What CEOs can learn from being an outsider

ONE MINUTE BRIEFING: Consultancy co-founder Daniele Fiandaca says he didn't really understand inclusion until he found himself the 'token man' in the room.

Last Updated: 10 Dec 2018

Image yourself in a situation where you’re unable to relate to anyone else in the room. It’s a position that certain people in business are more likely to find themselves in than others.

When former Profero CEO and Cheil Worldwide MD Daniele Fiandaca hosted a promotional dinner for female creative directors he didn’t think anything of being the only man in the room with twelve other women. But it turned into one of the defining moments of his career.

He explains why being able to understand an outsider perspective is a vital part of good leadership.

"When I sat down it was as if a hand came down and pulled my confidence away from me. I had no affinity to the conversations that were going on around me. They were normal conversations, but I just had no rapport with the topic. When I went to speak I’d get cut-off.

"These are things you hear about in the boardroom, of women in particular getting cut off. As soon as someone is in the out group you do get cut off. It's not a conscious thing, it just happens.

"Fundamentally, this was the first time in my working career that I found myself in the out group. I learnt more about what it must be like to be the ‘token’ person in the boardroom than anything anyone could have told me. It really made me think about my behaviour in the workplace and about how I had responsibility for those in the out group - whoever they are.

"For example, there were ten men and two women at the management meetings of the agency I was working at. First thing I’d do after walking in was talk to my male colleague about football – the two women in this particular case had no interest in football, so I was pushing them out."

"That horrified me. On the face of it looks very innocent, but it was a behaviour that pushed these two people out."

Fiandaca now works with organisations to help them improve their approach to inclusion and diversity. He outlines some ways that leaders and organisations can be more inclusive.

For leaders:

Air your vulnerabilities -- To create more open and ultimately effective teams leaders should be prepared to be more vulnerable. Open up and share their personal story and listen to other people’s. It underpins that we’re all human beings and it gives others permission to open up.

For organisations:

Define inclusion -- Inclusion can be complicated because it is hard to define and everyone usually has a different definition. If you are a business trying to create change you should have a consistent interpretation of what inclusion means and a business strategy outlining how to address it.

The board is integral to the process -- Signing off an inclusion strategy outlined by a HR director or diversity specialist doesn't mean you understand it. Boards need to be involved directly in the process and how the strategy is implemented.


British business still has a long way to go to improve inclusion and diversity. Here’s why we need to rethink our approach. In this piece, Barclays Banking CEO Ian Rand explains how he learnt the secret to inclusive leadership.

Image credits: OgnjenO/GettyImages


Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

The best leadership books you’ve probably never read

From a distilled MBA to the future of humanity, six instant classics to sustain your...

Should it become illegal to contact staff after hours?

MT Asks: Should the UK bring in a ‘right to rest’ law?

Workaholic? You might suffer from an overactive 'threat brain'

Psychologist Nelisha Wickremasinghe explains how to calm your brain and your team's at the same...

Can you still say 'guys' at work?

Opinion: Keep calling women "guys", but first promote, praise, and pay us like them too....

Major companies back initiative to get 25 female CEOs in FTSE 100

25x25 campaign aims to boost female representation at the most senior levels of business.

3 things to do when an employee resigns

“The truth is, if invested in properly, resignations can be extremely positive.”