The last word: Sustainable leadership

The Emerging Europe Talks podcast will soon celebrate its third anniversary. Here’s a look back at some of the most inspiring interviews – focused on inclusivity – we have recorded in that period. 

When I introduced a focus on sustainable impact to our series of podcasts, the intention was to speak with business leaders and opinion makers who provide leading-edge thinking and insights relevant to public, non-governmental organisations and businesses in the emerging Europe region that are seeking to create impact and accelerate their organisational journey. 

My 60 guests so far have shared insights related to resilience, technology, climate change, environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG), democracy, automation for good, to name just a few areas.  

However, in this column, I want to focus on three episodes that looked at future leadership in the region through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion — which for me are essential qualities of leadership.  

In those three episodes, we looked at various marginalised communities and the benefits of including them in the workplace. We talked about women, LGBT+ individuals, refugees, the disabled and even the unemployed which in fact do not have to be unemployable.  

Wider talent pool 

The word diversity popped up at the very beginning of my chat with Olga Grygier-Siddons, a former regional chief executive of PwC in CEE region, a business advisor and mentor with a passion for responsible leadership and personal growth, and the founder of Villa Poranek, an international community of leaders who learn and grow together. 

When referring to teams and leaders she says, “they need to be people who come from different backgrounds, different walks of life, who’ve got different experience, who are of different age, who think differently, and gender is a natural part of it because only if you’ve got that diverse group of people can you make good leadership decisions.” 

“It is really about organisations expanding their reach into a broader community and not going with the traditional community they recruit from in order to find the relevant and necessary skills,” Traci Freeman, a global business services consultant with a focus on impact sourcing the founder of Believe Consulting, tells me

The prime objective of business is to create value for shareholders and even more importantly for customers, and that means that skillsets are extremely important. When choosing between fairness and merit, it is merit that we should prioritise, but that merit can be found in various groups, including those often overlooked. 

“If we’re in particular referring to gender issues, if you look at the pool of talent, 50 per cent of the well-educated population are women, so therefore, if you want to have the largest possible pool of talent to draw your future leaders from you’ve got to look at both female and male candidates,” Olga Grygier-Siddons says. 

Numerous benefits 

A diverse workforce benefits from different experiences, sometimes difficult, skills, perspectives and insights brought together to solve problems. Diverse teams are proven to more innovative, smarter and socially aware. They are also more productive. 

“Your inclusive hire, compared to a standard recruit, may be a little bit slower to get up to speed because there are some ready to work skills that need to be supported,” says Traci Freeman. “But at about anything between three to six months that impact worker is at the same level if not exceeding the output, the quality, the delivery compared to a standard recruit. There is such loyalty from that individual for the organisation for having given him a chance that their retention rate is massive.”  

So is the positive reputation for the business. When businesses promote diversity, they’re perceived as more relatable, socially responsible and human by a greater number of people and attractive for even more skilled talent. 

“If you want to have talented people feeling safe and welcomed in your business, people who are going to be very productive and creative workers, who will be making money for your business, it is important to create an environment for them,” Simona Muršec, president of the Ljubljana Pride Association, tells me in another episode when we discuss the LGBT+ community in the workplace in the emerging Europe region. 

Ignoring diversity 

A lack of workplace diversity and inclusion can lead to large groups of people not being represented due to a lack of understanding. 

I was very surprised last year when speaking with the marketing director responsible for employer branding at a large IT firm in one of the emerging Europe countries who told me there were no LGBT+ people in their team and there was no need to address LGBT+ issues. 

“When we talk with organisations and companies, we tell them that one thing is that amongst their employees, interns, there are people who belong to the LGBT+ community and they are part of their organisation, but they come across so many clients who are too,” Simona Muršec adds. 

“Up until now it was not lucrative for companies to expose themselves as LGBT+ friendly or be supportive of the LGBT+ community. Big national corporations [in emerging Europe] until now didn’t have to support LGBT+ people and they actually believed that [doing so] would harm their reputation.” 

That is now changing, and I can only imagine how much organisations that do not embrace diversity, equity and inclusion are losing on several fronts.  

A new generation 

“It is beautiful to see that globally the client, the consumer, is becoming more aware of social equity, of social impact,” Traci Freeman says. 

“We do know that our youth is very conscious of which brands they engage with and if those brands are not making a conscious and intentional effort to do the right thing, they will switch to another brand.” 

“The young generations are much freer in expressing themselves. Employers have to be ready for that because this is the future and this is the reality,” Simona Muršec adds, referring to her work with teenagers in Slovenia and her observations related to other emerging Europe countries. 

True sustainable leadership means being able to foresee, understand and embrace those generations.  

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