Diversity, Hip-Hypocrisy and a few lessons from a vineyard

Last Thursday, I attended the Recruiter Awards Dinner with nine colleagues from our different practices and across all levels of our firm as Green Park was nominated for two awards.

This got me thinking about the many awards Green Park have received – 50 so far, in fact – and, how my own principles and outspokenness over matters of inequality and bias, may have negatively impacted our business over the last 10 years, having channelled most of my energy into championing for change.

I found myself thinking about this more and more over the weekend which was spent with friends learning about wine and drinking some, of course.  Some of my friends are kindred spirits that I’ve known for over 20 years – none hail from a particular corporate or campaigning background – a nightclub entrepreneur, a plumber, a counsellor, a pub landlord and a very free spirit (who cannot be categorised), but all of whom are highly passionate about change and … wine!

Enveloped by breath-taking surroundings, delicious wine and spirited friends, I embraced a new language – the language of wine – in all its divine beauty. Feeling inspired after a productive weeks end, I am keen to share the wealth of learnings about wine and how embracing a new language, especially the language of the future requires the ability to take action proactively. If you don’t usually indulge in wine or drinking for that matter, I’m hoping the metaphors still work.

He didn’t turn water into wine to get a thank you!

In life, I’ve found that doing the right thing is certainly no guarantee of success nor grantor of gratitude. The act of recognition is as fleeting as ‘good weather on a bank holiday weekend’ but when you receive it, that great feeling seems to last forever. At that moment you can’t possibly imagine this feeling ever ending – but it does and it will, without reason. Hence, whilst I’m still able to harness a share of the spotlight, I have a special request to ask:

  • To those who claim to support increasing diversity and inclusion, please help counsel others to accept that racism DOES exist and that, racist behaviour probably exists in different shapes and forms within every institution
  • To those who work within investment banking, asset management or insurance:  racism is treating people differently because of their skin colour and, institutional racism refers to the cultures, policies, processes, and behaviours that create systemic barriers placing people in an unfavourable position because of their colour!

2. Graziano – The Green Park Grape

Saturday afternoon was spent in the sprawling Spanish vineyards of Barón de Ley with its 15th-century monastery. Steeped in history with a distinguished cellar housing approx. 5 million bottles of wine including bottles of Rioja favoured by Pope Benedict XVI, the monastery proved to be an endless source of inspiration and provider of some amazing (but useless) facts to enjoy such as Pope Francis seems to favour drinking a full-bodied Malbec only!

More relevantly though, I was introduced for the very first time to a grape called ‘Graziano’. This grape is very rarely used on its own, with less than 15 global providers letting ‘Graziano’ shine in all its glory. It is so delicate, difficult to grow and nurture, and requires extra care that for centuries it was known as ‘Gracias no’ meaning ‘No, thank you’ because of the countless occasions the grape was refused by winemakers when offered by the local farmers.

Rather like Green Park’s journey –  if conditions are created where it is nurtured and great attention is paid to the environment it’s highly possible to create valuable outcomes, unique to people with great taste.

Did I love it? Mmm …not as much as its backstory and the realisation that every bottle of wine like any search, consultation or partnership comes with its own story and it’s those stories that either prevent or create change.

Red or white?

I’ve worked as a team manager in a few organisations, where issues around institutional prejudice existed at an unconscious level. I’ve also experienced behaviours that today would be viewed as unacceptable. In a personal capacity, I’ve been hospitalised many times due to racially motivated attacks. Yes, I will admit to having biases. This is what fuels my motivation to improve and make our working world more equal so that future generations can expect to be awarded equal opportunity based on their own talents, efforts and attitudes.

Today I think most people genuinely believe that institutions should create equal opportunities so that both employees and customers to benefit. But denial (the Nile) is not just a river that runs through Africa. Increasingly, we are witnessing institutions using clever and compelling narratives to sell diversity, sustainability or environmental virtues, however, they DO NOT apply the same principles and values within their own organisations. Therefore, the decision still lies with the consumer who faces a binary choice – either ‘I don’t trust them’ or ‘I don’t really care if I trust them because there is so little choice or they are easy to use’.

My lived experiences have taught me that if you try to passionately lead with your mission, principles and behaviours you believe in, the next step is to accept that most people only care about themselves. In other words, in the decision-making process, it’s only people who share your values or recognise how your expertise and values are of benefit to them, that you can meaningfully engage with.

New World or Old World?

Like wine, and through no fault of its own, recruitment folds quite neatly into two business types –  New World or Old World. In all ‘Old World’ businesses, you are certain to find that prejudice and hubris form a constant part of their culture, underpinned by an outdated economic model. However, the biggest reason Executive Search is struggling to find its rightful place in the future thinking of organisations, is ‘addiction to status’. They are like all ‘Old World’ wine producers who have been in existence for hundreds of years, have their set, tried and tested processes and who all sing the same ol’ song – ‘this is what our customers love about us and if you cannot accept that our product is consistent and of the very highest quality, then you simply have no taste (communicated in the least insulting way, of course!).

The New World producer on the other hand, wants to engage with its customers to find out about their needs, wants and likes or if they have any other preferences. This allows them to innovate to better serve their customers, to gain market share and to support their passions. As a result, it is not surprising new world wine sales are growing at a faster rate and its future is looking very bright, indeed.

In Vino Veritas

I used to think this meant people tell you the truth when they are drunk! However, years of meticulously testing this hypothesis has led me to believe it’s complete and utter nonsense. Now I think , it means that people share how they feel deep down inside when they drink but with no more or less honesty.

There seems to be a ‘push of a button’ that allows one to speak freely, (no holding back!), which can sometimes be positive and negative. Personally, I can’t think of a single occasion when pressing that button ever did anybody any good but nevertheless, people persist in pressing it very regularly!

I really don’t want diversity and inclusion campaigners to ignore all the buttons that need pressing because they are paralysed by their own financial or selfish circumstances.  Too many people are ignoring the existing facts, data and lived experiences to placate institutions that say they want to change. Why make organisations feel much better about the conditions that may exist without their knowledge because you view it as a challenge or career- limiting? Nothing that’s worthwhile is ever easy!

Admittedly, if you want real action, you must press forward with workable solutions based on data and lived experience. Is this achievable if you still refuse to accept the reality?

My most valuable takeaway from the weekend was ‘walking the tightrope between business and campaigning’ as it’s between these two interlocking circles that our work is at it’s most impactful, important and rewarding. If people don’t care, then it’s ok as it’s their personal choice. If organisations don’t care, they should be held accountable for their actions.

When talking about some of the organisations that support the ‘diversity industry’, it was established that it was the height of hypocrisy to continue to mislead institutions with the decade-old consultancy rhetoric of ‘it’s all about awareness, it’s all about building pipeline/leveraging networks and (my favourite), I understand we have challenges but we all need to move together at the same pace!’

Self-congratulatory rhetoric comes from a place of conceit and assumes (wrongly) that best practice can be ‘cut and pasted’ from organisation to organisation. What you call best practice, I call common practice. One need only look at the statistics to recognise that it very rarely works.  Why? Because those along this line of thinking and reasoning, tend only to understand their own demands and have no concept of the supply dynamic. Hence, they are incapable of and fail to balance their talent equation.

My friend – the nightclub entrepreneur –  put it best when he said: ‘Sooner or later if you continue to challenge the group’s established habits and thinking, you are certainly going to end up drinking alone or, on the flip side of the coin, with real friends who share your values or can benefit from your stories’.

The moral of the story lies in finding the balance.

 

To read more blogs from Raj Tulsiani you can follow him on LinkedIn. For his LinkedIn page, click here.