Interview: Emma Avignon, CEO, Mentore Consulting on Promoting Diversity & The Bottom Line

Diversity programme boasts big names like Karren Brady, Sir Roger Carr and Lord Davies and reveals the epic potential of high profile mentoring for worldwide business...

The cliché about diversity is "More women!" but sometimes the reverse is true, explains Emma Avignon, CEO of Mentore Consulting. "We had a really interesting conversation recently with a media client who said we desperately need to mentor our men! Our business is about diversity - not women. It's just that women are the biggest group and the hottest topic, so this often becomes the focus."

"Most people understand the benefit of having a diverse leadership team," adds Avignon, "They get the importance of bringing a different set of ideas into the room. The value has been proved... and it brings better financial performance for the business. What some corporates struggle with is how to solve this problem. They know they want to bring women through their organisations, but the challenge is how to do that."

Mentore Consulting launched a year ago in the light of the Lord Davies report and other research released by Credit Suisse. This showed that, based on the analysis of 2,400 companies studied over six years, organisations with at least some female board members performed better in terms of share price than those without. The emphasis is firmly on the bottom line.

Beyond Women: The Business Potential in High Profile Mentoring....

The aim of Mentore Consulting, as the name suggests is to mentor proven individuals into senior positions and build a diverse executive pipeline. Its strategic differentiator is a pool of high profile mentors including: Karren Brady (who has done various publicity around Women in Technology) Sir Roger Carr and Lord Davies of Abersoch. The programme is paid for by the high flyers' organisation, lasts 18-months and provides a bespoke blend of mentoring, coaching and networking. In short, it gives individuals selected everything they need to thrive. Most of the focus is placed on the commercial good sense of nurturing talent.

"Investment in the individual is enough and justifies itself. We work with the organisation and the mentee to articulate that value back. Although it is very difficult to measure as a number on the bottom line, we will do a full 360 degree performance review before and after. Investing in your people and taking them up to the next level is invaluable and will have a knock on effect to the people below, providing them with good role models."

Beyond Industries: Getting In & Getting On...

Avignon likens IT to the banking, engineering, professional services, or mining all of which are very male dominated, "It's harder in those environments. In some instances you're talking about a cultural aspect and it's not just about bringing women through the organisation. It's about changing the culture and the way the business thinks about what adds most value or makes most sense."

The challenges with building senior careers however, are not really industry specific. In fact IT is increasingly stretching out to all aspects of the business. In a study we conducted to South Africa, for example, less than a third (32%) of respondents believed that South African companies were providing adequate training and mentoring for their future managers. These are patterns that can be seen across industries and organisations and reflect the need for more help in this area.

"Women in the technology sphere are not suffering from the fact they're in a man's world. They just want to get on in their career. Some things are sector related and some things aren't. Sometimes it's useful to speak to someone outside your sector because the experience you want to gain is actually sitting somewhere else. It's about business." It is having experience outside your own area which leads to diversity and ultimately innovation.

All this does sound fantastic for the people mentored, but the problem with schemes of this nature would surely be the type of people who get selected. Avignon addresses this by describing a company she works with which, "likes to offer everything to everybody. So, if you're going to say, handpick five people it becomes a little more tricky. We had to work with them to help them understand; this isn't about picking favourites. This is about people who have earned a position because they stand out according to a number of people."

I must admit to being a little unconvinced here. I'm not sure you can push diversity in this sense. Are the people who get chosen really going to be the diverse innovators who bush boundaries and excel in creative thinking? Or will they be the kind of individuals who are good at progressing through programmes? This system could even become slightly problematic by focusing on superficial things and trying to mould ‘model career women'.

Beyond Diversity: Mentoring the Global Elite...

It seems to me that the real potential of an organisation like this goes far beyond diversity. In fact, external mentoring services boasting high profile mentors could really come into their own in future. Imagine the cache of being taught by top celebrity business individuals? If an organisation was signed up to a renowned programme, including the big names, it would bring the most ambitious young talent flocking into the organisation from the start. In effect it could be like a non-televised Apprentice for business people and would lead to a true elite of professionals.

Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice and Director of the Future of Work Consortium, believes the world of work is fundamentally changing. This has been described as the ‘hollowing out of work' and the rise of ‘globalisation' and ‘transnationals'. In practice this means the widening of the gap between skilled and unskilled professionals, and in effect it could herald the rise of a globally mobile, extremely ambitious group of individuals cruising the world stage. Programmes like this would facilitate the system.

"We are focused in the UK at present," says Avignon "We're going to build a solid base from here. [But]The main corporates we work with are multinationals. Some of our mentors travel. We can on some occasions service a mentee relationship oversees." You can instantly see how this could expand outwards; top mentors and top employees feeding off each other.

People are the final business commodity; harder to quantify and harder to monetise than any other single thing. As Avignon concludes, "What will be interesting in a few years' time will be to look back at the businesses that have been most successful and ask how did they invest in their people; what did they actually do?"


By Kathryn Cave Editor at IDG Connect


IDG Connect has published several reports on people in the IT industry:

Minds Behind the Machines: Skills, Progression & Leadership
Women in IT: Does the Shortage Matter?
Tomorrow's CIO: Perceptions of the South African IT Industry


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