Having lived on four continents, and with an extended family that includes 16 nationalities, I have always felt that I belong nowhere and everywhere. That’s more than half the number of nationalities at BMMI by the way - and in case you’re wondering the 16 are: Bahraini, Egyptian, Turkish, Korean, Saudi, American, Syrian, Lebanese, English, Filipino, Italian, Russian, Scottish, Iraqi, Emirati and Irish!
I am fascinated by different cultural traditions and, at the same time, grounded by the similarities in our values. I have learned that despite differences, wisdom is wisdom in any culture, religion or background.
Various studies and articles in reputable publications like, Harvard Business Review, the Financial Times and Forbes, consistently state that companies leading in diversity financially outperform and out-innovate others. When diversity is embraced and different ideas are heard - including those of minorities - it creates a better understanding of unmet customer needs and markets. It also fosters a collaborative working environment conducive to success.
But celebrating diversity is so much more than only cultures and nationalities. It’s also not about fulfilling quotas or positive discrimination to meet targets; it’s about being human. It’s about inclusivity. It’s about looking past stereotypes and celebrating individuality; the inherent and acquired characteristics that make up the special person that is YOU.
It’s about creating the best environment for each of us - with our different backgrounds, gender, abilities, personalities, leadership qualities and so on - to fulfil our deepest personal and professional potential.
One of the things I love about my work is that I am constantly inspired by the unlimited power of human potential. For instance, while most of the world stills views people with disabilities as dis-abled rather than differently-abled, there are a few organisations and individuals that are flipping this stereotype on its head.
Believe It! Discovering Hands in Germany trains and deploys blind women to perform breast cancer examinations at hospitals and clinics. The blind women are 50% more effective at detecting tissue changes than doctors, helping early detection of one of the leading causes of women’s death worldwide. (mammogram screenings are only offered to women aged 50-69 - despite the fact that 20% of breast cancer is detected in women under 50).
At Specialisterne in Denmark, 75% of staff have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). People with an ASD often experience difficulties with social interaction, however, they also frequently demonstrate above-average skills in some or all of the following areas:
- High levels of concentration
- Reliability and consistent accuracy
- Close attention to detail
- The ability to identify errors
- Excellent memory
The founder of Specialisterne realised that these characteristics made people with an ASD perfectly suited to working with software and in with Information Technology (IT). At Specialisterne, the staff - who are known as ‘specialists’ - have worked for clients like Microsoft and Oracle.
Another awe-inspiring example I love is Barefoot College in India, which trains illiterate and semi-literate women from rural villages around the world to become solar engineers.
“This is only a woman’s job, a man cannot do it,” said Bunker Roy, founder of Barefoot, in a documentary on the school. “If you train a man, he wants to leave the village and go somewhere else looking for a job. Our solution is to train mothers and grandmothers. She might not know how to read and write. She might not ever have left the village. But in six months, we can make them into solar engineers and they can come back and solar electrify their own villages.”
Yet even in progressive Bahrain - where BMMI is headquartered - women in management and on the board are a minority.
- Live your values
What kind of place do you want to work in? BMMI’s values are Honesty, Excellence, Achievement, Recognition and Team Spirit. In what way are you living those values? Are you “being the change you want to see” or are you complaining about what’s wrong and how things should be?
- Cultivate openness
BMMI’s first value is honesty, and with that comes openness. Foster an environment that encourages openness, so that all voices are included and heard. Even if you’re not the manager or person leading a meeting, we can all take ownership of making sure our colleagues voices are heard - regardless of gender, age, nationality or seniority. Ask people “what do you think?” Show them you value their opinion and encourage them to express it.
- How do you make people feel?
Think of how good it feels when you help someone. When you made them feel included. When you made someone feel that they were heard and understood. It costs nothing but kindness, and that is the true measure of our success and values as human beings. As the spectacular Maya Angelou said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” What feelings do you want people to associate when they think of how you made them feel?
- Cultivate empathy
Among the initiatives my organisation has run to cultivate empathy are: a dinner in complete pitch-black darkness to cultivate empathy for the visually impaired; and wheelchair basketball as a team-builder. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and seeing - or even feeling - things from their perspective is not only a powerful human quality. It is powerful in business and can provide key insights on customer segments.
- Be curious
Ask your colleagues questions about where they are from, their customs, their traditions, and their music. Try their sports or cuisine. Volunteer with them for the causes they care about. How good does it feel when people are genuinely interested in who we are without any agenda?
- See people as individuals
While you embrace diversity, look beyond stereotypes and typecasting people as Nigerians or Nepalese; young or middle-aged; abled and disabled. See people as individuals, each with their own challenges, personalities and dreams. I am a woman but that’s not all I am.
And on looking beyond stereotypes, I share with you one of my favourite and most inspirational TED talks of an adventurous and bold soul, whom I had the honour of meeting a few years ago. I promise it will be 20 minutes well-spent!
Leena Al Olaimy, 3BL Associates Cofounder and Managing Director