Wrong brain, wrong education and that little nudge to help

As a fact, in the US listed companies, about 15 board members out of 100 are women.

As another fact, the US has historically rewarded merit and competencies more than many other countries.

How can then happen that in selecting people, one of life’s most crucial choices, we are so biased as to unconsciously neglect merit and competencies?

Breaking the impasse is possible, if we try to tweak some consequences of two unconscious biases through a little nudge.

Similarity bias happens when we select people that are more similar to us, as opposed to people who appear more different. Evolution has fostered this trait, as a key manner to survive ever since the difficult times when we would live in the savannah, trying to escape from animals and all sorts of dangers.

We have the wrong brain and the wrong education. When making people decisions, we fall pray into a series of unconscious psychological biases, such as surrounding ourselves with similar people with whom we feel naturally comfortable. Many of these biases were very effective for our primitive ancestors, but they are no longer useful for building great teams which require complementary and highly sophisticated skills.

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, Author of Great PeopleDecisions, 2007

A “similarity bias” results when individuals are more likely to imitate cultural models that are perceived as being similar to the individual, based on specific traits (such, for instance, age, gender, geographical location and so on…).

Similarity bias is even enhanced by our other bias, which we call snap judgement, whereby we unconsciously make up our mind on someone during the first milliseconds after we meet. I have separately written about the many benefits of overcoming snap judgements.

The combination of snap judgements and similarity biases is the one reason why gender diversity (but also age diversity, geographic diversity and possibly many other aspects of diversity) is so difficult to happen without a little nudge (such as that of a proper law).

That little nudge lets us overcome unconscious fears, to the advantage of merit, competencies and corporate governance.

Tommaso Arenare

Ambassadors of merit

Together with Claudia Parzani, a Partner at Linklaters, Anna Zanardi, an executive coach and Marco Massarotto, a digital entrepreneur and social media expert, I have the privilege of being part of the “faculty” of “In the Boardroom“, a programme that Valore D, an Italian association of companies to support female talent and leadership, is offering free of charge (the faculty itself operates at no charge) to a selected number of exceptional Non Executive Director candidates.

A group 35 of super-talented executives was selected to spend one full day per month, for a year, in a classroom, sharing and discussing best practices in corporate governance, with a view to becoming instruments to change corporate governance for the better, from inside the Boardroom.

After a first full day in the classroom with these exceptional executives and professionals, I will celebrate a very simple thing: these people’s entry in the Boardroom will be the result of a process entirely based on merit and competencies, overcoming the drawbacks of traditional biases in the selection candidates.

Ambassadors of merit.

This is, per se, an exceptional occasion to celebrate, as well as an example to become best practice beyond the borders of Europe.

Tommaso Arenare

The tech industry in the US, #diverseboards and fostering merit in its own cradle

I am particularly glad to read this great article as it relates to the US and the tech industry, both rightly considered a cradle for merit and competency-based choices. In fact, focusing on increasing gender diversity at board level would be greatly beneficial for merit. Let me briefly comment on a couple of aspects:

  • In addition to valid and interesting research, as that from Credit Suisse and several more examples, selecting talented women for Non Executive Director positions is a phenomenal way to emphasise merit in the selection of Non Executive Directors.
    Even in countries like the US, or sectors as tech, which have considered “merit” as a driving compass in selecting people, the percentage of women on boards has barely moved past the 15% mark.
    Focusing on selecting more women can be purely revolutionary, as it will increase choices based on leadership competencies.
    Let me bring in the case of Italy. We have recently introduced a law, in essence requiring, since 12 August 2012, Italian listed or State-controlled companies to appoint a fifth (to become a third at the following mandate) of board members as part of the “under represented gender”. This law has been implemented earlier by a number of Italian corporates, during the Annual General Meeting season of 2012: exceptional women were selected. As shareholders were nudged by the law towards changing some board members, they realised they would be better off by selecting them on the basis of merit and competency;
  • Another great result was that overall corporate governance improved. As this law mandates for shareholders to change a number of board members, Italian companies have rightly taken it as a great opportunity to make better use of their Boards. Hence, some leading Italian global companies, such as Fiat Chrysler for example, implemented a smaller board, with a view to fostering its effectiveness.
  • As a final remark, let me repeat one of my mantras: exceptional female talent is ever more crucial, in one of those defining moments, as difficult as they are, where proper and effective use of talent and leadership can, and will make a difference for the better. More on this here: http://wp.me/p2mHJv-28 .

Tommaso Arenare
http://www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare

Gigaom

In the mid-1950s, economist Harry M. Markowitz first described how investors could reduce their overall risk by filling their portfolio with securities that do not usually move in the same direction. As with all significant economic research, Markowitz (who was later awarded a Nobel prize in economics for his work in portfolio theory) proved mathematically what every good grandmother has known for centuries — don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Or, if you prefer to listen to your Sunday school teacher, take a look at what King Solomon, one of the richest men of his time, wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes, “Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth.”

Now what does this have to do with your boardroom? Plenty, if you read the new report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute. The…

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Italy, #diverseboards and a reason for hope

It seemed just too difficult, too corageous and brave. A work of so many years. So many “no’s”, so many “it’s impossible”…

Finally, Italy did it and set a good example.

Italy’s law on gender diversity for Board of Directors of listed companies (Law n. 120/2011, dated 12 July 2011, the so-called “Golfo Mosca Law”), comes into force tomorrow, 12 August 2012.

Starting tomorrow, in essence, Italian listed or State controlled companies will need to appoint a fifth (to become a third at the following mandate) of board members as part of the “under represented gender”.

Even before tomorrow, this law has been implemented earlier by a number of Italian corporates, during the Annual General Meeting season of 2012: exceptional women were selected, overall corporate governance improved. Italian companies have rightly taken it as a great opportunity to make better use of their Boards, on the basis of more merit and competency-based selection.

I have separately described this as a great sign of good things coming and more to come.

Here, I want to take a moment to celebrate the coming into force of this law as a reason for hope.

With this, I celebrate the work of Lella Golfo and Alessia Mosca, two outstanding ladies whose own differences were turned into a joint strength. With them, I celebrate all the very many exceptional female leaders, whose talent is already making a difference for the better in Italy and in Europe.

Tommaso Arenare

www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare

Snap judgements, the Savannah and that “reply” button we hit too quickly

This is about identifying and avoiding wrong judgements we make as a result of an unconscious bias, dating back to millennia ago.

Such as when we say…

How come I was so wrong in assessing him when we first met?

Or even:

I wish I had waited a bit longer before replying to that email…

These and similar questions and observations come across so very often, when I talk with people about mistakes we make when we interact with people, select them or react to them.

Humanity is thought to have taken its modern form some 200,000 years ago. Back then,  when we used to live in the Savannah, in small closely knit family groups, most of our key decisions where about a “Fight or Flight” dilemma, when we would face dangerous animals or other dangerous human beings and we had to decide, in as little time as possible, if the best way to save our life was to fight or flight away.

A snap judgement, as the word implies, is our habit to make a decision about people, or reacting to people, unconsciously, in a matter of very few seconds (I would better say milliseconds) after we meet with that someone or we face a situation we consider as a challenge. A snap judgement is a very precious and important habit, which we have developed over many millennia. Over time, though, it has become highly dangerous if we can’t identify and address it properly.

We can change this to our benefit.

Let’s remeber that our brain has largely remained the same, after millennia of evolution. It’s the same brain which helped our ancestors make the right “Fight or Flight” decisions.

Think about today, though: our immediate reaction to that bad email we’ve received, or to that difficult situation we had to face during a meeting, or many similar situations, they all bring our brain back to the Savannah and our fight for survival.

But now we know.

We know that’s exactly when we need to acknowledge our inner feeling of fear, pause and take the time to decide differently. This may require, for example, postponing our decision to the next day, or perhaps involving a friend or colleague we like in re-assessing the elements with us, before we decide.

All of this can be far better than a snap judgement.

Let’s think about it next time we make a judgement about someone we meet or when we decide how to respond to a challenge we face, or when we select leaders for our organisation, as well as when we choose friends or partners in our daily life.

Yet, we may just need some extra time.

That little extra time will result into us reacting more effectively to challenges or selecting better, more talented people, who complement us and bring the added value of difference and diversity, as well as the benefit of far greater personal satisfaction.

Tommaso Arenare

 
 

Female leadership, Italy, diversity and the beauty of leading by example

This is about celebrating gender diversity and exceptional women in Italy sending a message in favour of exceptional female talent anywhere.

On 7 May 2012, in Brussels,Viviane Reding, Vice President of the European Commission, in charge of Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Lella Golfo, Member of the Italian Parliament, Alessia Mosca, Member of the Italian Parliament and Federiga Bindi, Director of the Istituto Italiano di Cultura of Brussels united to celebrate and send a message (picture below).

The case of Italy was chosen as a best practice for both a properly working law on diverse boards and the positive effects of its early implementation on overall corporate governance.

Federiga Bindi, Alessia Mosca, Viviane Reding and Lella Golfo on 7 May 2012 in Brussels

Lella Golfo and Alessia Mosca are two exceptional and exceptionally different Italian women and leaders. Both Members of Parliament elected for the first time in 2008, they are, under many points of view, different. Their stories are different, they belong to different parties, they come from different parts of the country, they differ for many aspects.

Diversity, though, is exactly why they succeeded together.

They united, they shared forces, shared thoughts and emotions. They combined different points of view. They listened to each other, they partially adapted their thoughts to each other’s. They managed to turn their (and their respective parties’) differences into a law, which perhaps neither of them would have been in a position to achieve if alone.

Italy’s law on gender diversity for Board of Directors of listed companies (Law n. 120/2011, dated 12 July 2011, the so-called “Golfo Mosca Law”), coming into force on 12 August 2012, requires, in essence, that Italian listed or State controlled companies appoint a fifth (to become a third at the following mandate) of board members as part of the “under represented gender”.

It does so in such a way that it works.

In fact, not only did Alessia Mosca and Lella Golfo lead the approval process of a visionary law. They also continued to work for its early and effective implementation.

As this law mandates for shareholders to change a number of board members, Italian companies have rightly taken it as a great opportunity to make better use of their Boards.

Hence, whilst not yet in effect, this law was actually implemented earlier by a number of Italian corporates, during the Annual General Meeting season of 2012: exceptional women were selected, overall corporate governance improved. Some leading Italian global companies, such as Fiat Chrysler for example, implemented a smaller board, with a view to fostering its effectiveness.

A great sign of good things coming and more to come.

Exceptional female talent is ever more crucial for the success of Italy and Europe, in one of those defining moments, as difficult as they are, where proper and effective use of talent and leadership can, and will make a difference for the better.

 

 

Tommaso Arenare

www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare