As the latest crop of final-year university students plan for life after graduation, and submit countless applications for graduate programmes, many businesses are paying lip-service to diversity while operating application processes that discourage individuality.
More diversity in business, particularly in financial services, is desperately needed. Unfortunately, as my daughter found recently, application processes too often send out a message that personality and individuality are unimportant. She was required to record answers, in interview style, to questions posed by a computer, depersonalising an inherently personal process.
This is not the only factor encouraging the next generation of business leaders to think and act like robots. Starting from a young age, constant examinations force children to think only in terms of right-or-wrong answers, so the concept of thinking creatively becomes increasingly unnatural.
What can we do to stop this institutionalisation from stamping out original thinking and detracting from the creativity, entrepreneurialism and personality on which the success of the business world has been built?
Online recruitment procedures are increasingly becoming the norm, with HR departments favouring processes that are easier to regulate and monitor. Instead, interview processes should enable, and even encourage candidates to express personality.
After all, the ability to be personable and engaging in a meeting is a key skill in business. Some candidates may not tick every box on the list of requirements, particularly at a junior level, and would be filtered out by a computer. But these candidates may well be the ones who shine in a face-to-face interview and offer the most growth potential. Charisma is a skill in itself and should not be excluded from the recruitment process.
Social media platforms also play their part in encouraging a sea of sameness, surrounding users with ideas similar to their own. We tend to follow others – friends, celebrities, organisations – because we agree with them. When our ideas regularly go unchallenged, there is very little motivation to think outside the box.
When using social media, we should try to follow and engage with people who have views different from our own, encouraging us to think more creatively and understand different points of view.
Employers can encourage individuality in their employees. When assembling a team for a new project, think about the roles people play within a team, and try picking people who might not usually work together. New pairings are more likely to produce fresh thinking.
Herd mentality encourages us to stay quiet, especially if we think no one will agree with what we have to say. In meetings, ensure that everyone has had an opportunity to speak up, encourage counter opinions and aim to foster an environment that is open to new or unusual ideas.
TAKE ACTION NOW
The corporate world is in desperate need of an injection of charisma, eccentricity and personality. It is essential that we champion individuality rather than conform to the modern-day standards of uniformity. The corporate world was once brimming with creative, dynamic and charismatic people; however, I struggle to think where the next generation of entrepreneurs and inspirational characters will come from if we continue to train young people to suppress their creativity and not to challenge existing ideas and behaviours. It is important we mobilise ourselves now, or upcoming generations will have very few examples of individuality to learn from.