David Everhart is president of Aperian Global, an Oakland, Calif.-based international training and cultural intelligence firm. Everhart is based in London.
As a leader, one of the biggest lessons is understanding that the elusive road to world peace and stability requires building millions upon millions of intricate pathways of interdependence. People who need one another, who derive mutual benefit from a relationship, are generally willing to work through all sorts of cultural, language, religious, and other differences and seek common ground. Although I believe that the vote by the citizens of the U.K. to leave the European Union is a huge and sad mistake, it should not stop the world (nor the U.K.) from continuing to inch forward towards a global community of inclusion. Consider these points:
For one, although the EU has increased trade and connection between the countries of Europe, including the UK, the cultural identities that define each member country remain distinct and highly relevant. The divisions between the different member countries are still very much alive. Attitudes about regarding the value of economic interdependence and globalization vary greatly across Europe — not just between countries but also within the domestic context of many nations. The UK is a good example of this phenomenon of divided opinion: major cities, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, all voted to remain in the EU. The rural areas and smaller communities that are more fearful of cultural evolutions that comes with diversity, voted to leave.
I moved to London two weeks ago, largely because London is (arguably) the most diverse city in world history. That was true last week, before the Brexit vote, and remains true today. Just one day after the UK voted to leave the EU, London hosted one of the largest Pride festivals in the world, with tens of thousands of participants from the LGBT community and their straight counterparts peacefully and gleefully celebrating diversity. London’s Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, opened the festival alongside Matthew Barzun, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.K. The entire city seemed intent on demonstrating its commitment to inclusion in spite of (or perhaps because of) the nation’s vote to separate from the larger community of the EU.
Leaders in global firms will continue to look for ways to expand their businesses, and the diversity of their employees. The more global firms become, the less nationalistic their leaders behave. Good global leaders will adjust their business models quickly to adapt to changes in the environment. Within 24 hours of the Brexit vote, several companies, particularly in financial services, already had started moving forward with contingency plans that were drawn up before the referendum to be implemented if the U.K. decided to leave. Several thousand banking jobs currently located in the City of London are expected to move to Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt and other EU locations.
The Brexit decision will likely hurt the U.K., especially in the medium-term. It is unlikely, however, to stop leaders in strong firms from seeking competitive advantage through increased responsiveness to growth markets. In this sense, Brexit may not be that relevant. In the end, the biggest opportunities for companies to grow remains not in the E.U (with or without the U.K. ) or North America, but in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Events like Brexit may perhaps serve to accelerate this shift southward and eastward.