Young M&A Forum: things to bear in mind about diversity and inclusion

M&A

Recently, our very first Young M&A Forum took place, for M&A professionals under the age of 35. A well-attended evening around a hot topic: diversity and inclusion. Were you unable to attend? Let us give you some insights, drawn from a compelling keynote by Eve Vlemincx, strategic advisor and executive educator at Stanford and Harvard, and the panel discussion that followed.

 

Community manager Daphné Debaenst welcomed the guests at this evening centered around the theme ‘How young M&A professionals can be agents of change’. “The problem is,” Eve Vlemincx starts off, “that (almost) all of us are guided by prejudices, which we then rationalise with superficial excuses. For example, we hire people who look like ourselves. And that’s nobody’s fault. We do it unconsciously. The problem is that we are not aware of the impact. Because in doing so, we exclude others who are different from us. For them, we raise the bar just a little higher.”

And what’s more, this is how we end up with homogeneous teams. “Teams made up of people who are very similar. As a result, we lack different perspectives. Perspectives that are nonetheless crucial to achieve innovation.”

 

Deep diversity and inclusion

 

But when Eve says we need diversity, she is not merely referring to people of different gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background. “No, what we really need is ‘deep diversity’. Diversity in terms of knowledge, perspectives and backgrounds.”

We should create an environment where people are seen and valued. Not in spite of, but rather because of their differences.

Except, deep diversity alone is not enough. “This is because these deep differences must also be allowed to flourish. And that can only be achieved in an inclusive environment. Which is why we should not only focus on diversity, but also on inclusion. This requires an environment where everyone feels part of. An environment in which everybody – including the people who are different –  are seen and valued. Not in spite of, but rather because of their differences. Because the richness can actually be found in those differences.”

 

Why is this so important?

 

First of all, because your employees will feel at home in your corporate culture, and will no longer need to fit in. Plus, it stimulates innovation. “Because in order to innovate, you need new ideas. Which, in turn, requires new knowledge, insights and perspectives. Something you can only obtain if there is diversity in an inclusive environment, where there is psychological safety. A team in which any idea, any opinion, any input is allowed to surface without any negative consequence”, Eve Vlemincx stresses.

 

How can we create this environment?

 

For starters: speak up! “Let everything surface, both inside yourself and towards others. Also, explicitly question things, including yourself: are you being prejudiced? Make clear what perspective you think you still need. And approach others with curiosity about why they do what they do, rather than judging them.”

Crucial to achieving more diversity and inclusion is, of course, the recruitment phase. “For example: you could be very specific about the skills a job requires, without adapting them too much to the candidates in the pool you are ‘fishing’ in. But also ask yourself what profiles and opinions you are still missing. Perhaps you could be more conscious about what kind of personality you’d best hire next? And pay more attention to the candidates’ values: do they match those of your company? Finally, don’t let your prejudices guide you. Maybe a shy person is very suitable for the job?”

Explicitly question things, including yourself: are you being prejudiced?

Elise Carton, senior manager venture deals at PwC, recalls her first and only job interview like this: “Ever since I was 16, I had been working in a chocolate shop, to fund my university education. To my surprise, this was something the recruiter at PwC was highly interested in. Why? Because no other candidate had worked for one company for seven years. So apparently, I was very loyal. The recruiter looked at it from a different perspective, and I thought: this is where I want to work.”

“When we recruit, we do this with ‘the big wheel of Fortino’, based on the Insights model with the well-known personality types,” explains Renaat Berckmoes, Partner at Fortino Capital. “To achieve the best results with a team, you need a mix of all the Insights colours: blue, red, yellow and green.”

To get to know a candidate’s personality, you can ask atypical job interview questions. These could include: “What is the biggest challenge you ever faced in your life, and how did you tackle it? By doing so, you will find out a lot about who is sitting in front of you”, Eve Vlemincx continues.

 

Why is this an issue at this point in time?

 

Why are we talking about diversity and inclusion now? “We have been talking about it for some time,” Eve reflects, “but COVID-19 has accelerated it even more. People have dropped out of the rat race and are more consciously asking themselves what they want to do with their lives. At the same time, we face challenges: more burn-outs, the war for talent. At the same time, we need to innovate. So this conversation is very much called for.”

In the M&A world, we have a strict separation between homogeneous groups. When we tackle a project, we do so with a team that consists of legal, fiscal and financial advisors. People with the same expertise. Is that a reason why diversity and inclusion seem more difficult in M&A? “In part it is”, Eve acknowledges. “But that is all the more reason to allow all opinions to flourish in such a homogeneous group.”

Thanks to Simont Braun for hosting this Young M&A Forum and to our Principal Sponsor Ansarada.
Take a look at the pictures here.

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