“I think, therefore I am”, René Descartes

It is the latter part of this quotation that has been on my mind this week, largely because of the imagery featured widely in social media, particularly on LinkedIn. In the wake of the horrific death of George Floyd, and the public outrage and protest that has followed, people are asking themselves the question who or, indeed, what they are? Gavin Lewis, an MD at BlackRock and the founder of the #IAM campaign spoke in the press of his aims ”to highlight the structural obstacles black people have to contend with, ask people what three words best describe them and establish how we move forward.” The campaign urged people to post their thoughts on who/what they are and nominate others to do the same.

The response has been widespread and resulted in many powerful and emotional introspections from a broad range of the investment community and beyond. Some people have focused their responses on the issues of prejudice and discrimination; others have examined their beliefs, while many have highlighted a willingness and desire to listen and learn. All posts have been deeply personal, amplified by the home settings in which the photographs have been taken as we continue on our lockdown journey. Aside from the poignancy of the situation which provoked the need for this specific campaign, the individual reflections mirror the calls for greater diversity in the workplace and acceptance of diversity in society.

The posts have, for me, highlighted two areas of interest and curiosity.  The first and most obvious is that of diversity and inclusion.  For me, inclusion is paramount. We should – without need for rationale or justification – include. Irrespective of an individual’s gender, ethnicity, age, beliefs, religion, marital status or disability. We can only have a fair society if we include and are simultaneously open-minded towards inclusion. In terms of diversity, having the breadth of backgrounds, cultures and perspectives provides a richness and depth to the work environment.  There are many aspects of this diversity which are beneficial and should be embraced, perhaps the most important among them being the cognitive difference which provides a variety of viewpoints and greater challenge to debate.

My second area of interest concerns the personal dimension of the interactions. Many of the posts have reflected the challenge and tensions of bringing our individuality into the collective setting of the workplace. It is as if we are at the intersection of the personal and the corporate – a place where our subjective feelings are more deeply echoed in the commercial activity of our working lives. In corporate speak, are we at a place where there has to be a greater coincidence of our personal values with that of the organisation with which we work?

I have worked with a number of organisations, each with its own stated culture; sometimes with values listed within the corporate literature and on the website. When I was in the process of transitioning out of one company and in search for my next place of employment, I decided to put proverbial pen to paper and work out what my personal values were – with a view that I could check those against prospective employers and determine whether I had alignment or not. Defining my values was a cathartic and challenging process. Condensing to a small number of words one’s core beliefs is not an easy task and I’m sure those individuals posting on #IAM LinkedIn or Twitter would have thought long and hard before stating who/what they are. In my case I concluded my three core values to be ‘kindness’, ‘fairness’ and ‘tolerance.’ When I announced these to my family, there was initially some ridicule and teasing – particularly if ever I found myself to be acting in a way not considered kind, fair or tolerant I would be swiftly reminded of my values. Over time, however, I am pleased to say that they have been adopted more as family values and certainly a yardstick to guide our actions from time to time.

The process of applying personal values to the choice of employer is far from straightforward, however. Too often the stated culture of a firm is either mired in corporate speak or simply does not reflect the reality of the organisation. For a prospective employee, it is almost impossible to make a decision based on the alignment of values with any degree of confidence that perception would match reality. But perhaps that is a pessimistic view and, to steal the title of my first blog, maybe times are a’ changing. As I mentioned earlier, could this be the start of the intersection of the personal with the corporate? There certainly seems to be willingness among individuals to be more forthright on what is important; what matters to them. We need companies to embrace that openness and create values and cultures that truly capture the thoughts, emotions and wants of their employees.

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