We should be listening to our young leaders - Michelle Hawkins

An interesting fact emerged from the 2020 World Economic Forum: 61 per cent of young leaders say that business models should only be pursued if they generate profitable growth and improve societal outcomes at the same time.

Michelle Hawkins, managing director of Accenture Scotland.
Michelle Hawkins, managing director of Accenture Scotland.

Their priorities, set out in the report, Seeking New Leadership, are for stakeholder inclusion, continuous learning, and mission and purpose. All are markedly different from those of the broader group of company executives that put technology and innovation and emotion and intuition higher.Eighteen months later, and if we layer on the impact of Covid-19, we must ask ourselves if we are taking note.The pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on young people, women, ethnic minorities and marginalised communities. What’s more, there is an increasing imperative to accelerate economic recovery through a diversity and sustainability lens.The business case for diversity in all its forms is accepted. Yet inequalities remain because the many cultural factors in the workplace that sustain them still exist. Scotland’s first official Gender Equality Index, published by ministers in December, gives the nation a score of 73 out of 100, suggesting there is still some way to go.It is the world’s young leaders – as entrepreneurs setting up their own enterprises, new recruits entering the workplace and as consumer trend setters – who are challenging existing leadership norms. They bring their own diverse experiences and backgrounds to shape and inform how we lead responsibly through these exceptionally challenging times.

What Seeking New Leadership shows is that diversity needs to be purpose-built into management teams to change their culture and deliver growth by embracing diversity of thought and perspectives. As organisations, that means we should lean more urgently towards equality in all its guises, including multi-generational leadership.Combining younger with more traditional leadership values creates the prospect for a new dynamic for business growth – purpose with innovation, stakeholder inclusion with new technology, re-training and up-skilling. Innovation excels where diverse individuals have a voice and feel they belong, while companies that combine trust with innovation outperform their industry peers on average attaining 3.1 per cent higher operating profits.At Accenture our work by its very nature all about helping clients to disrupt their industries, reshape business models and change people’s lives. Across our business, we ask our people to constantly innovate how they work and think. Leading with values is important to us to attract the best new talent.The younger generation is at the vanguard of change and as employees, they are one of a range of stakeholders (including investors, business partners and policymakers) demanding more sustainable and more equitable growth. Strong ethical values are the motivators for talent recruitment and retention.They are also a powerful consumer group, with undeniable insights into product development, supply chain, and buying habits and attitudes, particularly around the sustainability agenda.This generation wants corporate leadership that relates the impact of its business to wider society. They value employers that advance common goals by inspiring a shared vision of sustainable prosperity for the organisation and all its stakeholders, implemented through a long-term strategy with integrity and transparency.Let’s not forget that trust has been undermined by the pandemic as employees asked many legitimate questions of their employers (how safe is my job? how are you supporting me? etc) a greater sense of purpose and a commitment to collaborate with all colleagues to drive organic growth goes a long way. What’s more, it has been shown that injecting trust over this challenging period could translate into revenue gains of upwards of five per cent.If workplace culture and diversity is being driven by the changing priorities brought by the pandemic, however, it is also changing because more young leaders are willing to speak up on a range of business, workplace and societal issues.This group of culture makers are a more gender-balanced group, many of whom are millennials. For them responsible leadership is when you stand up for what you believe in, fight for the marginalised and remain mindful of the consequences of changes that are happening in the world.The question remains, are we listening – and more importantly, are we taking action?Michelle Hawkins is the managing director of Accenture, Scotland

Organisations should lean more urgently towards equality in all its guises, including multi-generational leadership.

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