Fiona Burton: Good leaders will take a different perspective

When the infamous RMS Titanic was ­sailing through the Atlantic icefield, two people were in the crow’s nest, without binoculars. The calmness of the sea and the blinding moonlight gave them a shared but limited perspective. A perspective we now know contributed to one of the world’s most harrowing ­maritime disasters.

Joaquin Phoenix confronts the lack of diversity in the film industry

In the case of the Titanic, the men in the crow’s nest were limited by their own capabilities. It would have been nearly impossible for anyone to have seen that iceberg without binoculars that fateful night.

But what if there’d been another boat? A closer boat. A boat with its stern to the moon, offering a ­completely different view of the impending danger.

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Differing views, different perspectives lead to better outcomes.

Fiona Burton, Chair of Marketing Society Scotland, Partner, The Leith Agency

In 2015, First Minister Nicola ­Sturgeon’s pledge for “50:50 ­gender equality in the boardroom” catapulted Scottish business into conversations about gender parity and ­quotas. Whatever your view, the pledge has gone some way to improve ­gender equality in businesses across ­Scotland, with 211 Scottish organisations publicly committed to the movement.

But the discussion on gender equality in businesses is merely the start line to achieving a valuable cross-section of perspective in business and government. The same week that Joaquin Phoenix gave an impassioned BAFTA speech on systemic racism in the film industry (2 Feb), the new Parker Review report on ­ethnic diversity on UK boards was published (5 Feb). The message from each was not dissimilar.

The Parker Review shows that 37 per cent of FTSE 100 companies ­surveyed do not have any ethnic minority representation on their boards. Sir John Parker, chairman of the Parker Review Committee said “ethnic diversity needs to be given the same level of boardroom focus that finally led to increasing female representation on boards” (and in truth, there’s still a long way to go there).

As conversations around diversity and equality trundle on, we need to take more time to understand the whole picture, not just segments within it.

‘Intersectionality’ is a framework for understanding how multiple ­categories of identity (such as gender, race, age, disability and class) ­interact in ways that create complex systems of oppression and power. This is what Joaquin Phoenix was talking about at the BAFTAs. It is only when we understand the ­intersectional complexity of structures and systems, can we, in his words, dismantle them.

The Marketing Society has a global mission to empower brave leaders. Each of us has a role to play to understand the complexities of the systems that shape us – and improve them.

The Marketing Society Star Awards have been developed in line with our vision to build a vibrant marketing community in Scotland, renowned for enlightened thinking, innovation and creativity. In the Chairman’s Award category, there is a new award (launched last year) for the Champions of Diversity and Equality. The award recognises Scottish businesses leading the way in diversity and inclusion. It reflects the commitment of the Marketing Society to ­promote diversity and equality across all ­areas in our industry including gender, race, LGBTQI+, disability and ­mental health.

Nominations of less than 500 words are invited and can relate to an overall organisational approach or a specific project. If you are a Scottish business or organisation making demonstrable progress in this area, please enter and share your story.

In marketing, in leadership, we need to surround ourselves in difference to ensure meaningful, respectful debate. Leadership without debate is dictatorship. You may as well talk to yourself in the mirror. Our boardrooms, our businesses should be filled with a cross section of society, the society many of us talk to or represent, day in, day out. Scotland is a nation that prides itself on ­fairness. Scottish industry, Scottish business has to do more to let different ­perspectives in. Only then will we see the iceberg. In the words of the late Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, remember: “If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.”

Nominations for the Champions of Diversity and Equality Award should be emailed (in under 500 words) to [email protected] by March 17th. You do not need to be a member of The Marketing Society to enter.

See www.marketingsociety.com or follow @marketingsocsco on Twitter.

Fiona Burton, chair of Marketing Society Scotland, partner, The Leith Agency.

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