Business leaders, regardless of the industry in which they operate, should actively seek out staff from diverse backgrounds and with different perspectives, according to the head of a major aggregator.
At FAST’s seventh annual Women in Business luncheon in Sydney on Wednesday (31 July), FAST chief executive Brendan Wright highlighted the value of diversity in business, saying that leaders should consciously seek out staff from diverse backgrounds from whom they can learn.
“I believe that looking out for and backing others are core traits of what a good leader is. Leaders should be diligent, disciplined and, quite frankly, unwavering in seeking out those from [whom] they can learn from – and therefore create opportunities to learn,” Mr Wright said.
While gender makes sense as a starting point for building a diverse and inclusive workplace because “it’s tangible and you can see it”, the FAST CEO stressed that “diversity is [about] way more than gender”.
“If you start with obvious things, such as having more women at the table, then that just builds momentum,” the FAST CEO told The Adviser.
At the FAST Women in Business luncheon – where brokers also heard from humanitarian, lawyer and author Rabia Siddique about her tumultuous journey growing up in a mixed-race family, experiencing abuse as a child, and surviving a hostage crisis in Iraq – Nicole Devine, general manager of performance and operations at National Australia Bank (NAB), spoke about the value of embedding policies to promote diversity in the workplace.
She said that a major consulting firm that she had joined 15 years ago at the start of her career had a clear policy to recruit people from different backgrounds.
“I had a commerce law degree, there was somebody else with a PhD in philosophy, someone else was a mathematician, there were a couple of engineers, there were a couple of computer scientists,” she explained.
“[The firm’s] philosophy was: if we get smart people, we can teach them anything… we can turn them to wherever we need them to be.
“One of the first jobs I had in this organisation was to learn computer programming. They were really testing [the philosophy] that we can teach smart people anything when they were trying to teach me to be a programmer.”
Ms Devine continued: “We all bring something unique to the business and the business will be better for it.”
The NAB general manager of performance and operations also noted that it’s only been in the last few years that there has been “more women at the table” in leadership roles.
“On the current leadership team I sit on, there are now four women. I have no doubt that it makes a difference to the dynamic and the way that the leadership team works,” Ms Devine said.
“It makes a difference to how our voices are heard. It’s amplified just through the sheer number of women on that leadership team.”
Mr Wright shared that women leaders had played a key role not only in his personal life, but also in his career, particularly over the past 15 years.
“In the past 15 years, I’ve had six people as leaders, and five of them have been women. And I am, without a doubt, a better business leader and better at what I do because I was doing work with significant highly capable, talented women,” the FAST CEO said.
Great leaders, according to Mr Wright, need to be prepared to be “vulnerable”, “inquisitive”, acknowledge they don’t have all the answers, and create an environment that encourages others to do the same.
“Leadership is about trust, understanding, care, contributing, making a difference and enabling others to be in a better place tomorrow than they were today. Legacies are born this way,” he said.
The third annual Women in Finance Awards 2019, run in partnership with AMP Bank, will recognise the outstanding women shaping and influencing the financial services industry from 7pm on Thursday, 1 August, at The Star.
[Related: Finalists revealed for Women in Finance 2019]