Ovell Barbee is a highly accomplished, visionary Human Resources Executive who has been a client, a subject matter expert, and a friend of our firm for over 20 years.

He has a Masters of Human Resources from Michigan State University and has been recognized as a Top-50 HR Professional, Top-100 Chief Diversity Officer and Most Influential Minority.

We wanted to offer our congratulations on the successful publication of his first book, The Big House: A Human-Centered & Progressive Approach to DEI and Positive Workforce Engagement. It became a #1 Amazon bestseller of new releases.

When we asked Ovell about the impetus behind writing this book, he said, "Most companies invest money, time and energy in diversity equity and inclusion without creating and cultivating a human-centered environment.

"This How To book delivers essential advice to company leaders on how to stop the silence, have difficult conversations addressing race and diversity and learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable to achieve an environment where everyone can flourish."

We know that many companies fail when trying to create and cultivate an environment that truly embraces diversity and its benefits .

We caught up with Nevena Nikolova, from our office in Sofia, who is a prize-winning film maker and a hugely successful head-hunter. Clearly there are parallels between casting the lead and supporting roles for a film and identifying the best possible hires for a corporate client.

Both professions are all about recognizing talent and making the best use of it, making the talent really shine to its fullest potential.  The job of a Head-hunter and Management Consultant helps develop transferable skills like influential communication (capacity to convince and inspire) as well project management capability that are very useful for me as a filmmaker.

On the other hand the Directing boosts my creativity, helps me build out-of-the box solutions and support clients and candidates in finding new perspectives and changing their way of thinking or acting. What I experience is a kind of a cross-pollination between the two professions and I find it very enriching. I discover a certain Work-Art balance as the one activity is helping me recover from the other and vice-versa.

My artistic journey started as an actress with stage performances of various fringe shows, but I felt I needed more so the second step was a smooth transition to stage directing and afterwards I jumped into film directing. 

My mind naturally produces multiple ideas, images, stories, small pieces of the universe, so writing and directing a movie is a way to share my internal world with thousands of people all over the globe. To feel 'seen' from inside, to experience other people`s reactions, to be able to touch so many souls and minds - this is really powerful and exciting; it makes me feel complete and fulfilled.

Movie Directing is great for upgrading my own leadership skills and style. It requires vision, determination and capacity to balance, align and synchronize the ideas and the input of very diverse professionals, who are often quite opinionated, very emotional and expressive - sometimes ego-driven. When you are an aspiring director, you are full of doubts and it is a huge challenge to keep your authenticity and allow yourself to show vulnerability while nurturing the faith in the project among the crew members. What I discovered while film-making is that it is not necessary to have all the answers and the full picture in order to lead the team, it is enough to be just a couple of steps in front of them.

My first movie MORNING won multiple awards for Best Debut, Best Student Short, Best Silent Film, Best Dance (dedicated to Dance) Film, Best choreography in a Short film, Best actor, Best aspiring filmmaker etc. from international festivals in Cannes, Italy, UK, Mexico, Israel, Chile among others.

The second movie ROOFTOP was recognized for Best Dark comedy, Best lead actor, Best young actress, Best female director ect. Couple of months ago the movie won the Best Independent Short Film award in Silk Road Film Festival Cannes.

Some of my favourite directors are Yorgos Lanthimos, Christopher Nolan, Lars von Trier, Quentin Tarantino, Pedro Almodovar, Daren Aronofsky, Krzusztof Kieslowski, Jane Campion, Wong Kar-Wai and many others. All of them have inspired my love of cinema but I`m still searching for my very own style as a director.

My business understanding and thinking was influenced by David Ogilvy, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Ray Dalio, Patric Lencioni, and Simon Sinek.

Lovely question! For the younger me I would cast Anna Tayor Joy and Juliette Binoche would be my first choice for the middle aged me.

In 2023 Friisberg will continue to expand, globally.

We were genuinely delighted to open an office in Ukraine at the end of 2022 and two new offices in the UAE this month, We know that we are fortunate to have strong, compassionate, innovative leaders who genuinely care about our people, our clients and the overall wellbeing of Friisberg.

Good things happen when you surround yourself with positive people.

We practise what we preach.

We understand that good leaders promote a sense of trust and confidence and when it comes to being happy at work – and enjoying work is very important. We strive to maintain Friisberg as a close family of exceptional people who work hard, play hard and are at the very top of their professions.

We understand that good leaders promote a safe and collaborative environment for joint problem solving; they generate innovation, a sense of achievement, and ultimately higher levels of satisfaction.

We understand that our clients will continue to battle the War for Talent – and there is an increasing demand for the right kind of talent. For leaders, this means not only targeting, nurturing, and advancing top talent within their own organisation, but partnering with firms like Friisberg to find the right people from elsewhere.

Being a global firm, we appreciate that having an inherently diverse workforce can be an excellent source of innovation. All of our people cherish difference, embrace disruption, and foster a speak-up culture so we know we are far more likely both to retain a broader spectrum of top talent. We can therefore better understand the needs of our clients who, like us, consistently look to drive growth and innovation.

2023 will be a great year for Friisberg, and a great year for our clients, because we will continue focusing on our key value: our People.

Our 117th Partner Conference was held in Copenhagen.

Our own Diversity & Inclusion gives us a huge and sustainable advantage over our competitors. Gender parity is vital to any workplace - not just because it’s a laudable goal; it simply makes bottom-line business sense.

On Friday morning we held a Diversity Debate:

The event started with some inspiring introductions from our guests:

who shared their thoughts, knowledge, and experiences regarding diversity throughout their own careers and at CXO and Board level.

This led on to a larger group discussion where we debated how Friisberg & Partners must continue to promote increased gender diversity for our clients.

What are the barriers to increased gender diversity in 2022?

How are we profiling FPI as a company to women?

How can we help to remove the barriers which deter women from applying for the top jobs?

How do we ensure that our clients become better at attracting female talent?

We understand that our diversity is integral to success.

Gender diversity helps us to attract and retain talented women. No company can afford to ignore 50% of the potential workforce and expect to be competitive in the global economy.

We know that only the highest-performing teams, those with different opinions, perspectives, and cultural backgrounds will ultimately succeed in the global marketplace. We encourage different viewpoints, ideas, and market insights, which enables better problem solving, leading to superior performance.

We make sure it enables us to understand the unique needs of our clients and find innovative ways of addressing those needs.

All our teams have a diversity of genders, as well as backgrounds and ethnicities. But we know that hiring women, transgender, or nonbinary people into our workplace isn’t enough. – we empower our teams to not only reach, but exceed their full potential.

We make gender balance our business – and we want to make it everyone else’s business too.

Friisberg's Autumn 2022

117th International Conference

This week our October conference is being held in Copenhagen and our Danish colleagues are looking forward to welcoming us to their beautiful city.

As ever, our conference will feature a rich programme of keynotes, presentations, workshops and panel discussions which will provide critical content to help our consultants, and the clients they serve, thrive.

Friisberg has a special and constant focus on Diversity and this conference will focus on gender diversity at CXO level.

We have invited several successful leaders to join us and share their opinions on this important topic.

We know that successful organisations must be prepared to adapt and evolve as the world around us changes. However, the impact of social crisis and economic dislocation also calls on us to reflect on how we work, what we believe, and what matters most.

We are looking forward to meeting old friends, making new friends and all being together again.

We make gender balance our business - and we want to make it everyone else’s business too.

Our own Diversity & Inclusion gives us a huge and sustainable advantage over our competitors. Gender parity is vital to any workplace. Not just because it's a laudable goal; it simply makes bottom-line business sense.

It is also the backbone of our innovation. We know that our multiplicity of perspectives sparks creativity, and helps us to spot and seize new opportunities. It also encourages us to always challenge stereotypes.

We understand that our diversity is integral to our success. It enables us to understand the unique needs of our clients and find innovative ways of addressing those needs.

Gender diversity helps us to attract and retain talented women. No company can afford to ignore 50% of the potential workforce and expect to be competitive in the global economy.

We know that only the highest-performing teams, those with different opinions, perspectives, and cultural backgrounds will ultimately succeed in the global marketplace. We encourage different viewpoints, ideas, and market insights, which enables better problem solving, leading to superior performance.

We make sure our teams have a diversity of genders, as well as backgrounds and ethnicities. But we know that hiring women, transgender, or nonbinary people into our workplace isn’t enough. - we empower our teams to not only reach but exceed their full potential.

We welcome diversity - it is essential to how we operate and how we see our future.

Proactive diversity is necessary.

Globalization and other major world events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall (consolidation of East and West Europe), wars in countries such as Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan etc, the aging populations and low birth-rates in major economies of the world have facilitated massive movements of talent from one place to another - mainly to the West.

From a microscopic perspective, in South Africa, where I live, we have seen massive transformation of workplaces since the fall of apartheid in 1994.

This transformation is facilitated by the introduction of employment equity laws, resulting in women and people of colour slowly moving into senior positions that were previously occupied by white males.

All these megatrends point to a dire need for proactive diversity management programs to help organizations manage and leverage on these changes.

In the workplace diversity management is a process of creating a working environment that is both inclusive and diverse.

It values what every employee brings to the table as unique so that the organization can grow and succeed accordingly. The overarching theory is that when employees come together from different backgrounds, creative problem-solving processes grow in turn. This is thanks in part to an increased number of varying perspectives.

A diverse workplace can help organizations in variety of ways.

Mainly, it can serve as a reflection of a diversifying world - thanks to demographic changes, globalization and a digitalizing workplace, diversity can help teams to be better attuned to the many needs of their customers.

A study by Glassdoor shows the following advantages of a diversified workforce:

Originally diversity management was primarily about discrimination in recruitment and promoting tolerance within the company. But over time, things have evolved to where companies recognise the importance of diversity in the workplace as a key competitive advantage.

Here are some tips on how companies can craft their diversity programmes:

Themba Mthombeni
Partner, South Africa

In CEE, leaders tend to overestimate how well their company is doing in terms of gender issues.

With so many diversity and inclusion activities underway it is easy to assume that progress is being made. Then why are there so few women in executive positions?

The new McKinsey report “Win-win: How empowering women can benefit Central and Eastern Europe” examines the potential benefits of greater gender equality for businesses and society, identifies barriers to progress, and suggests actions that could unlock as much as €146 billion in annual GDP by 2030—an 8 % increase over a business-as-usual scenario.

In the seven CEE countries analysed (Croatia, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine):

To find out why there are so few women in executive positions in CEE, the survey of approximately 3,000 employees in the region uncovered the following insights:

Ambition is not a challenge: Women are as ambitious as men, but they perceive more barriers to promotion. Men and women showed almost the same level of interest in getting promoted (57 % of women versus 56 % of men). However, 28 % of women said that their gender made it harder for them to secure a raise or a promotion.

Women blame themselves; men blame others: Women who thought they were unlikely to make it to the top said that it was because they lacked the necessary skills (43 %) or the right leadership style (38 %), or that promotions to top executive positions were not based on merit (33 %). A far smaller proportion of men said that they lacked the necessary skills for the job (8 % less than for women), and a much larger share said that it was because promotions were not based on merit (10 % more than for women). In other words, women are more likely to blame their own shortcomings for their failure to become executives, while men are more likely to blame the shortcomings of their company.

Unpaid work is a major barrier: Nearly 40% women provide daily unpaid care work (looking after children, the elderly, or people with disabilities). This is twice as many as men. Essentially, female employees are still working a “double shift”.

The COVID-19 crisis has created additional burdens on women: The increased burden has fallen disproportionately on women. 54% of women with children under the age of ten said the pandemic has made them more likely to consider scaling back on their paid work, compared to only 25 % of men.

Correcting this imbalance would tremendously benefit not only women in their careers and personal lives, it could have a potentially transformative effect on the economies of CEE.

Despite abundant evidence that gender equality in leadership is good for business, for an overwhelming majority of organizations advancing women into leadership roles is not a formal business priority.

One of the major and most complex challenges is to shift the underlying cultural factors. The McKinsey research highlights the need of the leaders of companies and public institutions to be visibly engaged in efforts to reduce the gender imbalance, rather than delegating this work to Diversity Officers.

But including men (holding 98% of CEO positions in CEE) in diversity efforts is not as simple as inviting them to a gender-equity event. Worldwide data from BCG shows that 96 % of companies with men actively involved in gender diversity initiatives report progress at all levels, compared to only 30 % of companies without men engaged. It seems intuitive that involving men would lead to greater results. Yet part of the challenge of getting men to join the efforts, according to BCG data, is that they tend to overestimate how well their company is doing in terms of gender issues.

To remove the barriers that hold women back at work, we have to acknowledge that the barriers exist. We need to realise that gender equality is not a “women  issue”, it is a “leadership issue”.

The last thing that women need is men “rescuing” them or assuming the role of the workplace knight in shining armor.

Because men are in so many leadership roles, they have an enormous opportunity to accelerate progress. Men's voices are critical because of, not in spite of, their gender. When men speak up against gender disparities, they not only become visible as allies, they also raise awareness and acceptance about gender inequity as a shared problem, not a special interest.


Friisberg will drive your diversity agenda.

Before writing this article, I had one of those “Blah” days when I felt low and could not put my finger on why. For those who do not know what this is, there is another word for it - languishing. Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness, and if you would like to learn more, I can highly recommend you read Adam Gratton’s article, as posted in the New York Times.

My “Blah” day however, was  lifted by a quote that I found by Sonya Renee Taylor:

"We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friend. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all humanity and nature "

I am far from an expert in diversity, equality, and inclusion. Still, I have researched the topic during my years working within the talent and leadership profession. As a result, I am passionate about how we harness differences in our workplaces and create a fair playing field for everyone.

I live in Sweden, ranked 1st in the EU on the Gender Equality Index, yet we are still lagging in gender balance regarding our leadership positions. Research from SCB (2020) shows that 41% of Sweden’s total leaders’ population are women and 59% are men -  however, only 17% of Sweden’s CEOs are women.

A recent Di Digital survey reveals the investment distribution to privately-owned technology companies in Sweden. 1% of investments was granted to companies founded by women in 2020. In addition, the share of investment value given to mixed founding teams increased to 11%.

The relationship between diversity and business performance persists and continues to grow, so progress is being made.

Fredrik Hånell, an entrepreneur and investor who currently works as a “business creation director” at EIT Urban Mobility, stated in the Di article, “If entrepreneurs cannot build a gender-equal team, they lack one the most important components for building a successful company. Soon I hope that all start-ups we work with have a female co-founder.”

Gender is only one aspect of equality. As Pride month has come to its end, I reflected on how we, as executive talent consultants and business advisors, can actively support our clients with their diversity, equality, and inclusion agendas.

As a business, you must have an inclusive culture. Research shows that diversity is not just a metric for which to to strive, it is an integral part of a successful revenue-generating business. This does not mean simply having colourful posters throughout your offices stating your values, instead, it is a business strategy and mindset, a commitment and responsibility of all leaders and embraced across the whole organization.

At Friisberg, we:

DE&I matters, and we bring the thought of diversity into our board services assignment or when conducting management audits.

"We are committed to serving our clients by finding diverse leaders and providing an unbiased thought process throughout our consulting process. We have improved our knowledge, by running  internal programs such as Reverse Mentoring and Unconscious Bias training."  Michael Rooslien, Partner, Sweden.

Social and technological changes will continue to transform the landscape in every industry.

Organizations who don’t embrace DE&I will potentially risk earning potentials and falling behind their competitors.

I believe, the companies who create a workplace for everyone will cultivate tremendous value from their people’s differences and thrive.

 Yvonne Erlandsson
Snr Talent Consultant, Sweden

We caught up with Lorri Lowe, one of our Partners in the UK, over an espresso and asked her how companies can secure diverse talent in the post-pandemic workplace?

Progressive organisations and their leaders are now realizing that the hackneyed excuse of “there just is no qualified diverse talent” is an outdated phrase from before the pandemic.

The question of who will be returning to the physical office and who will remain virtual is a burning issue. In 2020/2021 many organizations operated in a virtual, or hybrid, workplace and there is no doubt that this has influenced how they view their current talent, how they deploy that talent and from where they now look to acquire talent.

We recognise that leaders are becoming more open to looking at how the work gets done irrespective of a specific physical location.

Women and people of colour who might have felt like outsiders in a white male-dominated in-person workforce might find working in a hybrid or purely virtual workplace an attractive way to gain career experience. Talented people who are differently-abled can now become entrants into a job market that was once physically closed to them when all work was done in-person. These are exciting options for everyone.

Long commutes to an office may have dissuaded people from working for a particular company. By casting a wider net for talent to fit new hybrid workplaces means roles can be much more attractive if newly hired talent only had to go into the office two days a week — or even one week a month.

The world has changed.

The workplace has changed.

We have all changed.

Friisberg works with organisations all over the world to help them keep pace with rapid progress and ensure they secure the very best talent.

Lorri Lowe,
Partner UK

test map
© 2023 J. Friisberg International S.A. – All Rights Reserved.