The Importance of Diverse Leadership, with Chioma Anokuru and Morgan Fitzsimons
It’s a Thursday evening. In an airy London office space with more plants than seats, a small hubbub of young professionals swivel in their seats to chat with their neighbors, prosecco glasses in hand. The low murmur of conversion gives way to silence as two women take the stage, mics in hand.
Chioma Anokuru, an Account Director at Wunderman Thompson, and Morgan Fitzsimons, the then CMO of London Sock Company, kick off their discussion with a brief introduction to themselves and their roles, and why this evening is personal for them.
“I tick three of the under-represented group boxes. I’m female, I’m black, and I’m from a working-class background”, begins Chioma.
Morgan, her counterpart (and longtime friend & colleague) agrees, “Although I only tick two of those boxes — I’ll let you guess which ones”, she says with a smile.
Morgan and Chioma first met at fashion retailer Asos, where they bonded over a shared experience in the working world. For a long time, Chioma says, she felt that she wasn’t being represented at a senior level.
“I think over the last couple of years, things have changed. I’m starting to hear and see about more women moving into leadership roles. There’s definitely still more work to be done, but it’s good to see that hopefully there’s positive change on the horizon. We need to focus on gender, but there are groups where there is more work to be done.”
“I think over the last couple of years, things have changed. I’m starting to hear and see about more women moving into leadership roles. There’s definitely still more work to be done, but it’s good to see that hopefully there’s positive change on the horizon.” – Chioma Anokuru
Morgan echoes the sentiment. “In my leadership role, I’ve usually been surrounded by people who look like me, but don’t sound like me. People from “Oxford and Cambridge”. So I do understand the importance of diversity, not just from a gender perspective.”
They dive into their first slide, talking through some fascinating data on how a diverse leadership team benefits your culture. In brief, better hires (as it signals an inclusive working environment), better ideas (diversity of thought breeds creativity) and a better understanding of customers (who are themselves diverse!).
“Experience really is key over just price point. So [diversity] really helps with that — speaking to your customer in a way they understand, using the same language.”
Morgan highlights a pertinent quote from the World Retail Congress:
“Retailers are “not fit for purpose” due to a “lack of diversity within the top team”, leading to less insight and focus on customer demands from a younger and rapidly diversifying consumer demographic”
“For me,” says Morgan, “that’s quite shocking and quite scary”.
It’s certainly true that women are seriously under-represented on boards, both in and out of retail. In the US today, less than a quarter of companies’ Boards of Directors are female (21.7%) — with similar numbers in the UK (27.2%) and Germany (31.9%). And while France is significantly better at 43.4%, there is clearly still work to do.