After recent populist and nationalist victories around the world, most notably in the United States, all eyes were on France for the Presidential election that concluded this month. But what does the result teach us about our current world, and what lessons might there be for our own organisations? Article by Stephen Frost – Frost Included.
Here’s what happened: Macron beat Le Pen by 32 percentage points, while Hillary won the popular vote by just 3. Trump won due to the Electoral College, having previously criticized it. In the US, voters didn’t so much desert Obama’s legacy – rather, they rejected the two party system that they felt was not representing them. In France, voters also rejected the system, but they also rejected Le Pen because Macron decisively co-opted and embodied a change to the system. He of course did this partly for selfish reasons – he didn’t want to be the French Hillary.
In less than 18 months he has formed a new party and made history by becoming the youngest ever President at 39 years old. He has banished the main parties from the Elysee palace for the first time since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958. Macron ditched his party, started a movement, rejected orthodoxy and triumphed. Of course he had a great deal of luck, but if fortune favours the brave, he also understood that people wanted an alternative to nationalism and isolation. The divide has shifted from left/right to globalist/nationalist but people want to be rooted in locality, to be listened to and engaged. Community is not dead.
Do you hear the people sing? In corporate life, think of your employees as voters. If they had a ballot paper, and your election was today, would they vote for the status quo – or for change? You can develop early warning signs, such as employee engagement surveys. But misdirected, or ignored, they can be of limited value. Aggregate results don’t give you the full picture – break down the results by diversity and by identity and take a closer look. That’s how Macron – and Trump – won their elections.
If the ‘white backlash’ is happening when white people still control most of the decision making in the Western world, and if the ‘male backlash’ is happening when men still control most of the decision making in organizations, we need to re-examine how people understand ‘diversity’ in the first place. If your people think diversity is about ‘other’ groups then you have failed to communicate it effectively. Diversity is personal. Diversity includes Trump voters, Le Pen supporters and all those white and male employees (falsely) fearing their hegemony is threatened. People are increasingly venting on glassdoor.com rather than via ‘official channels’. What we learn is that people want to be treated as human, rather than a factor of production. People want to feel that diversity includes them rather than being about some other group. And if they feel they cannot express themselves publicly, then they will privately, at the ballot box.
Some different next steps
In 2012, the Olympics triumphed because we succeeded in making everyone in the UK feel like they belonged. In the five years since, we have wobbled. One narrative is that diversity has ‘gone too far’ and people wanted Trump after a Black President, Brexit after immigration and felt that all the rights won for minorities had been at the expense of the majority. But as inclusive leaders, we can offer an alternative framing – people haven’t necessarily rejected diversity – they have rejected one interpretation of it. That’s why we undertake leadership work that is intensely personal. By reframing diversity as a leadership competency, we offer people a stake in the diversity conversation, allow people to determine their own skin in the game, allow them to reconcile their own self-interest with the greater good.
Everyone needs a reason to believe, whatever your colour, creed or background. Will we be able to create the cultures that allow everyone to have a stake? The London Olympics delivered it, Macron has promised it, and there has never been a better time for you to reflect on your own circumstances – what is your corporate ‘movement’? Will you be a Macron and embody change by empathizing with your employees’ frustration with the current system? As Bob Dylan said, the times they are a changin’. Will you pre-empt change – or be subsumed by it? Stephen Frost is the founder of Frost Included, a consultancy dedicated to helping people understand diversity and inclusion. His latest book, Inclusive Talent Management – How business can thrive in an age of diversity, is out now, published by Kogan Page.