Increased diversity in leadership drives innovation and agility

Dr Anna Campbell
Dr Anna Campbell
I always enjoy reading the KPMG agribusiness agenda, which is published annually.

This year the authors have made a sincere attempt to increase the diversity of their feedback, and acknowledge this in their analysis by presenting data and case studies from 12 sector subsets such as "Emerging Leaders" and "Maori."

I think it mostly worked and it was an important nod to the many unheard yet important voices in our sector.

Diversity within leadership teams is a challenge across many industries and in my view, agriculture is one of the most challenged (read that as a polite way of saying behind) in this regard.

One of the disadvantages of analysing data or "voices" in this way is its tendency to support stereotypes — real diversity in decision making and leadership happens when factors such as gender, race and age are forgotten as we seek the best path forward. The authors work hard to point out that diversity is more than statistics and representation, and they are right, but until those statistics are more fair then we will not get to the nirvana of diversity being the norm.

It is the small things which will measure change — when we can celebrate a female reaching a CEO position without splashing "female CEO" in the headline, I will be much happier — it’s usually pretty obvious when someone is a female and it doesn’t need to be pointed out. Similarly, when we have political cabinet ministers genuinely representing the many walks of life of our community — racial, gender, wealth levels — without having to especially strive for it, that’s when we will have made progress.

And please don’t come back to me with the meritocracy argument, I have seen women and non-European people with impressive merit being overlooked for years — intentionally or otherwise.

Diversity is key for inclusive policy and decision making, but it is also incredibly important for innovation, which post-covid, the country needs more than ever. According to a Harvard study (https://hbr.org/2013/12/how-diversity-can-drive-innovation), without diverse leadership, women are 20% less likely than straight white men to win endorsement for their ideas; people of colour are 24% less likely; and LGBTs are 21% less likely.

One of the great lines in this year’s KPMG agenda comes from Institute for the Future’s Max Elder and Sarah Smith when they ask the question "what should New Zealand’s ‘ridiculous’ future be?"

They suggest that "pushing for consensus often results in dilution, and the diminishment of ridiculousness and ambition."

Innovative companies within the agricultural sector succeed when they respond quickly to product feedback, changing climates and are ahead of the curve in terms of what they are seeing as consumer needs. This doesn’t necessarily fit within traditional business structures of slow and clunky decision-making with many layers of management up to the board.

I worry we are soon to have wonderfully diverse boards and leaders, but still have legacies of traditional, clunky agricultural industry models and companies. Diversity across large organisations at all levels is still some years away and we don’t have time to wait for innovative (ridiculous) ideas to break through those structures.

We need to look to the small companies for innovation, and we need to find a way for these companies to thrive outside of the large corporations.

We don’t have a Silicon Valley filled with investors hunting for the next great idea.

In New Zealand, the Government plays a significant role in "transformative innovation" funding.

However, applications for innovation funding from Government require a 60% commitment from the company itself — for example a $1million innovation project would be $600,000 from the company, $400,000 from the Government.

The agricultural companies that apply for the $1million projects are usually the larger, less innovative companies as they have a spare $600,000, as well as the people required to fill in all the paperwork.

It’s money going into the hands of "more of the same" — we need to revisit these metrics if we are to explore a "ridiculous future" and allow these wonderfully diverse voices and innovative small companies to take us in new directions.

- Anna Campbell is managing director of AbacusBio Ltd, a Dunedin based agri-technology company.


 

Comments

I’m always amazed that with 300,000 Kiwi children living in poverty people are concerned with crap like this. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said: is: “There is nothing more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Unfortunately, most diversity and inclusion initiatives fall into the former category: sincere ignorance. Why? the details and depth of strategic thinking behind them is as thin as the paper they are printed on! Most companies aren’t affected by the issue but scramble into solution mode without checking whether they really understand the problem. You write about diversity and inclusion as a problem. It’s actually an “opportunity”. More specifically a growth opportunity. As I wander through your missive you make no mention of the metrics used to define meaningful diversity: race, ethnicity, nationality, educational attainment, tertiary institution, professional expertise, tenure, age, disability and health status, sexual orientation, family status, carer and parental status, employment status (full time, part-time, flexible working), immigration status, faith, veteran status, English proficiency, languages spoken, etc. What is the specific problem?

Rabbi_Aharon, beautifully put.
Dr Anna Campbell is just another virtue signalling, ladder climber.
We need people that will get the job done and provide society with the products and services that make our time on this planet less onerous.
No one but the woke care who they are and I doubt even they DO NOT go to any lengths to find out the gender, race or sexual orientation of those involved in market offerings, before they make a purchase.
It's all just noise that says, look at me.
Puke.

Get used to it, as you should have done years ago. Women comprise 51% of the population. Diversity erases hegemony; hegemony is inefficient.

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