Adapting to changes is one of the maxims of any company that aims to remain relevant. It must adjust its products and services to the new needs of consumers, but its internal functioning and the composition of its staff must also reflect those collective transformations that are generated outside the company. Today, the public agenda calls for a more egalitarian and diverse society, which requires organizations to urgently embrace gender equality, but also other diversities, such as sexual orientation and identity, in their teams.
Sonsoles Morales, international expert in diversity management in organizations, points out the benefits that this transformation brings. “There are multiple studies that highlight that, in addition to aligning with the advancement of human rights, they increase productivity because they generate well-being, which attracts and retains talent. In addition, it promotes innovation and improves the image in society. “People want to work in companies where they recognize the values they uphold, such as those of equity, diversity and inclusion,” she explains. And those responsible for these changes, Morales assures, are the leaders.
Those responsible for companies face great challenges to be a faithful reflection of society. Gender equality is still very far from being real. Only 38% of management positions in Spain are occupied by women, according to the report Women in Business 2023 from the international consulting firm Grant Thornton. And 72% of LGTBI people do not dare to reveal their sexual orientation or identity in the workplace, according to a report prepared by the governments of Spain and Portugal.
What should this new leader be like to lead companies into new times? Ana Carrau, founder of the corporate leadership consultancy The Impact Project, affirms that this new way of leading must be more focused on people. “The leader must be a great connoisseur of human nature, a humanist who knows himself, flexible and a promoter of a business culture based on empathy. “He must support more than push, so that each person develops the necessary personal responsibility and performs his or her role in the company effectively in an environment as changing and challenging as the current one,” describes this expert who will participate in the webinar New times, new leadershiporganized through Banco Sabadell’s HUB Empresa.
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New times, new leadership, with Silvia López, director of Hub Empresa Valencia; Ana Carrau, founder of The Impact Project; Yolanda Pérez, director of BStartup and Business Hub at Banco Sabadell; Saida Ortiz, director of LATAM Vertiv channels; Sara Maldonado, Supply Chain Director at Trolli Ibérica; Cristina Hernández Grávalos, financial director at GD Energy Services; Ángela Castelló, Head of partnerships at Startup Valencia; Maria José Martínez, Organization and Territorial Resources Directorate of Banco Sabadell; Begoña Baigorri, head of image and communication at Grupo Altadia; Mariel Calabuig, People and Organization Management of the IMEDES-Gesmed Group and Natalia Fuentes, Manager at Gesvending Group. Organized through HUB Empresa of Banco Sabadell. When: September 13, at 6:00 p.m.
This responsible leadership, explains Cristina Hernández, financial director of GD Energy Services, who will also participate in the webinar, considers that the company must benefit both the owners and shareholders and the rest of the people who make up the organization. “It must be based on management that takes into account the impact of its activity on society and its environment,” determines this expert. Mariel Calabuig, director of people and organization at IMEDES-Gesmed Group, adds the transformative power of this leadership that “aims to modify reality and build a more conscious society.”
For Morales, although the regulatory framework around workplace inclusion is what contributes to driving change, it is essential that companies and, therefore, their leaders, understand what equality and diversity mean and how they should work on it in their templates. Uxío Malvido, a human resources consultant specialized in diversity and cultural change, believes that to address these concepts you must know, above all, “understand how to treat people.” But this is, he adds, one of the main shortcomings of many managers. To change the way they lead, all experts agree that leaders will have to take several factors into account.
Know the work environment and recognize its cognitive bias
The leader must know what atmosphere exists in his company. Work environment surveys aimed at employees work as a tool to take the pulse and find out the level of well-being of the members of the organization, explains Marc Serra, professor of Psychological Evaluation at the Carlemany University. They also allow you to collect information about what workers think about inclusion and diversity in your company, which will help establish the relevant strategies to reinforce them.
Lourdes Repiso, professor of the master’s degree in Management Coaching and Leadership at OBS Business School, assures that a good leader must know himself so as not to fall into the trap of his own prejudices. This is known as cognitive bias and is defined as the systemic misinterpretation of information, which influences the way thoughts are processed, decisions are made, and judgments are made. “The person responsible has to realize that, voluntarily or involuntarily, he is going to show prejudices because we are all conditioned by them,” explains this expert. To save them, the leader must work on his self-knowledge.
The best way to overcome this cognitive bias is to ask employees’ opinions. And the aforementioned surveys are a good way to start. Also direct dialogue with collaborators. The key, Morales emphasizes, is to ask feedback, listen and work on humility. “Among all the comments the team makes about the leader, the leader must identify which patterns are repeated and publicly commit to changing. You have to be very open with this and train that loss of prejudices or bad habits, such as not listening to employees. If I were the leader I would think ‘When do I not listen?’ And when I realize that I am facing one of them, ask the team ‘Am I doing it?’ explains this expert.
Language also plays a determining role in a leader’s ability to embrace equality. Repiso proposes not to speak of “the leader”, but of “the leading person”. “Although it may be tiring, it is advisable to use the masculine and feminine, ’employees and employees,’” he highlights.
Provide a safe psychological environment
Diversity and inclusion are also promoted in work environments in which employees feel safe, explains María José Martínez, from the Territorial Organization and Resources Department of Banco Sabadell. A space, Morales adds, where they can share their opinions, request help, challenge their superiors or launch themselves into making decisions, even if they know they may make a mistake, without feeling violated. “Between a command-and-command leadership style and a consensus one there are many levels. It will always be the leader who makes the decisions, but the team will function better if that resolution comes from consensus. The world is complex and one person, the leader, cannot have all the answers, he is no longer the lone savior hero,” she completes.
This environment will allow those people who believe that inclusion or diversity is not respected within their company to communicate this, which will open the company to debate and adopt the new sensitivities that society as a whole is addressing. It will also be beneficial for those people with a different sexual orientation or identity who want to make themselves known as they are.
The role of equality plans and quotas
Legislation can also drive progress towards equality and it is the responsibility of leaders to help ensure it is achieved. The Law for Effective Equality between Men and Women laid the foundations in 2007, but it was in 2020 that notable measures were implemented. Two years ago, the Government incorporated changes in the law to guarantee equal treatment and opportunities in employment, so that companies, progressively according to their size, had to have an equality plan for their staff. First those with more than 250 workers and from 2022 those with up to 50 employees.
The law determines that companies’ equality plans must contain a diagnostic report on their situation and an audit on remuneration to then define the objectives and specific measures that promote equality. In addition to these plans, there are sex quotas in companies, although for now, these regulations refer to the top leadership. The European Union (EU) approved a directive last year to force higher echelons to be more equal. It establishes that by 2026, at least 40% of the members of the boards of directors of listed companies must belong to the less represented sex (which is generally female), so that at least a balance is maintained 40%-60%. This year, the Spanish Government has approved a parity law that gradually applies what is established by Europe between 2024 and 2026.
Quotas, explains Morales, help, but they are not the definitive solution. “Workers don’t like to feel like they’re a quota,” he says. For this expert, the measure must be accompanied by others so that the employee feels integrated. Malvido recognizes the value of quotas, because they offer companies something quantifiable. However, he proposes accompanying it with other objectives: “Do I need to combine mature talent and young talent? Should I feminize the workforce?” he suggests that leaders ask themselves. And based on knowing what the organization needs, establish the roadmap, always taking into account the equality plan.
Morales proposes going a step further and focusing on cognitive inclusion and diversity. These concepts refer to the skills, knowledge and experiences that each person has and that differentiate them from others. A company can be made up only of women and they all think the same way, which will impoverish the results; or be completely equal and that all employees have similar personalities.
The more cognitively diverse the workforce, the greater the company’s ability to learn and adapt to its reality. For example, in a team of three professionals, each one can be brilliant in a different type of intelligence. Spanish companies, explains Morales, still have a lot to do. “But there are already many people working on it,” concludes this expert.
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