Month: November 2016

Diversity & Inclusion: Is it really needed?

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For all the hullaballoo about diversity, what do we know about it and is it needed? Let’s atemstart by exploring some facts about the case for diversity:

  • In the UK, the Women and Work Commission found that better use of women’s skills in work could be worth between £15 – 23bn for the economy each year.
  • The spending power of people over 65 i.e. the grey pound is set to hit the £100bn mark.
  • Recent surveys in the USA show that 70% of all consumer spending is made by women.
  • It is expected that ethnic minority spending power will soon top £300bn.

Despite clear evidence that diversity is especially crucial in today’s global marketplace, businesses are still very slow and sometimes reluctant to embrace this change. This is because diversity as a concept sounds simple in theory, however in practice it is rather difficult. The first challenge is the heavily entrenched and archaic recruitment processes/graduate schemes in most organisations. For example, a recent article in The Guardian reports that the UK’s top professions are terribly skewed towards privately educated people compared to the general profile of the UK population.

Furthermore, when we generally speak about the positive impact of diversity we assume that everyone gets on or will get on. This is simply not true as workplaces today are riddled with biases. Bias in today’s workplace is largely implicit, making it ambiguous and often very difficult to prove. One of the common misconceptions about biases is that only the so-called ‘majority’ population holds them. In fact, members of any group are capable of holding stereotypes about particular categories of people. Unconscious behavior is not just individual; it influences organisational culture as well. Unconscious organisational patterns exert an enormous influence over organisational decisions, choices and behaviours. These deep-seated company characteristics are often the reason that despite our best conscious efforts, the ‘organisational unconscious’ perpetuates the status quo and keeps old patterns and norms firmly rooted.

Finally, most organisations tend to think of diversity in terms of the ‘visible differences’ between people, such as gender, age and race. Diversity is about these differences, but this narrow focus ultimately falls short of what it really means. For diversity to deliver on its promise, organisations should harness a more powerful and nuanced kind of diversity: diversity of thought. This broader view is encapsulated by the idea that different perspectives and heuristics are the real point of difference, rather than our visible differences.

In spite of these dreary facts, there are glimmers of hope as some companies are beginning to realise the potential for diversity and what it means for creativity, productivity and innovation. For example, companies like Gen Mills, HP Inc. and Verizon have demanded their Ad Agencies to shed the “mad men like reputation” and recruit a more diverse workforce. In fact, back in August, Gen Mills insisted on its Ad Agency’s’ creative departments to be staffed with 50% women and 20% blacks. Similarly, John Lewis recently promoted Paula Nickolds to the role of MD – the first female MD in its 152 year history.

It is time to make diversity a top priority and the businesses that fail to see the importance of this, according to Sahar Andrade, ’might find themselves unable to attract and retain the kinds of customers, employees, and business partners that constitute our changing world in 5 to 10 years’.

Digital badges and the future of learning

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sarahhsmwebsiteA close friend invited me to this year’s MozFest. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry, you haven’t been living under a rock. It is Mozilla’s annual 3-day event that seeks to drive innovation on the web. It is also a networking opportunity for the hugely diverse and incredibly creative tech community. Mozilla’s vision is that “learning should be hands-on, immersive, and done collectively”. And no doubt, the event itself reflected this vision with a vast array of talks, games, demonstrations, creative group work, and spaces for innovative ideas. One of the main inspirations I took away was about digital badges.

Up until two weeks ago, I didn’t even know what digital badges were. But the more I look into the topic, the more I find that they are actually becoming quite established in the learning landscape. In fact, IBM recently launched its Open Badge Program to attract talent and keep people engaged. At MozFest, a whole floor was dedicated to Mozilla’s Open Badges project, which was launched already in 2012.

In case you don’t know, digital badges are a type of certification for a skill, accomplishment or capability, much like the badges handed out in the military or the Scouts. Universities, online course providers, companies, museums – any learning provider really – can issue badges, which recipients can add to their profiles like LinkedIn and showcase their skills and capabilities to their peers and potential employers. As there are no limits to content or the submission process (at one museum, you can get a badge for cockroach handling), digital badges aim to disrupt traditional approaches by facilitating informal learning, providing alternative learning pathways, and supporting lifelong learning.

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Within organisations, badges are already being used to support performance management, drive collaboration and innovation among employees and enhance employee engagement. Unisys, for example, developed an internal platform that provides each employee with a profile where they can display their badges, allowing them to establish a company presence, connect to other employees with similar skills and search for those with specific subject expertise. IBM is also using badges to provide credentials to external talent, for specific learning journeys, and thereby creating a global pool of talent that it can draw upon. Within IBM, employees who felt recognised for learning achievements (e.g. through badges) were three times more engaged than those who didn’t.

In MozFest’s session on Architecture for Learning Pathways, experts discussed next steps for the badge project. How can badges lead to specific jobs, careers, and help people achieve certain goals? How do different badges relate to each other with regard to the types of achievements they represent? How can they be grouped together to create different learning pathways? Do learning pathways always have to be linear? How can high achievers be differentiated from low achievers?

While these questions are certainly relevant for the education sector, they are also relevant for the corporate world. Training and development is already a major factor in the war for talent while new technologies are transforming the landscape of required skills. In this respect, companies must rethink the value of qualifications, alternative career pathways, and continuous learning. Can badges be used to address some of these challenges, for example, to facilitate lateral career moves? This is something high on our research agenda at the Future of Work. Over the next four months we will be analysing the future of employability and learning to find out more about the big disruptors in this area.

Image: Badges from the Royal Observatory Greenwich, UK Antibiotic Guardian, Amazon and Siemens