About diversity itself: Michael Illert on AIESEC’s Diversity Inspires podcast

July 21, 2022

Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is a concept that comes up frequently in the workplace and is more than just a policy or program. It enables employees to feel a sense of belonging, improves collaboration and creates a safe environment where ideas and people thrive.

Michael Illert (Lead Partner, Continental Europe – The SR Group) and member of the AIESEC Alumni Europe Board spoke with the organisation on a recent podcast, hosted by Mourad Siala (Host, Diversity Inspires). They explored the core of DEI, including gender equality, inclusive language, diverse leadership and much more.

Here, we unveil the main points discussed and gain insight into Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion from a professional and societal point of view.

1) Diversity, Equity and Inclusion should be the norm and considered as three singular concepts

Michael Illert says DEI ‘Should be a norm. We all come from different walks of life, different backgrounds, beliefs, thoughts.’ Diversity Equity and Inclusion are three concepts, that should all be considered individually. Diversity is ‘the appreciation of differences within us and amongst us’, yet it is not enough – which is why we need Equity. Equity is ensuring equal opportunities; he uses the allegory of a ladder allowing people who aren’t tall enough to look over the wall. Finally, Inclusion creates an environment where every thought is appreciated and brought together, focusing on the entirety, by creating ‘a society or a corporate culture where all the varieties in which we come in are welcomed but also appreciated.’

2) Joining a group like AIESEC allows you to develop skills you can’t learn at university 

The goal of AIESEC is to reunite the youth, bringing people together through an ‘intercultural understanding and exchange’. Michael says that his time in AIESEC has enabled him to meet people from various backgrounds and exchange thoughts leading towards a common mission. Being in a group of such diverse individuals sets you apart from others, as you learn to communicate, disagree and come to a mutual understanding.

When you leave university to join the corporate world, individuals potentially have a narrow horizon as they are rarely confronted with differences. Members of AIESEC can widen their horizons through this international exchange, shaping their understanding of diversity. Michael adds an organisation like AIESEC tests you and ‘gives you the opportunity to get to know yourself and see how open you really are,’ which is a skill that you cannot learn at university. The skill compromises appreciating different cultures, thoughts, and backgrounds.

3) Monocultures cannot stay relevant or successful in the market if they don’t embrace change

A monoculture, where we deal with people from similar backgrounds who resemble one another, is comforting but must be avoided. Michael refers to the psychological syndrome of the ‘mini-me effect’, where we lean towards people through affinity bias. We often fall back on the fact someone is a ‘cultural fit’, but this is very limiting and does not encourage diversity. In a world of globalisation, it is impossible to evolve and stay relevant without diversity.

Businesses should reflect the diversity that we see in the world and this is something Taylor Root strives for; sourcing talent for clients globally and focussing on developing diverse networks which brings a certain openness and diversity of thought to the decision-making process. You can only embrace change by fully living diversity within your organisation and clients. Michael believes that businesses have a ‘social purpose’, being part of a society where they must play a role in which clients are also expecting them to play.

4) Inclusive leadership is a driver for diversity and plays a huge part in the perception of an employer’s brand

Michael says that inclusive leadership is the basis for building a diverse workforce, ‘if you create an inclusive culture, it then suddenly doesn’t matter where you come from or what your gender is.’ What matters is what someone brings to the table and their differences make a team successful.  He believes that diverse company culture isn’t just sought out by people who come from diverse groups; diversity is important for most people as ‘they want to work in an inclusive company where everybody can be who they really are.’  An inclusive company attracts employees and significantly impacts how the employment market views you as a business.

People are now seeking the right business, where there are values, culture, and principles that match their own. A true inclusive leadership ensures diversity of thought by encouraging people to bring their ideas to the table without over compromising. Every single employee, regardless of their status in the company, should feel comfortable with speaking up and always being who they are at work. Michael expresses the importance of creating a culture where ‘people enjoy being at work’ making them ‘more efficient’ and leaving them with a sense of empowerment.

5) Gender equality starts within society, it mustn’t be only reduced to the corporate world

Events over the last decade have put pressure on society and the economy to create awareness around gender equality, yet ‘we are miles away from where we should be’. Gender equality is continually reduced to the corporate world, but Michael considers it a ‘societal challenge’ starting with families.

Gender defining roles create a barrier in the workplace and can lead to an overrepresentation of men in leadership positions. This stems from the idea of senior roles being appointed to individuals working full time, mainly men as the responsibility of looking after children in society typically lies with women. At The SR Group, ‘we have significantly increased female representation in leadership positions.’ He says that he doesn’t think there should be any position in a company that can’t be done part-time, with job sharing concepts in place. He observes some changes in the corporate world, like ‘more men taking paternity leave than a couple of years ago (…) but the gender equality topic is much bigger than just looking at the corporate world, it starts right at home.’

6) Inclusive language is important, but we shouldn’t go too far

Inclusive language is important and deeply influences people, the power of language is that it changes over time with new words emerging. Although inclusive language is important, there must be ‘a fine balance of educating and learning (…) as language evolves’. A lot of things are trial and error, which is why it’s important that we mustn’t go too far, where people feel scared to express what they feel as they are not sure of how to say it correctly from a language context. The aim is to ‘make sure it is evolving in the right direction’, and ‘there is the right awareness and understanding’ 

7) Bias is everywhere but we can learn tricks to prevent it

Once we accept that bias is innate in how our brains are wired, we can then implement change. There are tricks we can learn to help prevent it. Michael uses a trick when it comes to hiring talent; when reading a CV he avoids factors that can trigger bias. Such factors can be the name, year of graduation and university where a candidate studied. Removing these details and focusing on work experience is a trick that can prevent you from falling into a ‘bias trap’. Once you have decided which candidate is a suitable fit for a position, that is when you can reveal the rest of the information to yourself. There are various online tools such as bias tests that can question your views.

He adds ‘it’s not a challenge, it’s creating this awareness,’ which can be achieved through education and understanding that we all experience cognitive bias. Finally, Michael gives us a book recommendation by Kim Scott (Novelist and former Yahoo executive) entitled ‘Radical Candor’ shining a light on the leadership approach through inclusive open culture.

Taylor Root celebrates diversity and seeks to stay relevant by embracing change. Always one step ahead, we gain knowledge by anticipating market evolution, gaining insights, and adapting our approach accordingly. Find out what Nick Croucher (Lead Partner, Frazer Jones UK) has to say about The Future of HR Recruitment on Oven-Ready HR’s podcast.

About Michael Illert

Michael is a diversity champion and Partner at The SR Group, leading our global brands Frazer Jones, Taylor Root and Carter Murray across our European Offices. From an early age, he has been involved in charitable causes regarding diversity and was lead AIESEC in 2002, also on the national board as a vice president of sales.

He has placed Chief Human Resources Officers, European & Global HR Directors, Heads of Talent and Learning and Director level Business Partners covering several countries and continents. He has built networks with global leaders in the UK, Western and Eastern Europe and within the United States, covering all major sectors, including financial and professional services, oil & gas, pharmaceuticals, and the chemical and manufacturing sectors.

About Diversity Inspires

Diversity Inspires, the brand-new Podcast of AIESEC (Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales/International Association of Students in Economic and Commercial Sciences) in Germany, is made of diversity and built on diversity. It is all over the world a platform that promotes diversity. AIESEC is an organization where you can find all kinds of personalities and people working together for a common goal: promoting exchange and creating better leaders for tomorrow.

Each week from January to March, we will be inviting guests who have been in AIESEC, or not, to talk about career, about fears, about building a business, about diversity itself, about art, about smartphones… The program is very diverse and aims to inspire you, wherever you are!

To speak to Michael about your recruitment strategy with respect to diversity, your career, or the HR market in general please do get in touch: michaelillert@thesrgroup.com 

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