Barely a day passes without the theme of diversity making the headlines.
When Emma Walmsley was named as CEO designate of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), there was plenty of discussion about the importance of another highly talented female reaching the top of the boardroom.
Sir Philip Hampton, GSK’s Chairman, would have been particularly delighted because of his other role as the chair of the independent group looking into gender diversity on Britain’s boards, which is due to report later this year.
Walmsley’s appointment is interesting on many levels. When she takes over from Sir Andrew Witty in March next year, she will become the most powerful female CEO running a FTSE100 company. GSK has a market value of £80billion and a global workforce of more than 100,000.
Walmsley’s background has also been much talked about. She joined GSK only six years ago as head of the business’s consumer healthcare division having previously enjoyed a successful 17-year career at cosmetics giant L’Oréal. She comes from a marketing rather than scientific background, something that is unusual for someone so senior in the pharma sector.
The combination of gender and career background also point to something else in Walmsley’s appointment, namely the desire of GSK to ensure that it has diversity of thinking at the top of its business.
Diversity of thinking has also been in evidence in the make-up of new British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Cabinet and team of advisers in Downing Street. President Obama went as far as praising Mrs May on the number of females in her team when the pair met for the first time at the White House, describing it as “great gender balance”.
Today’s successful companies have come a long way in their approach to the issue of diversity. For many, it now goes much deeper than merely gender, ethnicity or sexuality.
This could mean attracting talent from outside of sector (as GSK did when it hired Walmsley from L’Oréal). It could also mean identifying great candidates from varying social and educational backgrounds.
As the corporate world becomes ever more global, many companies are also looking for talent that has a genuine international outlook. This doesn’t mean someone who has clocked up thousands of air miles, but about leaders who have invested time learning about different cultures and how they fit within an organisation.
To be truly effective, a diversity of thinking agenda needs to permeate the management structure of a business. This is vital if the aim is to bring about a step-change in the culture of an organisation.
A significant amount of our talent mapping, pipelining and insight projects have diversity of thinking running through them. Our clients understand that their talent attraction and retention strategies have to stand out from their competition.
While reward and remuneration still forms a key part of any strategy, candidates are ever more demanding in other areas. They want to understand the DNA of the organisation they are being asked to consider – its culture, approach to employee engagement and what diversity means to its leaders.