Guess what – until recently our executive committee was 100% male. The top echelons of our business is like so many other businesses in the UK – it was made up of 12 white men in their fifties. So had a definite imbalance of diversity in our exec committee. Big sigh.

Great news though, we have just recruited and also promoted 3 females into executive roles, a massive step forward for us and the industry! So our focus now turns to diversity of thought, thinking that reflects the needs of our customer and our people.

To support the development of this population we are working on some exciting plans to revolutionise our thinking and our processes. It’s all based on a new approach to top down diversity, as pioneered first by AccorHotels and then by fashion brand Gucci. As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, we are a pioneering organisation ourselves and as such, always keep an eye out for other pioneering organisations, whatever sector they operate it. More about what AccorHotels and Gucci have been doing in a minute.

First of all, what are we doing about diversity? We don’t actually have figures on the diversity of our workforce at the moment but we are finding out and will know more in the coming months. What we do know, right now, is that we’re pretty good for our industry as a whole. At senior leadership level we have 33% female in what we call our top 120. But we need to build on that and help a greater mix of people make the big jump up into the most senior positions.

How? Now here’s the exciting bit. If we’re going to change the demographic of the ex-co and create more opportunities for women and create more of a diverse, ethnic mix, we’ve got to do something radical. It requires some sort of formal, talent programme for high potentials to get them job-ready for any ex-co opportunities that come up. That programme will be a shadow ex-co who will really challenge the thinking of the ex-co and take our activities into our aspirational future.

This is what AccorHotels and Gucci have been doing. They have pioneered the concept of shadow exec-co and it has proved to be exceptionally successful for both organisations.

There’s a quote from Gucci’s chief exec where he says “a shadow committee of high potentials gives Gucci a different perspective from its normal circle of top executives at Gucci”. The shadow committee discuss the same topics that the board discusses and they are actively encouraged to give feedback and share any innovative ideas they have the future. And do you know what, sales at Gucci have been soaring recently. I bet this initiative and this kind of organisational culture has something to do with that.

It’s the same for AccorHotels. The CEO there said that his industry has complained that 90% of decisions are made by people aged 50 plus and that those people need to be educated to operate in a changing world. And he listened to those complaints and has done something about it.

So, back to our shadow ex-co or as we're calling it Strategic Leaders Challenge (SLC) and what we’re doing. Our SLC will be made up of a diverse range of high potentials, a whole mix of age groups, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. It will work alongside our ex-co and provide a different perspective on decision making processes. The idea is that it will really challenge the thinking of that group to create better and more robust outcomes for our customer and our people!

In order to be a successful, sustainable business, diversity of thought is fundamental. We need that diversity of thought in order to achieve our core purpose of enabling prosperity for the generations of today and tomorrow.

This will help us to develop the right culture and to be more innovative and strategic. We will be stronger as an organisation. By having a shadow ex-co I believe that we will make connections to customers, will have a closer link to how we manage teams and will break down any silos.

The SLC will have a real effect on our strategic business decision making, by challenging our ex-co, by bringing diversity of thought and because they are closer to our customers and the operational side of things.

And it will be great for their career development too. Those on the SLC will deepen their professional skills, their knowledge and networks. I anticipate that they will form mentor-type relationships with the people at the top of the business. And once you get that kind of exposure as an individual and made those connections, then opportunities tend to present themselves more and more.

What I’m proposing is that we co-elect up to 20 high potentials from across the business. They will sit on the SLC for a year, with a bit of time before and after for preparing and handing over. They will meet bi-monthly, working alongside the ex-co on current issues and challenges.

And the ex-co will feed back on how information is received and perceived and the impact it has had on their thinking and decision making. I think we’ll need some kind of mediation in there to help it be successful. We are potentially going to have some quite junior people, some grassroots people in the organisation, challenging our chief operations officer and other top guys. There could be some quite heated debates so we need to be sensitive to that.

We’ll also be doing some personal development stuff for the SLC people, getting in guest speakers for them and that kind of thing. A programme like this is actually going to be very expensive to run – probably somewhere up to £125k for a cohort. That could be around £25k per person, so a big amount of money, but not an unusual amount for a leadership intervention. Remember, we will be identifying and building a talent network to take senior management roles or step into an ex-co position when it comes up.

And the benefit we will get from having this shadow ex-co should be absolutely phenomenal. AccorHotels and Gucci say it really transformed their businesses. These two businesses are really thriving and bringing new innovations to the market and they have said that having these people on board – the shadow co- has made a real difference to the bottom line.

So that’s something big that we are now doing to bring about diversity of thinking and action. The question I would like to ask is “What are other people doing to bring diversity of thinking to their board?” I’m also interested in what kinds of fast track talent programmes other organisations are doing in order to bridge the gap from manager to senior leader, senior leader to executive committee. I’d love to know so please tell me.