Why Excluding “Certain People” from Your Executive or Cabinet is Bad for Business

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In the past few weeks, one of Jamaica’s most prestigious literary talents won a major international prize. Below the headlines, however, is the story of a writer who has exiled himself from a country he can’t live in. Is your company also discouraging some of its best people and thereby promoting mediocrity?

Maybe those foreigners are onto something after all. Parts of the world we admire the most have become more tolerant of homosexuals in the workplace, taking active steps to encourage their contribution. I remember when I joined AT&T in New Jersey as a 22-year-old, only to be surprised at the number of openly gay individuals and LGBT support groups to be found. Like many Jamaicans who worked there, it came as a shock.

Marlon James, the 2015 winner of the Man Booker prize for fiction describes the reason for my shock in recent interviews and articles from the New York Times and UK Guardian. He points a cold finger at those who made his life a living hell as a student at Wolmers Boys. What strikes home is the fact that, for a year, I was his Headboy.

In high school, no-one would have been surprised to hear me pronounce on “the beating that B____ymen deserved.” Only four years later, I had changed. Just in time… as I entered the American workplace I learned that such hateful utterances were absolutely forbidden. Most companies had an explicit and unwavering commitment to diversity.

A few years ago, I re-discovered the wisdom of their stance via the books of Richard Florida. He uncovered a clear correlation between cities’ tolerance of homosexuality and their economic success. The data tells us that many creative types migrate to Silicon Valley, New York, London and other hotbeds of innovation. They leave behind the rejection of their hometowns for welcome places.

You may agree that it sounds like a reasonable theory.

In reality, however, it’s easy to see the negative side of my old, nasty intolerance. James openly identifies himself as a member of this group of outcasts. In his interviews, he describes his fear of being beaten… presumably by classmates like me. His forced exile shows what happens when the rampant ignorance I demonstrated is allowed to grow unchecked. It chases out would-be leaders of what could become creative new industries.

Or, to put it more plainly… hateful ignorance discourages the fellow who could come up with a product or service for your company that doubles its profits in a new segment. It suffocates the young lady who has the perfect idea of how to improve your operations, as she opts instead to migrate. It starves the consultant who, in spite of his bright ideas, you shun: he’s effeminate and has never been married.

This shunning takes place in subtle forms I still struggle with. Recently, on CaribHR.Radio, I interviewed an expert on LGBT workplace issues. She said that most people don’t want to know a fellow employee’s sexual orientation – echoing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” But then she questioned me directly: “How would you respond if a man puts a picture of his boyfriend on his desk?”

I felt an old but familiar revulsion, sharply honed by my Wolmers years. Startled and embarrassed at my unwelcome feelings, I mumbled an incoherent reply. Her unspoken question was obvious: “Why should a particular employee be prohibited from doing what everyone else openly and freely enjoys?”

Alas, there seem to be no easy prescriptions, but here are two places to start if you intend to promote an environment of innovation within your company.

1. Assume the Facts

Contrary to the wishes of many, you probably already have gays, bisexuals or employees on the “Down-Low.” They could be in your executive, or a sensitive position and your acceptance of this possibility is a useful beginning.

2. Look for Your Self-Interest

It might be too hard to think about doing good things for homosexuals as a group. If so, start by looking out for your own self-interest. Your job as a manager is to do the best for your company. Indulging in revolting feelings is not in your job description. In fact, they hurt you in the long-term because you are pushing away innovative Marlon-James-types. Or CEO-of-Apple-types. These unfortunate outcomes undermine your success.

If it’s in your self-interest to create more tolerance, find small steps that fit within a Jamaican context. For example, explore what multinationals do in parts of the world that are intolerant, where hate is a matter of fact AND law. I became a different person in a few years courtesy of a transformative experience – so can your workplace.

This is no idle wish: facing down intolerance is, perhaps, one of the pathways to excellence here in Jamaica. If that’s true, your firm would benefit from encouraging and protecting diversity, rather than “loving up” mediocre sameness.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free summary of links to his past articles, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

Why Social Media Skills Are Now Business Skills

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Some scoff at social media, believing that it’s all a young people’s fad that will soon pass.

But there is growing evidence that those who spend the time to develop their social media skills are benefiting. They are learning some critical, non-trivial capabilities, while adopting the unique habits required to be an effective professional in this new era.

In this article, I look at why these skills are now important and more than “nice-to-haves.”


How Social Media Skills Are Changing Business Forever

Is social media just a passing fad that mature business-people can safely ignore? Is it all just a waste of time? Does lasting, meaningful social activity only take place in person; not over the Internet?

Recently, a Kingston-based friend of mine was intent on taking a destination vacation in the USA with his extended family of nine. He booked 10 days in a motel, thinking that was his best option. However, after he Googled the destination, he discovered AirBnB, the short-term rental service. A  search of the neighbourhood revealed that he could get a beautiful private house in the same location for half the price.

But there was a catch. He learned that AirBnB landlords are not obligated to rent their property to anyone who can afford it. Instead, they only approve people they trust. How does someone who has never met you and lives thousands of miles away come to entrust you, a stranger, with one of their prized possessions? The answer might be obvious – social media.

If you are an AirBnB renter who has never used the service before (and, therefore, has never been rated on the website by a landlord ) you are an unknown entity. In order to reduce the risk, the service encourages property owners to do something unusual. They learn how to check you out online, via sites like Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and company websites. Your public presence on social media, in particular, helps determine whether or not you represent a high risk – the kind of tenant who will ruin their home.

In this case, my friend had a problem. Porn hackers had just taken over his Facebook account, forcing him to start a new one. To a stranger, it would appear as if he had just joined the social network a week ago… a big red flag.

The answer was simple. He needed to beef up his Linkedin profile so that prospective landlords would come to see him as a competent, trusted person. Unfortunately, up until then, his profile looked like an orphan – a place he had visited only once or twice. We added a headshot, biographical data and details of his work history.

In a day or two, the landlord signaled her satisfaction and the subsequent vacation was a total success.

The fact is, a weak online presence may not elicit critiques from your close business associates here in Jamaica. They, like you, may argue “they don’t have the time” to “play around” with social media. Listening mostly to each other, you may all be convinced that it’s unimportant. It may be an echo chamber: a comfort zone in which your friends are just saying and doing the same things.

You may be mistaken in thinking that it doesn’t matter. Obviously, your lack of a profile communicates something to the landlords on AirBnB. The broader question for business-people is “Who else might care?”

A while back, my wife received a message from a man who was coming to Jamaica from Europe to do some business. He wanted to meet her and possibly engage her services in the future.

A quick check on Linkedin raised suspicions: his  profile was also an orphan written in utterly vague language. It took some time, but deeper Google searches showed that his company had a reputation for running a particular scam. Apparently, they knew how to enter a country and extract the information they needed for free, before selling it to their clients.

My wife declined the meeting.

You may be comfortable with the unclear image you are creating online, but there may be opportunities to receive discounts that are passing you by. Also, others outside Jamaica may be ignoring your offers to engage, or making sure they are too busy to take your call.

Social media use for business purposes requires a distinct skill, but don’t wait for the classroom training to be offered. These platforms are evolving too rapidly.

Last year I picked up an ebook that described in detail the  skills required to make effective use of the latest version of Linkedin. I was shocked. Unknown to me, the social network had evolved. Within a few weeks, I picked up hundreds of new connections in one of my key markets overseas.

By contrast, Facebook business pages have recently been rendered impotent. Only paid advertisements are actually making their way to fan’s news feeds, forcing many companies’ strategies to change.

The landscape is changing so fast that the rules must be re-learned every few months. That’s why you simply cannot set up a social media unit and relax. These are now executive skills that cannot be explained in the abstract – they must be experienced firsthand.

In fact, they have become far from optional. They represent a must-have for the business person who is serious and global-minded.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free summary of links to his past articles, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20151011/francis-wade-how-social-media-skills-are-changing-business-forever

OCt 11 2015 Gleaner