suddenly stops me from working again, I know that I need to have filled my working time developing people and embedding them with the responsibility to bring others along with them. To open a door of opportunity for someone else.

We need to have transparent conversations about personal values, and align those values with PKF’s values so that people will go the extra mile. The PKF values of passion, teamwork, clarity, quality, and integrity don’t mean you need to all be the same.

Let’s reach the stage where our own acceptance of our own difference is so ingrained, it ceases to be an issue. The opportunity is here. We can create an environment that allows different people to thrive and build that into PKF’s culture – we’re already working on it.

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