If you’ve ever heard me speak at an event or chatted to me about diversity in the Boardroom, then I’ll bet there’s a phrase you’ve heard me talk about before – ‘Give a chance .. take a chance’.
Because when I look back on my career, there are several moments that I can pinpoint as life-changing – and they all involve someone giving me a chance.
There was the time when I was 27 years old and had recently joined a regional bank. And my CEO invited me to give a presentation to the Board. At the time, it didn’t cross my mind that was it was pretty unusual for a recent recruit to sail into the boardroom and share her thinking on customer research! I didn’t realize this was a make or break moment for me. But there I was – and there was my chance to make an impression.
Or the time when the CEO of a 300 year old banking institution hired me to head across the Atlantic and transform its retail bank. A move that has shaped the past decade of my career and led me to some incredible opportunities in the UK.
Or the time, more recently, when the Chair of one of the world’s biggest retailers brought me on board as a Non-executive director, and then asked me to chair the Remuneration Committee.
These were all career-changing moments. They accelerated my career and took it in new directions. And they were all down to established leaders who were prepared to give me a chance. White, middle-aged, male leaders.
So, if you ask me the most effective way to ensure that the diverse talent of today is leading our businesses tomorrow, then I think the answer is simple. Give a chance. Take a look in the mirror and then find the people who look and think differently to you – just like those leaders did for me. Because once you’ve ‘made it’, then it’s our responsibility, accountability and privilege to give others their chance.
But you know what else those life-changing moments involved?
I took a chance. From standing up, with sweaty palms, and presenting to a roomful of directors; to uprooting and moving thousands of miles to London – I took a chance.
Sometimes, people don’t realise their opportunity has arrived – like me back in that boardroom in the 80s. Or maybe, they’re afraid of what might happen. Some doubt themselves, believing that others are more deserving or well qualified – something I’ve frequently come across with incredibly talented women. And others just hesitate… until the moment is lost.
Whatever the reason, we will only make real strides in diversifying management at all levels when people step up and take a chance. Take the plunge. Lean in. Step up. Jump feet first - whatever you want to call it! And, by the way, for those of you who think I’m speaking to the more qualified, better credentialed and imminently more experienced among you, I’m not. I’m speaking to you!
So, take a chance. When your palms are sweating and your heart is racing and your throat is dry – take your chance.
And when you’re at the point in your career when you can carry someone across the river, then give them a chance. And I’ll warn you that giving a chance, and watching someone inexperienced step up on your recommendation, can be just as terrifying as taking one!
Because by doing both these things, we can make those career-changing, life-changing moments for even more emerging leaders. And make a lasting difference to the diversity of leadership across the board.
Deanna Oppenheimer is founder of CameoWorks. Recognized globally as one of the most influential leaders in financial services, she’s a turnaround strategist known for her ability to transform entrenched institutions into forward thinking, customer-centric champions. In 2017, Deanna founded BoardReady, a start-up that is using data to drive diversification of governing boards.