Anna Baréz-Brown is in the business of making businesses more human

Anna Baréz-Brown, Co-Founder of Shine
For the team at Real Business (RB), changemakers are people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world… and set out to do just that. Here, we speak to Anna Baréz-Brown, co-founder of Shine.  

When women thrive, men thrive, business thrives (and so does the world). This is the ethos that drives Shine, a company that works with businesses to help them tackle diversity and inclusion beyond lip service or box-ticking.

“At the heart of it, our aim is to make business more human,” says Anna Baréz-Brown, who co-founded Shine with Caroline Whaley in 2013. She believes that true impact comes from helping companies increase business performance, become more diverse and develop their leadership pipeline via effective transformative programmes.

To date, Shine has reached over 75 different nationalities across four continents working with thousands of women.

RB sits down with Baréz-Brown to understand how businesses can become more human in this age of uncertainty.

RB: What do you want to be known for?

Baréz-Brown (ABB): We have worked with individuals and companies around the world and across multiple industries to achieve greater gender balance at the top. We aim to develop a new style of human and inclusive leadership that will accelerate business growth and build better workplaces.

Our overarching goal is to create an equal playing field and increase empathy in organisations. This combination of factors will all help drive better business results.

Ultimately, we aim to see more women at the top of organisations. We work across companies to inject productivity throughout businesses. This involves working with teams to enable them to work better together, and helping individuals, on a one-to-one basis to become better leaders.

RB: How do you measure success? 

ABB: Success is measured through increased business performance. This is achieved via numerous factors including; teams working better together, businesses doing their utmost to retain key talent and job satisfaction scores.

Gender equality that sees women promoted into senior positions and increased diversity and inclusivity that promotes belonging, will only result in a positive effect on a business’ results and performance.

It is also possible to track success against the number of women promoted into senior roles, and an equal gender split at senior levels. Look to the employees too, higher levels of personal confidence and personal engagement will help to amplify how well businesses do.

RB: What do you stand for and why?

ABB: We believe in the empowerment of women and the need to create a truly human environment. When women thrive, men thrive, business thrives (and so does the world).

RB: What is stopping businesses from addressing inequalities in the workplace?

ABB: In the virtual world of Covid-19, there is so much fear around handling inequalities at the moment. Many leaders are terrified of getting things wrong by saying or doing the wrong thing. This feeling of offending someone whilst taking what they thought was positive action is prevalent across the board, and it happens so often.

Related: Fairness revealed as top employee concern as companies decide who comes back to the office

It’s important that businesses take an inclusive, fair and transparent approach to people management, including when adapting HR practices due to current circumstances, for example, adopting virtual recruitment methods. They need to understand the impact the pandemic and related workplace and personal change has on individuals, depending on their background or circumstances.

It is challenging, and they are particularly vulnerable to internal and external criticism. This fear of getting things wrong keeps them frozen and stops them from being open and creative in their approach. In turn, this dramatically slows down the pace of change.

RB: How can businesses address workplace toxicity (on a budget)? 

ABB: Name it! Toxic behaviours exist in every organisation and affect every one of us. It’s very normal. Aligning around a set of protocols that mitigate unhealthy behaviours will reap the rewards.

The best way to manage this is by accepting any issues head-on and speak openly about them.

The sooner these behaviours are discussed in an open and non-judgemental way, the better, as this will form an honest feedback culture, which will dissipate problems. Good objective facilitation will cut through toxicity and provide a platform for change.

RB: How can business owners get stakeholders on side when addressing culture change? 

ABB: Building and sharing a vision allows everyone to see the proposed benefits, for both the organisation and themselves personally, first hand.

They need to recognise that it won’t be an easy process; successful culture changes require a keen focus on what the new world order will look like and the rewards it will bring. So don’t be afraid to keep reinforcing it over and over again with positivity and rewarding the right behaviours.

Take time to listen deeply. This will enable you to understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end, and take time to engage stakeholders to show them how to create the change you seek.

Actively involving them and giving them a sense of ownership in the change you want to see will benefit the business.

RB: The business case for diversity and inclusion are clear. So why are businesses still behind? 

ABB: Quite simply, it’s not a priority. For example, shareholders’ profit is more important, although all the research suggests that diverse companies have been proven to be more profitable. There is also a reluctance to allocate time, focus, budget and awareness.

Moreover, this area of responsibility is often delegated to a mid-level manager within an HR team, so the output is very tactical. These individuals can’t influence the decision-makers, driving systemic and sustainable change deep into the organisation.

There’s no easy solution either, so looking for a quick fix is not realistic, and the work and investment required puts off many businesses.

However, with the right kind of support, organisations can make significant progress faster than most people think by means of objective expertise, action-orientation, willingness to be open and to learn, and a commitment to energy, budget and time.

RB: What does Corporate Britain look like to you in 10 years? 

ABB: The traditional office job could become a thing of the past, with research suggesting that just 14% of UK workers want to work in a traditional office in the future.

Another report, entitled ‘The future of work: A journey to 2022’, shows that 53% of people believe that technology will significantly change the way people work over the next five to ten years and force business owners to reconsider company structures.

I think there will be more choice in how people work, I don’t believe we will see the end of the office space, but big swanky offices are definitely a thing of the past. People will be given flexibility to choose where they work from and will be able to work remotely as much as they like.

We will see more companies striving to be registered as B-Corporations, as people will feel empowered to demand higher levels of purpose, sustainability and ethics from the companies they work for.

These past six months have shown that our world’s upside down, almost overnight.

The successful corporates will embrace a more flexible working culture where everyone can thrive. They will also adopt a more inclusive style of leadership that values diversity, encourages openness and honesty and enables people to be themselves at work. The old type of hierarchical and patriarchal organisations will not survive or thrive in this new environment.

RB: Your policy wish list: What do you want to see from the Government in an ideal world?  

ABB: In an ideal world, I would love to see a new pair of Prime Ministers (a woman and a man) who enforce the gender pay gap creating a world where all forms of inequality are a thing of the past.

I would also like to see the government providing incentives for organisations that enable individuals to thrive and reward those that take brave and meaningful moves towards creating a more equal world.

RB: Your biggest piece of advice?

ABB: Don’t accept what you don’t like. If it doesn’t work for you, it won’t work for others. Ask the question ‘what would a really good human do now?’ in the most challenging situations. It all becomes clear then.

Work in partnership with employees and clients. Invest in your people as much as you can. Establish an open feedback culture where things do not fester. 

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