Diverse leadership – why fairness is greatness

Diverse leadership – why fairness is greatness

For International Women’s Day 2020, IWG’s Fatima Koning reveals why, this year, fairness is firmly on companies’ agendas

As we approach International Women’s Day, debates around gender diversity come to the fore. Topics such as the gender pay gap and discrimination towards women in the workplace get much-needed airtime, and more companies are talking openly about what needs to be done to remove barriers to female leadership in business.

Fatima Koning, Group Chief Sales Officer for IWG, believes that while it’s important to have these discussions, we should frame them within an overall context of fairness. She feels that, in 2020, the conversation has evolved to become about a more holistic approach to diversity that’s not solely focused on gender. It’s about choosing the right person for the right opportunity, regardless of their gender, race, age or any other traditional cause for discrimination.

“In my view, the biggest change since last year is how we stopped talking about equality between men and women and started talking about fairness,” she says. “Fairness in getting opportunities, fairness of treatment, and fairness of reward. Gender shouldn’t be a factor in whether or not a person can be a great leader. However, in many cases, women aren’t encouraged to take on leadership roles as often as their male counterparts, contributing to an imbalance of who’s in power. And that is why we must continue fighting for fairness.”

But diversity goes beyond gender, and there’s strong evidence that leadership is also strengthened by combining people of different demographics – different cultures, for example. “Research from Harvard Business Review shows companies with leadership in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry median,” says Koning. “It’s very positive to see more and more companies have diversity programmes. In the Netherlands, where I am based, companies such as ING, ABM AMRO and PwC have these programmes in place.”

At IWG, hiring and retaining diverse talent is a firm priority, and something Koning has always advocated during her career with the company. “We made a huge effort to create a diverse sales team, since we are present in more than 110 countries, and we have tried and succeeded to reflect this diversity in our teams,” she says. “Just one example is Singapore, where we have a country manager from Turkey and a sales director from the UK, which reflects the expat community living and working in Singapore.”

For diversity in business to be more than just an aspiration, companies have to have the right framework in place for diverse teams to thrive. “Simply throwing a mix of people together doesn’t guarantee high performance,” Koning states. “It’s strong leadership that assures that all team members feel they are being treated respectfully and fairly – that they feel valued, like they belong.”

It’s important to have policies in place that help as many different kinds of people enter and remain in leadership roles as possible – such as flexible-working policies and shared paid parental leave. It’s also important to openly communicate a company’s pro-diversity stance, so that it becomes ingrained in employees’ own attitudes.

“Diverse leaders can help by being a mentor, and by building multicultural competencies within their organisation,” says Koning. “And by providing flexible working options, you open the doors for a diverse group of people – women, men, people of different cultural heritages and younger and older workers – and really drive performance of your business.”

Koning takes her role as a champion of diversity seriously, inspiring others by speaking out and practising what she preaches. “With every decision I take and whenever I have the opportunity, I champion workplace diversity.”

Find out more about how flexible working can help to build diverse, inclusive and productive teams