How to lead change?: Key Learnings from February’s Leaders Breakfast

On Wednesday, February 22nd, we held a Leaders Breakfast where Hope Johnson, Chief Financial Officer at Haven Technologies, and Eric Aboaf, Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer at State Street, discussed how C-Suite roles are evolving in a fast-changing business and social landscape.

The breakfast was a great opportunity to hear from leaders about how they can make the most of these new opportunities to drive the C-Suite agenda and lead wider change, both inside and outside their organization.

Some of the themes discussed included the evolving role of the C-Suite and new areas of responsibility beyond the traditional remit, the responsibility and opportunity for leaders to drive meaningful change, both internally and externally, and key actions leaders should take to make an impact for inclusion.

The evolving role of the C-Suite and new areas of responsibility beyond the traditional remit

Roles in the C-Suite have evolved and leaders can take advantage of that to drive positive change in the workplace. Hope and Eric advised attendees to use the power that comes with their seniority to influence positive change in the organization, such as building a list of ways to improve it. These lists can be used to set goals and develop strategies to meet those goals, as well as to monitor how well the company is doing and make any adjustments that are required.

Leaders in attendance also brought up the topic of hybrid working. Many companies have said that they require employees to be in the office a few days a week. However, the leadership team is often in the office 4-5 days per week, and as a result, employees feel they need to increase their presence in the office if they want to progress as they are under the impression that if you are not in the leader’s line of sight, you might not get to work on more prestigious project teams or with important clients. However, many are aware that often employees from diverse backgrounds might have reasons why they cannot be in the office as frequently as others (e.g. people with children or caring responsibilities for an older relative, employees with a physical disability, etc), so they discussed how important it is for leaders to be aware of this dynamic and find conscious ways to counter proximity bias when it comes to year-end reviews and promotions.

The responsibility and opportunity for leaders to drive meaningful change – internally and externally

When talking about leaders’ responsibility to drive meaningful change in business, the group expressed that leaders are often worried about making mistakes when it comes to implementing inclusive policies and actions, and therefore end up not taking any measures at all. This hesitance can be detrimental to the business as it conveys the message to employees that the organization is not invested in them. Hope and Eric highlighted how important it is for leaders to allow themselves the space to make mistakes and “get it wrong”. It’s through mistakes that we learn, and what is crucial is that leaders are taking the initiative to drive change.

The group also discussed which opportunities leaders can create to keep finding ways to effect measurable change from a DEI perspective. Hope and Eric recommended to go beyond the business and find ways to make change on a personal level in order to bring transformation and innovation into business functions. They also spoke about figuring out personal motivations so actions are genuine, and to not rely on personal networks; learn about other cultures and that passion will come through at work.

Key actions leaders should take to make an impact for inclusion

Hope and Eric advised the group to undertake two actions a month to make a difference in the DEI space. This can include having DEI workshops and trainings that allow for a more hands-on and interactive learning experience, and review policies to ensure diverse employees are being protected. In the long term, they also spoke about the importance of having clear plans, assigning budgets to invest in diverse suppliers, and making plans measurable by building DEI into management. This will help further DEI within the organization, and ensure that it becomes a part of core business functions.

It is imperative to note that when talking about DEI, organizations must take accountability and acknowledge the failures or challenges of the past in order to measure change over time. Without looking back, it’s impossible to know how to progress.

It is important for companies to take a stand and voice their positions externally, even if it means taking backlash. Many people, particularly the younger generation of workers want to know what a company stands for before deciding to work there.

Continuing the Conversation

Our appreciation goes to Hope and Eric, and to everyone who attended and contributed their opinions and experiences.

Audeliss has been supporting organizations with diversifying senior leadership for over 11 years, and if you would like to talk to us about your approach to diverse executive search, please get in touch.