Successful businesses will depend on their diversity, according to Women with Drive panel

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TORONTO, Ont. – The workplace of tomorrow is one that is changing.

Diversity within the workplace has become a hot button issue for many, as we see more women coming out of university and more businesses putting a focus on hiring those with different backgrounds and marketing themselves as being an inclusive place to work.

At Trucking HR Canada’s second annual Women with Drive Leadership Summit on March 3, a panel of diversity experts were asked to speak about this new changing work environment and how businesses can and should strive to be diverse and inclusive all of minorities if they want to see success.

The panel included Jennifer Laidlaw, diversity inclusion with CIBC, Shannon MacDonald, chief inclusion officer with Deloitte and Kelley Platt, chief diversity officer, Daimler and president of Western Star Trucks.

Lou Smyrlis, Truck News’ editorial director moderated the panel.

What is diversity?

To start, the panelists were asked to define diversity.

Platt explained that diversity is all about inclusion saying, “Diversity is including the right people in the workplace. It’s really about respecting each individual in our organization…so whether you’re sweeping the floor at a truck plant or answering the telephones or whether you’re one of our senior sales and marketing people, your role is of value of you should be respected.”

MacDonald went on further to say that diversity is more than what people can see like gender, ethnic background, and accessibility.

“On the surface, diversity is measured by what we can see. That’s why I think gender gets a lot of attention…and visible ethnicities,” she said. “But it’s what is under the surface… it’s the diversity of thought and the collaboration of ideas –that’s true diversity.”

She stressed that most HR teams think that by bringing in people of various ethnic backgrounds or more women into the workplace will automatically fix their diversity problem, when really they should be focusing on someone’s diverse thinking to achieve the goal of diversity.

Laidlaw built off of MacDonald’s comments saying that beyond achieving those different thinkers, a company needs to value that diversity.

“We want to get at those moments of truth,” Laidlaw said. “We can tick off all those boxes and say yes we have diversity…but the question is, are we valuing that diversity or are we trying to take difference and turn it into sameness? Diversity on its own has limited value because you have to unlock that value.”

To unlock the power of diversity, Laidlaw said those in leadership positions need to feel comfortable hiring people who may challenge them in the boardroom in order to leverage those different points of view. Otherwise, you risk devaluing the company’s diversity.

Why aren’t more women in the boardroom?

Statistics show than while women comprise almost half of the Canadian workforce (47%), they hold only 29% of senior management roles.

Which begs the question, why aren’t more women in these positions of power?

Platt said (while admitting she may be generalizing the situation) that she believes women don’t know where to look for these positions or they believe they don’t deserve them. She added that sometimes it’s a matter of women being outsiders in a boardroom full of men.

“I’ve seen that when applying for a job, generally, men, if they can do 10% of what’s on the job description, they will put their name in the hat,” she said. “Women on the other hand, think they need to know 110% of what’s required for that job because they don’t ever want to make a mistake. So they keep themselves out of that role.”

Platt said she experienced this first hand when she was included in a meeting about hiring for a leadership position at a Daimler subsidiary. She worked for days with other senior managers thinking about who to hire, and while there were 7-8 men on the list, she got the call to lead the subsidiary even after she didn’t apply.

“I didn’t even think about it,” she said. “I never thought about taking that role.”

Thankfully, her boss was right in hiring her and she did remarkably well at the subsidiary growing it from the third largest school bus manufacturer, to the largest.

MacDonald added that the drop in numbers between women in the total workforce and those in management roles has to do more with those people hiring those to be in management positions.

“We have to train ourselves to look at those who might be a little different and will want to do things differently,” she said. “When we drive a car, we’ve trained ourselves to look in our blind spot. And this is a huge blind spot. We have to ask ourselves, I have to hire someone for this team, have I thought of hiring someone different who wouldn’t normally fill this role?”

The panelists collectively agreed that in order to fix the disproportion between men and women in the boardroom, leadership needs to change to make women feel more comfortable in the workplace.

Why should women be in the boardroom?

Men and women are so different that it provides a great opportunity for diversity.

The panelists said it’s no secret that men and women think and react differently to certain situations and those conflicting perspectives should be celebrated, rather than feared, since different opinions will drive results.

“We need both men and women at the table and we need them to be well positioned and well equipped to work well together to value the fact that, you may come at this differently and I may come at this differently, but if we come at this differently we are going to get a better outcome,” said Laidlaw.

Beyond this, women also bring a certain personal touch to a business, said Platt.

“Women tend to think more about how you get results not necessarily about what those results are,” she said. “They also tend to provide more recognition. And they tend to notice the little things, such as whether somebody actually has a problem at home that needs to be addressed.”

Finally, panelists said that the inclusion of women in the workforce will benefit men, not only from a economic point standpoint by making the business better and stronger, but from a lifestyle perspective, said MacDonald.

She said that more and more businesses are seeing how female leaders are making it okay for men to admit they want to be home more often and not stay in the office 24/7.

“If you’re going to see a soccer game for your kid, say you’re going to see a soccer game for your kid,” she said. “Because people who are thinking of having children need to hear that it’s okay. I think men have been engaged in parenting far more than they ever have admitted to for too long. Now this new generation of men wants to say that and I think women will be able to help men to say that it’s okay.”


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Sonia Straface is the associate editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. She graduated from Ryerson University's journalism program in 2013 and enjoys writing about health and wellness and HR issues surrounding the transportation industry. Follow her on Twitter: @SoniaStraface.

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