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.
Friisberg, as a firm and a multinational family, stands shoulder to shoulder with Elena, our Partner and her team in the Kyiv office.
She has bravely withstood all that Russia can throw at her, and her family.
These are Elena's thoughts, on this day, after 12 months at war:
A year has passed since that terrible moment when I woke up to the sounds of explosions. But the most difficult task, as it turned out, was to wake up my relatives and say the word, 'War'.
Parts of Kyiv look normal on the surface, but daily we hear air raid sirens. There are now few children in the city because so many have been displaced with their mothers or grandparents living elsewhere in Ukraine, or outside the country. The toll of the human suffering has been staggering – thousands have been killed and more than 8 million Ukrainians have left.
People in Ukraine say that your life is divided into 'before' and 'after’ - and it is true.
We have all changed during this year, but we are not broken and we believe in Victory. It keeps us going.
Ukraine will continue to defend the unarguable fact that it belongs within Europe. We uphold the values, rights and freedoms that underpin Western civilization.
The Friisberg family looks forward to holding a Partner Conference in what will again be a free Kyiv, as capital of a sovereign Ukraine.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And are female managers committed supporters of women?
In my conversations with female managers, I like to ask the women whether they have actually received support over the course of their careers. Many confirm this by saying that it couldn't be any other way: you need a manager who recognises your potential and pushes you forward, or delegates new tasks and ultimately promotes. And in every new team and / or department it is important to make contacts again and ideally find sponsors. In the best case, it is possible to establish a good relationship with board members and managing directors, who are also successfully following their path and promoting and developing potential. Leadership programs for young talents also help to gain visibility, but such programs are not available everywhere.
Very few women say they made it without a sponsor. They also recognise that further development, with support, would have meant fewer detours and would have been faster. In most cases the sponsors are male. This may be due to the fact that there are fewer women than men in management.
But the question also arises, to what extent do women actually support other women?
In the interviews I have experienced two “extremes”:
On the one hand, there are women for whom, the quota is (unfortunately) a necessary intervention by the legislature in order to correct past mistakes. It is very important to them to support other talented women and to be available to them as mentors - even keeping lists of potential female executives to promote.
Then there are women who do not even want to be associated with the “gender issue”. They neither want to be a quota woman, nor do they want to attract attention through the special promotion of female executives. They are of the opinion that only experience and knowledge should be deciding factors regarding promotion.
Does that coincide with your observations?
How do “quota women” feel in companies? Do we see legislative intervention as an opportunity for all women to bring change in the male-dominated boardrooms?
Meltem Ay, Principal
We asked two of our female Partners, both very successful management consultants...
I have two pieces of advice for the young women starting their careers.
Firstly, make a career plan. Having been a headhunter and mentor for over 20 years, my experience has showed that having written down your expectations and dreams for your work life is of great benefit. A study from Harvard University also confirms this observation. The study was conducted in their MBA class where 3% had a written career plan, 13% had a mental career plan and 84% had no career plan. 10 years after finishing their MBA the 13% had performed twice as well as the 84% and the 3% were making 10 times as much the remaining 97% annually.
Secondly, ensure that you have a good balance between work, studies and your private life. I see many young women who have focused solely on their studies for many years, and then find it very hard to find a job afterwards. Having solely focused on their studies and good grades for so long has unfortunately made them narrowminded, and workplaces today are looking more and more for educated and interesting people with a certain degree of charisma. If you have spent all your time behind your desk, it does not give you that charisma. Prioritizing your hobbies, drinking wine with your friends and travelling, while also studying, makes you a more interesting person for your future workplace – and it also gives you a great start to creating your own network.
Being a woman today means there is a much wider range of career options. We have young women fighting in our army, in construction - we are politicians and CEOs of global companies – there is no limit. Yet many women are still reluctant to use their voice. Remember: you are hired for a job because of your skills and talents so don’t let these get minimized by not speaking up. Your ideas, contributions and achievements are yours to realize AND to highlight, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Don’t force conversations or to become arrogant, but take those natural opportunities to talk about the work you’re doing and what you’ve achieved.
I think one of the best pieces of career advice for women is to develop a strong personal brand which together with a strong reputation can put you on the radar for exciting career opportunities.
Finally, if you're asked to do something that excites you, but that you aren't sure you're completely ready for, always say yes – you'll figure out the "how" later. The more confident and competent you appear, the more you'll be able to build confidence in your abilities in others.
Always have the confidence to try new things, or even take a lateral move to get a new perspective. Believe in yourself.
Norway currently tops the European statistics for gender-balanced corporate governance, with France and the UK in second and third places. (Source: Gender Diversity Index, europeanwomenonboards.eu).
Many factors explain why Norway has made great strides with equal opportunities, and gender quotas for company boards is one. Despite the progress, however, the Norwegian labour market remains very divided along gender lines. Four out of every five CEOs is a man – and nine out of 10 nurses are women.
Gender quotas on public-sector boards were introduced to Norway in 2004, and extended to private companies planning for a stock market listing (public limited companies) two years later. The requirement was that women should hold a minimum of 40 per cent of board seats, with companies which failed to meet this proportion threatened with being wound up.
Norway has many small family-owned businesses. A majority of these belong to men. As a major owner, the Norwegian state also makes a clear mark on the domestic scene. Directors are almost always non-executive and largely independent of the company’s management.
Trust between owners and directors is important. Historically, owners have chosen directors from within their own network, since it is easier to trust people you already know. These networks are homogenous. Boards drawn from them generally work effectively, but risk missing out on important perspectives.
The 40% women requirement has increased the awareness of the expertise desired and the contributions directors make. This is considered a very positive consequence of the quota regulations.
The need for renewable energy, for example, has shifted huge investments from coal and oil to solar and wind power. Digitalisation has created radical changes in companies' development and the competitive position and will continue to affect all sectors.
Major changes call for non-traditional thinking, and curiosity about how other sectors overcome their challenges is particularly important along with a sense of urgency and solid understanding of financial risk. Having directors of both genders as well as different ages and backgrounds – nationally and internationally and from various sectors – will be necessary in order to widen perspectives and make the right strategic choices.
Female boardroom candidates
Holding a directorship is not a right, but an opportunity to contribute required expertise. During the first few years with gender quotas, we saw some poor solutions – female directors with a combination of high self-confidence and low relevant expertise, and enterprises which invited women on in order to fill their “quota” without wanting them to make an active contribution. Such things are rarely seen today.
Generally speaking, bottom-line responsibility and thereby executive experience are necessary to contribute effectively on a board. Norway has far more men than women in leadership roles, which means that the pool of female candidates with relevant experience remains smaller than for men.
But big variations exist between sectors. So, when putting together capable boards which also meet the need for gender balance, an overall view must be taken of expertise and efforts are needed to identify where scope exists for a good selection base.
“Younger” sectors, such as technology, media and telecom, have a more balanced gender distribution and thereby more women with solid management experience who amply provide the expertise required of a director. This contrasts with traditional industry, for example, where the pool of women with similar management expertise remains smaller.
Good boardroom contributions emerge from relevant expertise, strategic insight, understanding of roles, commitment and a personality able to exert influence and collaborate.
Some people argue that being “quota'd in” is unequivocally negative, and that quotas weaken the authority of women on the boards. We believe gender quotas ensure that highly competent women are invited to serve and give able females opportunities to contribute. If the starting point has been that male owners chose directors from networks of friends and acquaintances, the quota system has been both a necessary and an effective tool for ensuring diversity. We argue that it also ensures the best possible value creation.
In our experience, the quota rules have contributed to owners adopting a more analytic approach in assessing the board’s overall expertise and contribution. The requirement for 40 per cent women has thereby definitively made owners aware of able female directors. Our hypothesis is that the boards also end up with more capable male members.