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Sylvia Ann Hewlett: Diverse Talent

In my naiveté, I have always thought the arguments for diversity were self-evident. One look at the politics of any nation, and of the world as a whole, is enough to prove that this is clearly not the case. So we must be grateful to people like Sylvia Ann Hewlett, who are making the case. Here is a woman who has established a research centre, writes extensively, consults with global corporations, and speaks out in the media.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett
Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Short Biography

Sylvia Ann Hewlett was born in 1946 and grew up in South Wales. She took her MA at Cambridge University and then went to Harvard as a Kennedy Scholar. She returned to the UK to study economics at the University of London, where she earned her PhD.

Hewlett returned to the United States, becoming an Assistant Professor of Economics at Barnard College. From there, she went on to become Head of the United Nations Economic Policy Council.

In 1987, Hewlett quit the role and started writing, which she has continued steadily. She has authored a number of books, and many articles in premium magazines and online journals. In 1993, she founded the Center for Work-Life Policy in New York. This is a not-for-proft research institute, which studies diversity and talent management. It is now called The Center for Talent Innovation, and its work has been widely published, particularly in the Harvard Business Review.

Hewlett followed this up by creating a commercial business, now called Hewlett Consulting Partners, which works with large corporations to implement ideas around diversity and talent management.

Hewlett’s Two Big Themes

There are two big themes in Hewlett’s work:

  1. the value of diversity in driving good quality decision-making, and supporting long-term growth
  2. how people who do not fit the current unpublished template their employers have for successful executives can cut through and succeed

Early in her career as an author and thinker on these matters, Hewlett’s primary focus was on gender. More recently, she has opened this out into many dimensions of diversity , such as geography, culture and ethnicity, sexual orientation, and generation. Indeed, in today’s (autumn 2016, ahead of the presidential election) United States, it is not surprising to find a lot of her public comment focusing on the role of Latino workers, and also women of colour and the LGBT community.

Her most recent publication, a research volume published by The Center for Talent Innovation called ‘Growing Global Executives‘ argues that leaders need two core competencies:

  1. the ability to project a leadership presence that can establish credibility with their boards and their stakeholders, and
  2. the ability to harness the value of globally dispersed and culturally diverse teams by developing an inclusive style of leadership.

Executive Presence

One of Hewlett’s recent books is 2014’s ‘Executive Presence‘, which I suspect is her biggest seller. Aimed primarily at women, but valuable for anyone who wants to be seen as a potential or actual leader, the book sets out three elements you need, to project ‘presence’. These, Hewlett suggests, are all learnable.

Filled with anecdote and structured checklists, this is one of the stronger books on a topic that is hard to pin down with real evidence. At what stage does a large body of anecdote become empirical data? I shan’t answer that question.

Hewlett’s three elements of Executive Presence are:

  1. How you act (Gravitas)
  2. How you Speak (Communication)
  3. How you look (Appearance)

The books reports wide surveys of executives, that give evidence for what makes up these three overlapping dimensions. Curiously, a critique of the research is its bias towards US culture.

Gravitas, for example, is made up of:

  • confidence
  • decisiveness
  • integrity
  • empathy
  • reputation
  • vision

Fundamentally, it is your ability to be seen and valued as a real expert in your subject matter.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett Speaking about Executive Presence

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