Spotting Young Talent

Dennis Nally, Chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers InternationalInternational Women’s Day was on March 8th and, once again,  PwC celebrated the event. To cross the quays and get to the gig, I had to battle through a line of protestors and policemen. To be honest, I was a bit surprised that International Women’s Day was such a turbulent affair. Turned out that the protestors were objecting to the European People’s Party congress being held next door. Whew! All the visitors were happy to be tucked away safely in PwC’s beautiful HQ. ‘Leaning In’ to a full-on baton charge normally puts me right off lunch.

Thought Leadership:
Mary O’Hara did a stellar job keeping the meeting on track while Aoife Flood (PwC Global Diversity Programme) and Professor Brad Harrington from Boston College fed us the outcome of their research.  Here’s a list of the key points…

  1. Millennium Generation:
    People born between 1980 and 1995 are ‘Millennials’. The big news (not exactly ‘new news’) is that some of this generation are not as intent on working 80 hour work weeks or travelling to hardship posts as we were. According to Dr. Harrington,IBM was often jokingly referred to by employees as I’ve Been Moved” (executives were transferred so frequently & went where they were told).  That’s changing. Going forward, careers will no longer be centrally designed – ‘you can have any career you like as long as it’s black’. Careers will be customized to the individual (2 requirements: An organization that ‘believes’ this effort is worthwhile and a HR team with the skills to deliver on the promise).
  2. Stronger Women:
    Women are outperforming men in schools, colleges and universities across the western world. OK,  there may be a few speed bumps around spatial reasoning. But on everything else (i.e. all the stuff that counts) women are demonstrating more grey matter.  Once you get them ‘on-board’ the next trick is to develop, promote and retain talented women. And how does the organization know what these women want? They ask them (ps they also ask highly talented men). Then they work alongside this key group to co-design career programmes that hit the spot. While, listening and responding to staff hardly seems like a ‘breakthrough’ idea, it’s actually a novel practice when so few companies do this. Once again we see an example of ‘strategic implementation’ beating ‘strategic thinking’ hands-down.
  3. Craving Feedback:
    We love the stereotype of younger people being ‘addicted to technology’, running around nurseries screaming that they need their PDA’s (Personal Digital Assistants) on full charge. For sure, this group demonstrates an ‘ease’ with technology. But don’t be fooled. This generation crave feedback every bit as much as we did. It’s high-tech. And high-touch. Aoife told us about the ‘3 F’s’ (Feedback has to be Frequent, Future-Focused and Face to Face). I haven’t heard this many ‘F’s’ since I asked Eamon Dunphy “will Giovanni Trapattoni be missed”?
  4. Unconscious Bias:
    While this one is a bit harder to spot, the ‘sneaky’ social scientists in Boston College came up with a number of experiments to test this. For example, they produced CV’s for job applications (exact same education/career data). However, the CV’s and cover letters contained subtle hints that the women had/had not got kids. When subsequently asked to ‘rate’ the applicants, women with children were rated as (a) less committed to the organization (b) less confident (c) less promotable. And, here’s the really good stuff. Both women and men doing the reviewing showed the same ‘anti-women-with-kids’ bias. Whoa! Who needs the Taliban when we have these ‘home-grown’ dinosaurs? This unconscious bias simply does not reflect the emerging reality. More and more woman are the ‘bread-winners’ (in both single and 2-partner families). Along with this, research is demonstrating that women are equally or more ambitious than men. So, throw all those stereotypes overboard and start with a blank page. How? There are specific techniques to ‘map’ the bias in your organization and organization development methods to address this head-on. Unless, of course, you are ‘male and stale’, happy to pull up the ladder and deny women entry to the loft (some successful women could equally be accused of doing this).
  5. Sex Competition:
    Collectively, we have been led to think of ‘men’ as being separate from ‘women’. Pop psychology and a lorry load of TV comedians have helped to copperfasten this. Yes, we are different. And that difference can be a source of good natured fun and energy.  But different is not (or shouldn’t be) code for ‘better’ or for ‘worse’. Men and women are not in competition. Have you noticed that we kind of need each other? That applies in the workplace too. Like an interlaced pattern, teams with mixed gender are stronger and bring different qualities to the table. It’s not a sex competition; it’s a talent competition! Mix it up!
  6. Work Schedules:
    Take a deep breadth  – because it’s not too often that you see the terms ‘men’ and ‘guilt’ in the same sentence! Many more men are now reporting strong feelings of guilt about not spending enough time with their kids (spillover feelings which negatively impact their performance at work).  To respond, companies are developing family friendly work patterns. This goes well beyond  ’a day’s paternity leave’. It’s about developing practices which have real impact, recognizing the importance of childrens’ early years in particular. With so many people working flexible career options from home, the wags in IBM now often refer to the company as I’m By Myself”. It’s policy recognition of a changing environment, a case study example of an organization adapting itself to the new reality. How is your organization responding to this? (tell the truth and shame the devil: is it even on your radar?)
  7. Forget Equality: 
    Stop thinking that hiring and promoting great women is  an ethical issue about ‘equality’. It’s a question of sourcing the best available talent and maximizing productivity. The prize? If you bring your management practices into the 21st Century, you will secure the best available horsepower and get a head start on the competition, many of whom will be dragging their knuckles along the ground for some time to come. This is an example where the ‘fast follower’ policy will not work. Get ahead of the curve on this one.

Of course, executives have a choice. You can choose to pontificate with other grey beards (senior tribe members) about ‘young people today’ and  ‘how easy they have it’. Alternatively, you can try to understand what’s actually happening in the workforce and swim ahead of the wave. A clarion call from PwC. Your call in terms of what to do about it. Just don’t make the call to do nothing.



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