Real Time Bias Review - helping leaders assess performance and promotions more objectively

While a common approach to educating leaders about the impacts of unconscious bias on decision-making is through face-to-face workshops, another increasingly effective approach is through what we call a ‘real time bias review’.

This is when we observe leadership teams in real time during performance review and succession planning discussions, helping them to identify when biases and stereotypes may be limiting decision-making and equitable career opportunities.

We do this in a constructive and respectful way to maximise the opportunity for reflection and peer learning, acknowledging we all hold biases so ingrained we hardly notice them – hence why they’re called implicit or unconscious.

We think it’s a particularly powerful way to learn - in the real moments that matter - and it’s working for many of our clients.

How does bias impact performance review and promotion?

Unless leaders are skilful in recognising and challenging unconscious bias, performance reviews and promotion assessments are often not as objective as we’d like to think. And while performance review processes are changing dramatically with the introduction of new technologies, many organisations still rely on assessments by leadership teams.

These assessments, in turn, determine pay and promotion, so it’s worth paying close attention to language and evidence.

Numerous studies have shown the impacts of unconscious gender bias on performance reviews. One recent study reported in Harvard Business Review of more than 80,000 evaluations in a military leadership setting found no gender differences in objective measures (such as fitness, grades) but that in subjective evaluations, managers used more positive words to describe men in performance reviews and more negative ones to describe women.

Unless leaders are skilful in recognising and challenging unconscious bias, performance reviews and promotion assessments are often not as objective as we’d like to think.

Unless leaders are skilful in recognising and challenging unconscious bias, performance reviews and promotion assessments are often not as objective as we’d like to think.

Other studies have found the word ‘abrasive’ is a common adjective reserved for women in performance reviews. That’s related to the double-bind that occurs when women emphasise their competence, leading them to be perceived as cold and unlikable.

On the other hand, when they’re perceived as warm, collaborative and communal, they’re less likely to be perceived as competent and therefore leadership potential. Stanford University academics found that women are also more likely to receive vague feedback not connected to objectives or business outcomes, which clearly impacts opportunities for their growth and promotion to leadership.

What’s more, women’s success in management positions is often attributed to luck or external factors, according to business psychologists Professor Binna Kandola and Jo Kandola[1], but men’s success will more likely to be attributed to their skill or personality. And people working flexibly are less likely to be viewed favourably.

What does a real-time bias review involve?

We emphasise the purpose is fair and objective decision-making, and our role is to support that goal.

We join leadership team meetings and note any gender and cultural biases that may emerge in the discussion, as well as more general cognitive biases such as confirmation bias and priming. Depending on the context, we’ll ask questions, challenge assumptions respectfully during the meeting, and/or provide feedback after the group conversation on a 1-on-1 basis.

In one organisation where we recently joined the leadership team in assessing performance, the impacts were obvious - ratings improved for a leader working flexibly and a number of other changes occurred as a result of the new depth of understanding and conversation. And it was not just gender bias highlighted, but other types of cognitive bias that can muddy business decisions.

Calling out gender bias is important because the feedback women receive clearly affects opportunities for promotion and gender balance at leadership levels. Researchers have found that if gender bias accounts for just five per cent of the difference in performance ratings, an organisation where 58 per cent of entry level positions are held by women will end up with only 29 per cent in leadership levels.

So, if you’re keen to ensure performance reviews are conducted fairly and objectively, we’d love to speak with you about how a real time review with an independent bias specialist can enhance and refine your existing processes. Please email us at or call us on 1800 571 999.

[1] Source: Binna & Jo Kandola, The Invention of Difference: The story of gender bias at work, Pearn Kandola, 2013


Kristy Macfarlane joins Diversity Partners

Diversity Partners is thrilled to announce that Kristy Macfarlane has joined our team to support our clients to achieve diversity and inclusion progress.

Kristy was most recently Head of Diversity and Inclusion at NAB, a role she held for more than five years. During that time, she led NAB’s Diversity agenda, making strong progress with the bank’s commitment for 40-60% female representation at each and every level and achieving the GOLD employer award for the Australian Workplace Equality Index, an LGBTI Inclusion benchmark.  

Based in Brisbane, Kristy will facilitate Inclusive Leadership programs, conduct diversity diagnostics, and support our Queensland and national clients to develop leading-edge inclusion and diversity strategies. 

‘We’re excited our clients will benefit from Kristy’s strategic insights and ability to deliver practical solutions,’ Diversity Partners CEO Dr Katie Spearritt said.

Kristy is on the Advisory Committee with Women in Banking & Finance, and an Alumnus with the Harvard Kennedy School. Prior to NAB, Kristy was with Ernst & Young in both Australia and the UK.

‘This is a great opportunity for organisations to work with a very talented D&I leader, backed by the resources and highly-regarded programs and services of our company,’ Spearritt said.

Established in 2009, Diversity Partners has worked with many clients in Queensland, including mining and construction companies, financial services firms, water utilities, and government agencies, to progress their D&I goals. 

 ‘We’re hugely grateful for the tremendous efforts of Leith Mitchell, our first Queensland-based consultant, who has recently been appointed as Director, Diversity, Culture & Engagement with the Queensland Department of Education, ‘ Spearritt said.

Kristy can be contacted at or via our office on 1800 571 999.


Kristy Macfarlane

Kristy Macfarlane

Say no to 'onliness' (and other ways to achieve gender balanced teams)

Achieving a critical mass of women in a team is recognised as an important step towards greater gender balance in organisations. It’s easier to influence and speak up when there’s a critical mass of at least 30 per cent around the decision-making table.

Many of us know how isolating or lonely it can be when you’re in a visible minority or not part of the dominant ‘in-group’ of an organisation. But new research has pointed to some additional reasons why being a minority can be disempowering, even dangerous. 

McKinsey & Co’s latest research on women in the workplace has found women are more likely to experience micro-aggressions, harassment and discrimination when they’re the ‘only’ woman on a team.

Women ‘onlys’ are ‘far more likely than others to have their judgment questioned than women working in a more balanced environment (49 percent versus 32 percent), to be mistaken for someone more junior (35 percent versus 15 percent), and to be subjected to unprofessional and demeaning remarks (24 percent versus 14 percent), McKinsey says.

Women are more likely to experience micro-aggressions, harassment and discrimination when they’re the ‘only’ woman on a team.

‘If they are treated like this,’ say the researchers, ‘no wonder they get overlooked for promotion.’

The reports spells out the additional level of scrutiny and higher performance standards of women only’s.

‘Because there are so few, women Onlys stand out in a crowd of men. This heightened visibility can make the biases women Onlys face especially pronounced. While they are just one person, they often become a stand-in for all women—their individual successes or failures become a litmus test for what all women are capable of doing.

‘With everyone’s eyes on them, women Onlys can be heavily scrutinized and held to higher performance standards. As a result, they most often feel pressure to perform, on guard, and left out. In contrast, when asked how it feels to be the only man in the room, men Onlys most frequently say they feel included.’ 

Women Only’s can be heavily scrutinized and held to higher performance standards, says McKinsey & Co.

Women Only’s can be heavily scrutinized and held to higher performance standards, says McKinsey & Co.

The research shows ‘women onlys’ fare much worse than women in small groups of two or three. As a result, they recommend clustering women in groups rather than spreading them thinly across divisions, to avoid the situation where they might be the only woman in a team or technical area. 

In other words, as McKinsey puts it: say no to ‘onlineness’.

The take-out for organisations? If your company has women onlys in some teams (and we know it’s particularly common in engineering and IT functions of many organisations), think about ways you can cluster them and provide active sponsorship.

As well as clustering, mentoring programs, leadership rotations, stretch assignments, and gaining operational experience early in their careers are also helpful career development techniques.

‘Banishing onliness does not replace the goal of gender parity in the C-suite nor the need for a more complex strategy to achieve it. But our research suggests it will diminish some of the barriers that hold women back.’

These are important insights for any organisation committed to achieving gender balanced leadership teams, which, as substantial research indicates, contributes to better performance, innovation and levels of belonging in our organisations.

Putting it into action: Mentoring program for women leaders

Diversity Partners is currently facilitating a mentoring program for high-potential women in a financial services organisation, with the long-term goal of achieving more gender balanced leadership teams.

In this program, each woman mentee is paired with a mentor (male and female) in a reciprocal mentoring relationship, recognising that learning is often two-way (particularly in cross-gender relationships where leaders have the opportunity to develop their understanding of potential gender barriers in the organisation.)

As Management Professor Wendy Murphy wrote in Harvard Business Review earlier this year, encouraging more men to mentor women: ‘Good mentors identify opportunities, open doors, and connect mentees to challenging assignments so they learn and grow. You will only be capable of doing so if you ask questions and then listen, listen, listen to understand, affirm, and validate what your mentee needs. Cross-gender mentoring requires that you make efforts to learn about one another and empathise.’

We’re coordinating the matching process, leading workshops for mentors and mentees, and providing structured support and online resources over the course of twelve months.

‘Cross-gender mentoring requires that you make efforts to learn about one another and empathise.’

Professor Wendy Murphy

The program is led by Dr Katie Spearritt and Senior Associate and experienced Leadership Coach, Lisa Williams, who has recently completed the INSEAD Executive Master (Individual and Organisational Psychology) Coaching and Consulting for Change in Singapore.

If you’d like to learn more about this program, or any other offerings to progress diversity and inclusion in your organisation, please email us at


Focus on the process: reducing bias in decision-making

Decision-making experts suggest we move from the individual to the collective,  from the decision maker  to the decision-making  process  to reduce the impact of unconscious bias.

Decision-making experts suggest we move from the individual to the collective, from the decision maker to the decision-making process to reduce the impact of unconscious bias.

If we’re serious about building fair, inclusive workplaces, mitigating bias - both conscious and unconscious - is well recognised as an important step. As individuals, many of us are now aware of actions we can take to challenge cognitive biases in our workplaces.

But the reality is it’s hard to control our automatic or default judgements. That’s why decision-making experts suggest we move from the individual to the collective, from the decision maker to the decision-making process.

These new processes and adjustments can help us evaluate information more objectively and make sound decisions. They can also contribute to greater diversity - in thinking approaches and demographic background. (And a quick scroll-through of our blog leaves you in little doubt that’s a driving force and passion for us!)

This can include creating processes to track and measure the diversity of people hired and promoted, and using this data to identify and address issues. Another proven way to reduce unconscious bias is to undertake what is known as “blind hiring”, where CVs are received anonymously, with references to name, gender, age, disability, schools, hobbies and ethnicity removed because information often impairs our ability to make fair judgements.

Creating checklists, such as agreed criteria for decisions or structured questions for interviews, also helps to reduce bias in decision making.

The reality is it’s hard to control our automatic or default judgements. That’s why decision-making experts suggest we move from the individual to the collective, from the decision maker to the decision-making process.

When organisations work at reducing the effect on bias in their decision making processes, a study by McKinsey of more than 1,000 major decisions – including investments in new products and M & A decisions – showed higher returns on investment.

Here’s a few more tips to help mitigate bias in decision-making processes:

  • In team meetings, appoint a ‘leader of the opposition’ or ‘devil’s advocate’ and rotate the role

  • Introduce a protocol at the end of team meetings where team members can provide anonymous feedback (perhaps on a post-it note) on how included they felt (via a score of 1 - 5) and one thing in the next team meeting that would help them feel more included.

  • Use different communication channels to receive inputs on a project - some people are more comfortable providing inputs via email or direct phone call rather than in a team meeting.

These are the types of actions we discuss with leaders in our education programs to encourage good decision-making. We also conduct reviews of key HR policies and processes to reduce the potential for bias.

If you’d like to know more, please email or chat with us on 1800 571 999. Having worked with tens of thousands of leaders in more than 300 organisations, the team is well equipped to answer your questions or design an appropriate solution to help your organisation challenge unconscious bias, improve decision-making, and progress diversity.

Data-driven D&I progress

We hear a lot about data-driven change efforts in organisations, and D&I is a good example of an area that benefits from thoughtful analysis and measurement. 

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

For many of us driving change in organisations, a focus on diversity and inclusion might seem like the right, fair way of going about business.

But articulating the specific impacts of diversity and inclusion on innovation, engagement and productivity not only helps build wider support, but can help when momentum stalls. In our experience, the more specific benefits identified, the better. 

Take for example the experiences of two leading organisations in Australia, BHP and NAB.

Global resources company BHP didn’t just rely on external studies of the business case when they embarked on substantive cultural change to progress D & I a few years ago. The company looked at internal data to understand the benefits and communicated that widely. Their global diversity and inclusion council discovered a clear link between diverse teams and business performance, explains Fiona Vines, BHP’s Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion. 

“What they were able to uncover was that those teams that had better gender diversity and were more inclusive, as measured by our annual staff satisfaction survey, had higher levels of production and probably most importantly were safer. And that was very compelling, particularly to an organisation like BHP which is very much a scientific, engineering, analytical type of organisation.”

Similarly, Kristy Macfarlane, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at NAB, says diversity and inclusion is not only the right thing to do, “but it fundamentally drives business performance.” Citing Deloitte research, Macfarlane says, “Organisations that have inclusive cultures are six times more likely to anticipate and respond effectively to change and they’re twice as likely to exceed their financial targets.” 

Fiona Vines, Head of Inclusion & Diversity at BHP

Fiona Vines, Head of Inclusion & Diversity at BHP

“If we think about that environment we’re playing in and the need to innovate for our customers, it’s critical that we have strong diversity of thought but, more importantly, an environment where all of our people can come to work and share diverse thinking and bring their whole self to work.”

‘Those teams that had better gender diversity and were more inclusive, as measured by our annual staff satisfaction survey, had higher levels of production and probably most importantly were safer.’

Fiona Vines, BHP Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion.

Sometimes data  - qualitative and quantitative - can also illustrate the risk of of not taking action. In our diversity diagnostics with many organisations, we’ve identified specific risks of losing talented people, risks to safety, and risks to process innovation, which have subsequently led to a heightened commitment from executives.

As well as using data to promote the business case and identify potential risks, most leading organisations use data to set targets for D & I progress, particularly gender diversity. Research by consulting firm KPMG in 2016 found those companies which disclosed clear quantifiable gender objectives demonstrated a higher level of gender diversity than those which did not set quantitative targets.

When Andrew Mackenzie, BHP’s CEO, announced a goal in October 2016 to achieve gender balance in the company’s workforce by 2025, it was a seriously bold step. At the time, women represented 18 per cent of BHP’s workforce. Fiona Vines says that “to accelerate progress in this area we needed to disrupt the status quo because, like a lot of organisations, BHP had been talking about increasing the number of women and talking about gender balance and so on, but glacial progress was being made.”

Within a year of announcing the goal, BHP had made more progress towards gender diversity in one year than in the past 10 years. Within two years, BHP achieved a 4.8% increase in the number of women in the organisation globally.

Like BHP, NAB has set public targets for women in hiring and promotion shortlists as well as in leadership positions. In October 2017, NAB committed to gender equality at each and every level by 2020. 

Kirsty Macfarlane, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at National Australia Bank

Kirsty Macfarlane, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at National Australia Bank

“What that means,” explains Kristy Macfarlane, ”is throughout our businesses, from entry level roles to our executives we are committed to every level having 40% - 60% of either gender represented by 2020 . . . We’re aiming for 50% female representation on succession plans for all of our senior management roles. We make sure we have 50/50 in shortlists for graduates and shortlists more broadly.”

These are all great examples of the ways in which leading organisations are using data to drive significant change, through identifying business benefits, business risks, and setting clear business objectives for their D&I efforts.

You can learn more about the D&I change efforts of BHP and NAB via our digital platform, Future Women Academy. Our thanks to Fiona Vines and Kristy Macfarlane for speaking with us.

Reflections on a decade of driving diversity and inclusion progress in organisations*

After starting in the diversity and inclusion field in the mid-1990s, Dr Katie Spearritt’s passion for making workplaces more inclusive has only grown greater. “When I first started working in this area, it took a lot of explaining to get people to understand what I even did”, she says. 

After holding senior diversity roles at Hewlett Packard in Australia and Asia, Coles Myer (now Coles Group), and NAB, Spearritt established Diversity Partners. And as 2019 marks the tenth year of business for Diversity Partners, Spearritt has led a team of consultants doing diagnostics, leadership education, coaching and facilitation for more than 300 organisations. The work has taken them from mining sites to trading rooms and boardrooms, all the way helping to build awareness of the value of diversity and inclusion in our workplaces.

As she reflects on a decade of driving diversity and inclusion initiatives in organisations, here are Dr Katie Spearritt’s key D & I takeaways:

1. Change is rarely linear; focusing on only one diversity dimension (e.g. gender) at a time can undermine broader inclusion efforts

At one organisation a decade ago, senior managers wanted to focus on progressing gender diversity first, then tackle flexibility, then explore cultural diversity (or other areas deemed a priority by the leadership team). They felt it was better to get some tangible wins on the board (e.g. more women in leadership) and not stretch the already crowded agendas of managers.

Spearritt accepted the view as part of the way things are done in a large company, but on reflection, recognised it was the path of least (cognitive) resistance and undermined the more holistic process of cultural change. “We know more today about how various areas of diversity intersect, and the importance of a broader focus on unconscious bias and inclusive leadership, so that everyone feels a sense of belonging and are valued for differences they bring”, says Katie.

2. The sooner you can connect with departmental leaders, the quicker you help everyone connect the dots

An enterprise-wide commitment is essential to a successful D & I strategy. As Spearritt observed: “There are so many ways we can embed diversity into our organisations – procuring minority-owned supply businesses, providing scholarships for indigenous apprentices, challenging gender and cultural stereotypes in advertising, just to name a few.” There are many missed opportunities to taking a narrow focus to D & I.

3. Those of us driving change hold certain privileges and biases, just as everyone else does

Spearritt was introduced to the concept of the “privilege of oblivion” early in her professional career, but has a far deeper understanding of what that really means today through personal coaching and feedback that’s increased her self-awareness. Recognising diversity within individuals, as well as among groups, in organisations is a key part of effective diversity strategies. As Spearritt has observed over time, “Recognising our own blind-spots is a critical element of any leader, and especially practitioners in our field.”

4. Reflect on how you choose to spend your time and energy

Being a diversity leader in an organisation can be a lonely path with plenty of moments of challenge and discomfort. Spearritt recalls the very moment she sat in the back row of a conference event on gender equality and noticed the audience was nearly all women. The talk was about how we could support women to pursue leadership positions by building their confidence and networking. This gave Spearritt the resolve to engage a different audience, particularly those from dominant power groups, to affect broader change. As Spearritt remarked, “Being clear about your ‘how’ and ‘why’ is essential.”

5. Talking the language of business matters

When you build a strong knowledge of the operational side of the business in an in-house diversity leadership role you find opportunities to speak credibly about the ways in which diversity and inclusion align with the organisation’s values and goals. People listen. “I wanted to amplify the experiences of those who feel marginalised or excluded with influencers and power-brokers, so speaking the language of business matters,” says Spearritt.

Dr Katie Spearritt (at right). Photo: Actuaries Institute (National Conference).

Dr Katie Spearritt (at right). Photo: Actuaries Institute (National Conference).

6. Support is vital and can come from lots of different places

Because you might be the only D & I Manager in a company, seeking support from others in similar positions can be reassuring. This might include joining online groups, attending forums, simply calling up others in similar company roles, to share challenges or try out an idea.

Spearritt has previously been a board member of the Mental Health Council of Australia, another topic that draws out her passion because of her personal experience and drives her desire to pay it forward as much as possible. “There’s no way I could do what I do without the deep support of colleagues, family and friends,” she says.

7. The role of a diversity leader is more important than ever

The role of the diversity practitioner is more important than ever because leaders better understand the benefits of diversity and inclusion for innovation, better decision-making, and attracting and retaining employees and customers.

While D&I has an elevated role in Australian organisations today than in the past, it’s not yet elevated to the level of some American corporations who have Chief Diversity Officers.

For most of her career, Spearritt has heard suggestions that D & I roles will be redundant in future because the function will be fully embedded in the business. But she’s confident D & I roles will continue to require dedicated investment and support to help transform workplaces.


*This is an edited extract from an article by Rebecca Hansen for Future Women Academy, April 2019. The Academy is a digital platform with articles, toolkits, tip-sheets and guides for organisations wanting to accelerate their D & I progress.




Thinking outside the box: why diversity and inclusion matters in the packaging industry

This is a extract of the keynote speech by Dr Katie Spearritt at the 2019 Australian Packaging and Processing industry (AUSPACK) Business & Industry Conference.

If packaging and processing businesses aren’t paying attention to supporting diversity and building an inclusive work culture, it’s likely they’re missing out on innovation, robust decision-making, safety improvements, sustainability progress, and other commercial benefits.

Diversity and inclusion are not the side-show to the mainstream business agenda they might have once been considered. Today, these are key strategic issues for organisations, whether small or large, in industries across Australia.

Both diversity of thinking approach and diversity of background, such as gender, cultural background, disability, age, religion, role and industry experience, are important to achieve peak business performance.

The biggest benefit for companies that adopt a proactive approach to diversity is this: their performance improves. The main reasons behind this are that while homogenous workforces and leadership groups often have similar life experiences and ways of thinking, a diverse group is likely to come up with new suggestions, different perspectives and innovative solutions. 

There are a large number of studies that have been done over the last decade that show the greater the gender and cultural diversity in leadership levels in organisations, the better the overall commercial performance.

A diverse team gives us what the business psychology researchers call a ‘cognitive jolt’. In diverse teams, we’re more likely to anticipate different perspectives, listen carefully, and work harder to achieve consensus. This ‘informational diversity’ helps avoids groupthink which we know has a really damaging effect on business. Put simply, diversity in our teams helps avoid an echo-chamber.

Graduates are increasingly assessing an organisation’s reputation on diversity, sustainability and corporate social responsibility. So companies in the packaging sector looking to attract talented young professionals will have an edge over competitors if they can demonstrate their focus and progress on diversity.

Packaging companies need diversity to help ‘think outside the box’, says Dr Katie Spearritt.  Photo: Jade Lim

Packaging companies need diversity to help ‘think outside the box’, says Dr Katie Spearritt.

Photo: Jade Lim

Companies in the packaging sector looking to attract talented young professionals will have an edge over competitors if they can demonstrate their focus and progress on diversity.

With so many obvious benefits for companies with a diverse workforce, there’s a surprising reluctance in some companies to stray from the homogenous teams they’ve long had in place. Unconscious bias is a key reason for this.

Unconscious bias refers to the assumptions and stereotypes we all make based on our life's experiences and our backgrounds. Affinity bias is a very common form of implicit bias - that's our preference to gravitate towards people who are similar to us - and that’s an obvious barrier to hiring and promoting people from different backgrounds. In the workplace it often means we hire mini-me’s – it’s simply more comfortable for our brains. But, rather than a meritocracy, we're more likely to get a mirror-tocracy, and forego innovation.

There are a range of things people can do to become more aware of their unconscious bias and build more diverse workforces.

 To encourage diverse thinking approaches, for example, a leader can explicitly encourage different perspectives and appoint a ‘devil’s advocate’ or ‘leader of the opposition’. Some questions we can start asking are: ‘What is the mix of diversity such as age, gender, cultural diversity in the team? Who is not represented? And does the diversity reflect our customers?’

A good place to start exploring is hiring and promotion policies. Consider how biases such as affinity bias and priming might inadvertently influence the outcomes of those processes. 

For example, certain words in a job description will appeal more to men and certain words will appeal more to women. If you use the word 'expert', the research suggests you're more likely to attract a male applicant. If you use the word 'specialist', you're more likely to attract more women. There are a whole range of words associated with masculine stereotypes -- if those words are in your job description, that's already impacting who's going to apply.

The second area is to think about where you're advertising. Are you advertising in a diverse range of channels or are you just asking some people in your network for recommendations? Because when we're recommending from our circle, often it's same-same type hire.

Also, think about how the job could be done differently. Does it have to be full time? Does it have to be done in an office? Because that limits the sort of candidate you're likely to get.

By making these types of relatively straightforward changes to processes, you’re likely to create a stronger diverse team that improves your company and future-proofs you as your industry and those around you make positive changes. 

Assessing the inclusion competency of candidates

Many companies these days are looking to recruit the most qualified talent by training interviewers to recognise unconscious bias, advertising in a diverse range of channels, and de-identifying demographic markers such as gender and age, among many new hiring practices designed to achieve more diverse shortlists.

Yet few have turned the spotlight on the candidate, and we think that’s a missed opportunity.

Selecting leaders with a high inclusion competency can enhance a company’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

Selecting leaders with a high inclusion competency can enhance a company’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

Assessing a leadership candidate’s experience in working with diversity and their inclusion competency gives an employer an opportunity to select leaders who can enhance the company’s efforts to support diversity, and role-model the types of inclusive behaviours expected.

That involves finding about the way the candidate may have handled situations where they observed (and challenged) a bias against someone from a different background than the norm. Another question might cover how they’ve challenged the status quo with an innovative process or idea, or how they’ve encouraged others to offer alternative perspectives. It can also be useful to find out about their experience in sponsoring people from diverse backgrounds to leadership positions.

Assessing a leadership candidate’s experience in working with diversity and their inclusion competency gives an employer an opportunity to select leaders who can enhance the company’s efforts to support diversity, and role-model the types of inclusive behaviours expected.

To support cognitive diversity (that is, how an individual forms ideas and approaches problem solving), it’s useful to consider how the candidate’s preferred approach to problem solving will enhance the mix in the team. You might add a question about the candidate’s experience in working with people with a different thinking approach to them.

Here’s a few more questions you might add to interview templates to help assess a candidate’s diversity and inclusion competency. They’re drawn from the guide by the Corporate Leadership Council, Beneath the Surface of Diversity Recruiting.

  • What have you done to improve your knowledge about diversity? How have you demonstrated what you have learned?

  • Tell me about a time you worked on a team with diverse backgrounds and experiences. What were the benefits and challenges of team diversity?

  • How have you handled a situation when a colleague or a direct report was not accepting of others’ background, values, or experiences?

Adding an inclusion competency is just one of more than 20 tips in our latest toolkit for leaders:  Recruiting Fairly for the Best Candidate: Reducing bias and supporting diversity and inclusion in the recruitment process.

Most of us now know that unconscious biases can narrow the recruitment talent pool, leading to poor decision-making and inhibiting diversity progress in organisations. But the action part – recognising and challenging bias during the hiring process – can be hard. Some steps are simple, like recognising words in a job description that tend to have a masculine or feminine connotation and may influence who applies. Some steps are more involved, but have a big impact in helping to achieve more diverse shortlists and hires.

The guide has tips to reduce unconscious bias when writing position descriptions, in job advertising, when shortlisting, and when interviewing.

To learn more about the recruitment toolkit, please contact us at

Re-setting your inclusion and diversity strategy in 2019

Image: Raw pixel.

Image: Raw pixel.

Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us … There’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.
— Michelle Obama

The start of the year is a natural time to reflect and reset diversity and inclusion strategies, and we’ve found plenty of inspiration from Michelle Obama’s recently published memoir, Becoming.

While it might not make traditional c-suite reading lists, we think there’s many important personal insights and practical strategies to help make workplaces - and societies - fairer and inclusive.

 Here’s four that particularly resonated for us. 

The surprise people registered to her life story ‘that an urban black girl had vaulted through Ivy League schools and executive jobs and landed in the White House’ made Michelle Obama mindful of a larger obligation, as First Lady, to children in general and girls in particular.  

‘There had been so many times in my life when I’d found myself the only woman of colour – or even the only woman, period – sitting at a conference table or attending a board meeting or mingling at one VIP gathering or another,’ Obama writes. ‘If I was the first at some of these things, I wanted to make sure that in the end I wasn’t the only – that others were coming up behind me.’

It’s an eloquent reminder of the value in paying it forward when we’re the ‘only’ or the ‘first’ or when we notice others who are the ‘only’s’ in our teams, especially in the light of recent McKinsey showing that women who are ‘only’s’ have a significantly worse experience than women who work with other women.

Secondly, Michelle Obama’s gratitude to the people who ‘waved her forward’, who did their best to ‘inoculate me against the slights and indignities I was certain to encounter in the places I was headed – all those environments built primarily for and by people who were neither black nor female’ is testimony to the importance of executive sponsors, allies, and employee networks who support and actively advocate for greater diversity in the firms where we work.

Michelle Obama implemented numerous initiatives in her time at the White House. One less well known was a leadership and mentoring program at the White House for twenty girls from high school around Washington, D.C., pairing each teen with a female mentor. These were girls from a range of backgrounds – girls from military families, a teen mother, a girl who’d lived in a homeless shelter, and girls from immigrant families. It was set up, she says, because she wanted these girls to ‘feel comfortable and confident in any room, sitting at any table, raising their voices inside any group.’ Small program (in political terms at least), big impact.

And this led to our third reflection: what ‘small program, big impact’ can we each lead, or contribute to, in workplaces to make a difference for diversity and inclusion this year?

At the end of the book, Michelle Obama explains the title of the book: ‘…becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self’. Her words have the effect of encouraging us all to do better.

In sharing her story, she wants to create space for other voices ‘to widen the pathway for who belongs and why’. Those particular words hit a deep chord, because we regularly hear stories in workplaces of ways in which people feel a lack of belonging because of micro-aggressions, exclusive language, conscious and unconscious biases. The good news is that we also hear, and share, lots of practical examples of inclusive leaders taking pro-active steps to clear the pathway and challenge long-held biases.

The ending is uplifting. She writes: ‘For every door that’s been opened to me, I’ve tried to open my door to others. And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us … There’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.’


So, as we start the year in earnest to guide organisations on their diversity and inclusion journey to create better workplaces, here’s a few questions we’re sharing with clients and among our own team based on these reflections:

·      How can we lift others up, particularly those who are the ‘only’s’ in teams and organisations?

·      How can we better recognise and support the role of sponsors and employee networks that provide strength to diverse talent?

·      What ‘small program, big impact’ can we lead in our workplaces this year to accelerate diversity and inclusion progress?

·      How can we widen the pathway for who belongs and why?

We look forward to opportunities with new and established clients to help progress your organisation’s diversity and inclusion objectives in 2019, and we hope this is the year you make great strides on your journey.


Uncovering the real inclusion challenges and opportunities 

Photo by Sezeryadigar/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by Sezeryadigar/iStock / Getty Images

When developing a diversity and inclusion strategy, we can’t stress enough how important it is to listen to the views of employees, leaders and other key stakeholders, particularly on organisational challenges and opportunities. 

Having an independent external vendor conduct this research through a diversity diagnostic not only helps to uncover organisational biases and outdated practices that inhibit progress, but also gives the organisation a path forward to overcome them, based on best practice evidence.

Over the past decade, our team at Diversity Partners has conducted diversity diagnostics and developed strategies with more than 50 organisations, involving thousands of people through interviews and focus groups. That’s taken us to diverse places around Australia and New Zealand – from mine sites, factory floors, creative agency offices, to trading rooms and boardrooms. 

 The goal of the diagnostic is to deliver a clear picture of the inclusion and diversity challenges and opportunities that then inform the D & I strategy. Our diagnostics also help articulate the specific benefits of achieving greater diversity and inclusion for the business, which builds engagement and willingness to take action.

We often add a survey to the qualitative information we collect. That ensures we’re capturing the voices of as many people as possible. As part of the diagnostic, we identify any structural barriers through a thorough analysis of talent management data and policies.

It’s a robust process, conducted sensitively and confidentially. And it gives organisations the type of robust data and evidence they would typically use to approach any major strategic decision. 

The diversity diagnostic is a robust process, conducted sensitively and confidentially. And it gives organisations the type of robust data and evidence they would typically use to approach any major strategic decision.
— Dr Katie Spearritt

At the moment, our team is working with a large global resources company to help align their diversity goals with the strategic objectives of the Australian operations and recommend a way forward for the next years.

This substantive diagnostic has reminded us that it’s not only the outcome of the research that’s valuable, but the process of getting there. The people participating in interviews and focus groups have consistently said how much they value the opportunity to share their views of cultural and structural barriers, and the type of inclusive work environment they want to work in. 

 Approaching diversity and inclusion as a core strategic issue from the start – through a diversity diagnostic - helps set the framework for a carefully-crafted strategy with appropriate metrics and governance. 

We’ve undertaken diagnostics and co-developed inclusion and diversity strategies for organisations such as Anglo American Metallurgical Coal, Bendigo & Adelaide Bank, BHP, the Bureau of Meteorology, Commonwealth Bank, Computershare, ExxonMobil, Golder Associates, Lander & Rogers, Maddocks, ME Bank, Rio Tinto, Suncorp, Telstra Super, Transpower NZ, QSuper, Unity Water, and state government departments.

 Here’s a selection of feedback on the value of that diagnostic work.

Diversity Partners undertook thorough research to identify ways Telstra Super could accelerate our diversity and inclusion progress and achieve the associated benefits for our people and members. In the two years since this initial diagnostic, we’ve implemented a range of their recommendations, including the review of key people policies and practices such as recruitment, flexible work, gender pay analysis and unconscious bias training and implemented a number of awareness raising initiatives.

Our commitment to diversity and inclusion has resulted in an improved employee experience and an environment that genuinely supports the requirement for our people to flourish at work. We appreciated the rigour and objectivity of their feedback and recommendations to help set and refresh our course and value our ongoing partnership with the DP team.’
— Janet Brown, EGM People and Culture, Telstra Super:
The Bureau of Meteorology has taken great steps forward this year to build a more diverse and inclusive culture, and recently launched our first Gender Equality Plan. We started our journey by engaging Diversity Partners to research challenges and opportunities for us.

Their research was extremely thorough, drawing on inputs from hundreds of team members and a range of data points relating to recruitment, retention, flexibility usage, and promotion. From this, we worked with Diversity Partners to develop a comprehensive action plan.
— Dr Sue Barrell, former Chief Scientist, Bureau of Meteorology
Diversity Partners has worked in complete partnership with us from day one. They guided us every step of the way through the diagnostic and benchmarking process and delivered a high quality strategy.
— Paul Lundy, Chief of People & Transformation, Super

Why inclusive leadership would benefit Cricket Australia (and organisations generally)

Last week, The Ethics Centre released their review of Cricket Australia’s organisational culture and governance frameworks. One word is mentioned a handful of times, but it may hold a big clue as to the systemic cultural reform that’s needed. 

The word is inclusion.

So many descriptors and examples in the report speak to its very opposite – exclusion - whether inadvertent or deliberate. ‘The most common description of CA is as 'arrogant' and 'controlling'. The core complaint is that the organisation does not respect anyone other than its own,’ the review says. 

The findings show a reluctance to call out inappropriate behaviour, to challenge the status quo, and significant concerns about the perceived lack of diversity and gender equality at the high levels of CA’s management and board. Ego is identified as a source of cultural tension and ethical failure: ‘an “alpha male culture” privileges combativeness over collaboration and discourages healthy, constructive disagreement.’

Inclusive leadership is relatively absent. And that’s a shame (but not a shock). Here’s why:

First, inclusive leadership is increasingly recognised as one of the core attributes of leaders of the future, and it’s particularly important as organisations become more diverse – both in their employee base and their stakeholder base.

Second, CA knows commercially how important diversity is. It has made significant headway on diversity, as the review highlights, particularly in the expansion of women’s cricket. In fact, ‘Embrace diversity’ is the third most strongly agreed attribute in the assessment of CA’s commitment to living each of its values and attributes. ‘Cricket’s stakeholders place a high value on diversity – not just in relation to gender (important as that is) – as a key attribute of the game in the past and for its future. If anything, people would like the value of diversity to be embraced by CA to an even greater degree.’ That’s a great thing, because diversity of thinking and background benefits decision-making, innovation and engagement.

But diversity does not appear to be anchored with inclusion. Inclusion is a key enabler of diversity and that’s the missing gap for CA. 

They’re not alone here. Many organisations over the past decade have fast-tracked their focus on diversity, particularly gender diversity, in response to a range of community and commercial drivers. But they’ve not yet taken the next step, evolving their conceptual framework to position inclusion front and centre, with the focus being on developing inclusive leadership capability to leverage diversity of thought and diversity of background.

The field of growing global research on the topic of inclusive leadership is starting to show us a blueprint that leaders can reference to be more inclusive.

For example, Catalyst’s global report, Inclusive Leadership: The View From Six Countriespoints to four leadership qualities that predict whether or not employees feel included: empowerment, courage, humility, and accountability. Inclusive leaders work hard to treat all people fairly and respectfully, and empower them to solve problems and come up with new ideas. They stand up for their beliefs. They’re aware of their own limitations and biases. And they hold people accountable. 

What’s particularly relevant to us in the context of the CA review is the empowerment focus. 

Inclusive leaders are mindful of engaging the quieter voices in the room and actively seek out diverse views, particularly from ‘cognitively peripheral’ team members (those who hold unique information/ perspectives)

Inclusive leaders have the mindset and skills to create an environment of psychological safety - where people are encouraged to speak up and challenge the status quo. They’re mindful of engaging the quieter voices in the room and actively seek out diverse views, particularly from ‘cognitively peripheral’ team members (those who hold unique information/ perspectives). Inclusive leaders actively engage in perspective taking – suspending judgement, checking understanding, and deep listening. What’s more, they work hard to embed diversity and inclusion principles across the organisation.

In fact, a number of attributes of inclusive leaders are, unfortunately, the attributes ranked lowest across all stakeholder groups in the CA review – listening, challenging the status quo, not being afraid to challenge/be challenged, and collaboration.  

There’s no doubt inclusive leadership requires a high level of emotional intelligence and agility, and that’s usually acquired through leadership education, 360 assessments and coaching. It’s rarely easy or intuitive to create an environment where people have both a sense of belonging, and feel valued for their unique perspectives and talents.

But it’s crucial if we’re serious about making diversity progress (and better workplaces more generally).

To help CA achieve national excellence and consistency without national control (a ‘master question’ in The Ethics Centre report arising out of the research), a condition identified is that ‘diversity is embraced as a tool for making better decisions’. In our view, that’s another way of saying ‘inclusive leadership’. It’s on page 101 of the report, and may just be the leadership 101 required to usher in a new era for Cricket Australia.


Introducing Future Women Academy - a digital extension of our consulting services


Last week we launched a new digital consulting platform called Future Women Academy to help organisations fast-track their progress on diversity and inclusion. FW Academy offers in-depth articles, practical tip-sheets, podcasts, insight papers, toolkits, conversation guides, as well as on-demand advice from our experienced team.

It’s for business leaders, change-makers, HR and diversity professionals in organisations of all sizes - whether they’re starting out or well progressed on their inclusion journey.

We created the platform because we understand it can be overwhelming and time-consuming for leaders to find real-impact resources to progress diversity and inclusion. With an easy to use browser experience, FW Academy helps you find the right information and tools faster.

It’s a subscription-based model for organisations, with subscriptions funding rapid content refresh and consulting support to meet different knowledge and resource needs.

It’s called Future Women Academy to reflect our partnership with Future Women, the fast-growing multimedia platform raising the profile of gender equality and connecting women through a digital community, to bring this platform to life.

With an easy to use browser experience, FW Academy helps member organisations find the right information and tools faster.

Founding Director of Future Women, Helen McCabe, said the new consulting platform serves the core of Future Women’s mission which is to facilitate genuine change in the advancement of equality. 

“Our goal for the Future Women Academy is to reach the broadest number of companies. With our reach and the expertise of Diversity Partners we can make a genuine difference in the performance of businesses,” McCabe said in a launch article.

We describe Future Women Academy as an online centre of excellence on diversity and inclusion, powered by insights and curated news and research from our independent and experienced team.

It’s almost ten years since we started Diversity Partners, and the digital evolution with FW Academy extends our deep commitment and offerings to create more diverse and inclusive workplaces.

We founded Diversity Partners with little more than a rough vision of helping guide organisations on the strategic change required to achieve greater diversity. Since then, our work with more than 300 Australian and global organisations has taken us from mine sites and operational hubs to board rooms, in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, London and Singapore. 

Along the way we’ve learnt so much about effective ways to deliver long-lasting solutions to suit the needs of different clients. We know hardwiring diversity and inclusion in company cultures and structures takes significant work, and having smart resources, tools and advice at our fingertips is an important way to reduce the load.

Having smart resources, tools and advice at our fingertips is an important way to reduce the load for HR professionals and business leaders.

We hope FW Academy becomes a go-to resource for organisations who share our commitment to more inclusive workplaces.

Here’s some more details about Future Women Academy.

Q: What is Future Women Academy?

Future Women Academy is a new diversity consulting platform in Australia, offering a unique combination of expertise and firepower to organisations through the partnership between Future Women and consulting firm, Diversity Partners.

Organisations can access quality in-depth articles on diversity strategies, metrics, diversity councils, unconscious bias, inclusive communications and much more.  There's practical tip-sheets for leaders on inclusive leadership, recruiting objectively, working flexibly, engaging with diverse customers, setting targets, among other relevant topics, which organisations can download and share internally. 

FW Academy also features Insight Papers, podcasts, curated news and research from around the globe to support knowledge and capability building. On-call consulting advice is available from the team of experienced professionals at Diversity Partners.

The platform is designed so we can regularly seek inputs from member organisations on their information needs, and quickly curate content to meet those needs. 


Q: Who is FW Academy for?

FW Academy is for organisations committed to gender equality, diversity and inclusion. The content is for business leaders, change-makers, marketing and HR professionals, at small, medium and large size organisations. 

Whether your organisation is starting out, or well down the path towards an inclusive culture, FW Academy has resources and information shortcuts to accelerate progress. 


Q: Why should companies get involved?

It can be overwhelming and time-consuming to find real-impact resources - best practice checklists, how-to leader guides, and on-call advice - to fast-track your organisation’s diversity and inclusion progress. FW Academy helps you find the right information faster than ever before.

Q: Who are the founders and contributors?

FW Academy is a partnership of Nine’s Future Women and Diversity Partners.

Future Women is a start-up financially backed by Nine Network. Future Women was founded by Helen McCabe (Nine Digital Content Director) and is led by her and a small team including Jamila Rizvi who work solely for FW. Memberships go towards funding quality long-form journalism, events and community engagement. A portion of memberships also go towards the FW Foundation which supports the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation.

Diversity Partners was founded by Dr Katie Spearritt in 2009, and the consulting firm has since worked with more than 300 organisations to progress diversity and inclusion. 


How diversity of background influences team dynamics

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Diversity brings greater variety in thinking, more exchange of information and more challenging of the status quo.

When people ask whether having women in leadership roles improves governance and decision-making, the answer is yes - but perhaps not for the reasons many of us may think.

It’s tempting to infer it’s because women bring different and special qualities like strong interpersonal skills or higher levels of warmth. These messages often come from well-meaning advocates of more women in leadership. They’re common among advertisers too. For example, one global media company shares its ‘insights’ on the ‘emotional economy’ with this forecast: ‘Female traits such as emotional intelligence, empathy, vulnerability and intuition will be the future drivers of business.’ 

Only thing is they’re not female traits, they’re human traits. It’s a flawed cognitive shortcut that reinforces gender stereotypes. Men can bring empathy and vulnerability when they’re supported to challenge gender norms and biases.

Studies examining sex differences about people's ways of thinking and behaviour find no differences between men and women; rather it is socialisation that plays an enormous part in perpetuating gender stereotypes. It is these stereotypes about the idea of differences that actually means women are continuing to be held back, specifically in leadership roles.

“Context explains any sex differences that exist in the workplace” write Catherine H. Tinsley and Robin J Ely in their recent Harvard Business Review article (May-June 2018). “What most people get wrong about men and women: Research shows the sexes aren’t so different”. 

They write that: “Beliefs in sex differences have staying power partly because they uphold conventional gender norms, preserve the gender status quo, and require no upheaval of existing organisational practices or work arrangements. But they are also the path of least resistance for our brains.” 

So, how exactly does diversity of background and thinking make a difference to team dynamics – whether in the boardroom, in small businesses, or on the customer front-line?

Essentially, it comes down to how we process information and solve problems, according to organisational scientists and psychologists. “When we hear dissent from someone who is different from us,” writes Professor Katherine W Phillips from Columbia Business School in Scientific American,“it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us.” 

Phillips says "when members of a group notice that they are socially different from one another, they change their expectations. They anticipate differences of opinion and perspective. They assume they will need to work harder to come to a consensus. Diversity jolts us into cognitive action in ways that homogeneity simply does not.” Put simply, the benefits of diversity of background such as gender and culture come from the way team anticipate and deal with different view and alternative perspectives.

Gender, cultural and other visible forms of diversity are a key way of getting the cognitive jolt for better decision-making.

 When set up with the right foundations – including minimising unconscious biases that can distort reasoning - diversity brings greater variety in thinking, more exchange of information and more challenging of the status quo. That’s when new ideas emerge, and potentially unethical practices are more likely to be questioned.

Gender, cultural and other visible forms of diversity are a key way of getting the cognitive jolt or ‘informational diversity’ teams need to reduce the risks of an executive echo-chamber and improve decision-making

Getting diversity on the radar

If there’s one website most of us rely on daily, it’s the Bureau of Meteorology. The Bureau provides information, forecasts, services and research relating to weather, climate and water to Australians everywhere.

The Bureau has a proud history – it has been in operation for more than 100 years - and today employs around 1,600 staff to deliver these essential services.

Historically, the Bureau has been a male-dominated organisation. During the 1970s and 1980s, historian David Day observed the Bureau aspired to ‘strict impartiality’ between male and female applicants. But few women held leadership positions, and proposals for women to take on observer roles at weather stations were met with resistance.  

Fast forward to 2018 and a concerted effort to progress gender equality and diversity, led by the CEO and executive team, has seen some impressive steps forward.

This follows an extensive diagnostic process Diversity Partners led for the Bureau at the beginning of 2017. Through interviews, focus groups, and data analysis, we identified ways to accelerate progress towards gender equality. 

We talked to people at all levels across all states, and reviewed pipelines for hiring and succession to come up with key actions – some immediate, some longer-term.  We then worked closely with key stakeholders to develop the Bureau’s Gender Equality Plan, launched in October 2017, and Diversity & Inclusion Commitment. 

Since then, as part of an implementation phase, the Bureau has held workshops for leaders and provided resources for hiring managers to recruit fairly and objectively. It's now closer to that ‘strict impartiality’ in hiring and promotion processes, as awareness of. unconscious bias is much higher.

The results are encouraging. At the beginning of 2017, as we began the diagnostic process, the gender composition of the Bureau’s workforce was 30% females. It’s now 34%.

The percentage of women in senior leadership (SES and EL2U) increased from 28% (as at June 2017) to 31% (June 2018) and the percentage of women in STEM is up from 26% to 28%.

The Bureau’s Diversity & Inclusion Statement is a key component of the Gender Equality Action Plan and is now visibly displayed in head office and regional offices throughout the country.

‘The Bureau strives to be the model of an inclusive culture where diversity of thought and background is valued. This provides better outcomes for our people, customers and the Australian community.’

Screenshot 2018-08-29 10.14.45.png

The statement has four key commitments:

·       developing and promoting an equitable, respectful and inclusive workplace culture where our people are engaged, are valued for their uniqueness and feel they belong; 

·       bringing together people with different backgrounds and ways of thinking, which helps drive better decision-making, innovation and overall performance; 

·       ensuring we recruit from the broadest talent pool, reflective of our customers and the communities with which we work; and 

·       supporting the use of flexible work arrangements at all levels to enable our people to balance their personal and professional commitments. 

The Bureau of Meteorology's progress shows what can be achieved when a comprehensive and rigorous approach is taken, involving everyone from senior leaders and front-line employees. It shows the value of setting metrics and conducting regular reviews. 

And it highlights the importance of connecting diversity and inclusion efforts to the values, services and customers of one of Australia’s most important organisations.


Source: David Day, The Weather Watchers: 100 Years of the Bureau of Meteorology, 2007.

Diversity & Inclusion Matters - latest newsletter

Here's our latest newsletter (August 2018) featuring tips on ways organisations can refresh talent management policies and practices with a diversity and inclusion lens. We've put together ten ways leaders can show diversity of thought and background is valued and encouraged.

You'll also see a range of engagements we’ve been undertaking to progress diversity and inclusion in firms of all sizes.

div partners.jpg

Gender bias in everyday interactions

We often share examples - in our blogs and leader workshops -  of how unconscious bias and gender stereotypes impact recruitment choices and general business decisions. In this blog, we take a look at the impact on meeting interactions, through an example that will be familiar to many of us.

When there's only one woman in a meeting, it's not uncommon to hear a male leader say, 'I'd better not say something crass here because (insert woman's name) is in the room.' Sometimes a leader will apologise to the woman for swearing. 

We know leaders generally mean well when they make these comments. They've probably heard it themselves many times in their careers and consider it nothing more than light-hearted banter.

But the comments can have a negative impact, because the person singled out feels uncomfortable, not part of the in-group. And it reinforces the stereotype that men and women are different and should interact in certain ways. Those stereotypes actually perpetuate gender inequality in the workplace.

We were recently asked by a female leader how best to respond in these situations, and suggested she might try saying something like this after the meeting:

"I know you mean well, but it’s uncomfortable for me when you single me out with the comment ‘I don’t want to say something crass because (insert name's) here’. It reinforces stereotypes about how men and women should interact, and that's not helpful for gender equality at work. I’d prefer we use language that's respectful of each other, and that'll help all of us work better together."

Each time we sensitively make someone aware of unconscious bias and gender stereotyping, we’re taking a step forward for diversity.

This is along the lines of the golden rules of giving feedback effectively: ‘When you … I feel … I’d prefer … the impact is …’

Some people will think this is political correctness taken to extremes, but eliminating everyday sexism is a commitment by male business leaders of some of our biggest organisations in Australia.

"We have to get better at responding to behaviour that is unhelpful and excludes people," their recent report 'We Set the Tone' says. "And we need to own what we say and take full responsibility for the consequences of our words and conduct. The same goes for our silence and inaction."

There's many outstanding recommendations in the report from the Male Champions of Change. One really resonated when we shared it recently with the LinkedIn community: reframe a discussion when an employee or candidate is assessed as ‘too’ anything – ‘too bossy’, ‘too soft’. ‘too emotional’.

It's not easy, but each time we sensitively make someone aware of unconscious bias and gender stereotyping, we’re taking a step forward for diversity and gender equality in particular.

We'd love to hear other ideas or ways to frame these types of conversations. 

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Diversity matters to Australia’s media and marketing industry

Australia’s advertising, media and marketing industry is starting to take diversity and inclusion very seriously. 

That’s largely because brands are grappling with how to represent themselves in an increasingly fragmented and diverse market. 

At the same time, more and more companies recognise how important it is to attract and retain a diverse workforce and create inclusive work environments where people feel they can speak up, be creative, and do great work.

Diversity of thinking and diversity of background contributes to creativity, the DNA of media and marketing firms.

Dr Katie Spearritt at the Media + Marketing Summit, July 2018

Dr Katie Spearritt at the Media + Marketing Summit, July 2018

When it comes to diversity, we often hear about the media campaigns that go awry. There’s a long history of ads that objectify women or miss the mark on representing Australia’s cultural diversity. 

Yet there are some smart campaigns that challenge gender stereotypes and embrace inclusion.

SBS currently features a digital campaign, ‘The real you matters’, which explores how some Australians hide an essential part of who they are out of fear of being excluded or judged. Retailer Woolworths has a television campaign with Dad carrying the domestic load, making lunches and grocery shopping.

These are signs of progress in reflecting, and representing, diversity and inclusion.

Diversity of thinking and diversity of background contributes to creativity, the DNA of media and marketing firms.
— Dr Katie Spearritt


But advertisers and media specialists are human and prone to making decisions influenced by unconscious biases, as we all are. 

Psychologists and behavioural economists have shown one of the key barriers to diversity progress in organisations is unconscious bias. 

Even though we like to think we always apply logic and reason in our decision-making, implicit or unconscious attitudes or stereotypes (based on our life experiences and backgrounds) affect our understanding, actions, and decisions.

The reality is we all have these biases so ingrained we hardly notice them - that’s why they’re called unconscious or implicit.

Ironically, the marketing industry uses unconscious bias to great effect. 

For example, anchoring is a cognitive bias when we rely too heavily on an initial piece of information (the anchor). You might know this as the technique behind sales tags showing the higher recommended price next to the sale price. 

Marketers deploy affinity bias when showing all the other people in our network who like a certain product/experience. Indeed, the whole of social media is built around confirmation bias – how we search for, or recall, information that confirms our beliefs.

But here’s the rub. While the industry deploys these biases to help influence purchasing decisions, these same types of unconscious biases hold organisations back when trying to reach diverse consumers and progress diversity in our own firms.

Take affinity bias and confirmation bias, for example. Working with people from different backgrounds can be hard because we naturally gravitate to people who are like us, and we like to have our views confirmed. This can lead us to overlook candidates from diverse backgrounds, or discredit alternative views, or miss opportunities to reach diverse customers.

Unconscious gender biases, for example, are particularly entrenched and easily influence decisions if we’re not alert to them. We expect women to show warmth, and men to show assertiveness and competence. Our notions of leadership are associated with assertiveness and competence – in other words, masculine stereotypes. In workplaces, someone who behaves in a way that’s inconsistent with these stereotypes is less likely to be hired, according to experts Professor Binna Kandola and Jo Kandola.

What’s important – for internal organisation cultures and external marketing campaigns – is to get the tone and language right, avoid stereotypes, and represent the diversity of Australia’s community.

If you work in the media and marketing industry, here's two ideas to try now:

1.    Apply a diversity and inclusion lens to the way you pitch to consumers. Think about the language used and any stereotypes you might be inadvertently promoting.

2.    Apply a diversity and inclusion lens to your organisation’s processes (such as recruitment, succession planning) and challenge unconscious biases that inhibit diversity

Just as marketers and agencies have effectively deployed unconscious bias to influence buyer decisions, now’s the time to recognise and challenge unconscious biases and stereotypes that get in the way of diversity and inclusion progress.

The likely upshot is more creativity and greater customer reach and, in this industry, who wouldn’t want that?


(This is an edited version of the keynote speech by Dr Katie Spearritt to the AdNews Media and Marketing Summit in Melbourne, July 2018. Dr Katie Spearritt is CEO of Diversity Partners. Diversity Partners is collaborating with Future Women, a new digital media platform, to advance gender equality with individuals and organisations.)



What do inclusive leaders actually do?

We hear a lot about inclusive leadership these days, and understand that leaders want tangible ideas and examples to help bring the concept to life. 

So we've put together ten small ways leaders can signal diversity of thought and background is valued, respected, and encouraged. 

While these behaviours may seem small, they have a huge impact on team members. And they expand on simply offering praise for a job well done (though that's really important too).

They validate the contributions of others, create psychological safety, and avoid blindspots in our thinking. All of this helps people flourish, work better together, and generate new ideas and solutions for the business.

The list draws on examples shared by leaders in our Inclusive Leadership workshops as well as research on ways to harness inclusion in the workplace.

You might like to reflect on which actions you do well, and which ones you can fine-tune to help people feel less like a number and more like a valued contributor. As we listed these, a number resonated for me as ways I can strengthen my own leadership and team-building skills.

As you read them, you might also like to keep in mind the description from diversity advocate, Verna Myers,  'Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance'.

Inclusive leaders invite people in   Photo: Getty Images

Inclusive leaders invite people in 

Photo: Getty Images

  1. 'When we're making a big decision, I try to seek out lots of different perspectives to generate new ideas and plan for different scenarios.'
  2. 'I explicitly invite my direct reports to offer an alternative viewpoint to mine in meetings.'
  3. 'I let people know it's okay to take risks, learn, and share those mistakes.'
  4. 'I wait till everyone else has had their say before I share my view, to avoid the risk of thought cascades and groupthink.'
  5. 'I try to rein in my automatic defensiveness when someone challenges my preferred way - but it's not easy!'
  6. 'I try to stay alert to unconscious biases like affinity bias and priming so we don't inadvertently exclude people in the group.'
  7. 'I make an effort to acknowledge everyone in the office, and give someone my full attention when they're talking with me'.
  8. 'It sounds simple, but I ask for the correct pronunciation of an unfamiliar name and try to get it right.'
  9. 'I've been taking an interest in the nonwork lives of people, especially those not in my usual ‘in-group.'
  10. 'I've asked the team about their preferred ways to collaborate and stay up to date, rather than assuming a one-hour weekly meeting and Friday night drinks (which we've always done) is the best way.'


Through our leadership development programs (workshops and coaching), we explore these and many other tangible ways to improve inclusion and diversity progress in organisations, and the positive impact they have on individuals, teams, and business results.

We look at how unconscious biases inadvertently reinforce exclusion in the workplace and how reducing them helps create a sense of belonging and engagement. Our approach is underpinned by the notion the ‘privilege of oblivion’ leads to awareness deficits in how we lead.

For more information on our Inclusive Leadership programs, please call Dr Katie Spearritt or Anna Carter in our office on: 1800 571 999 or email:

‘Our Inclusive Leadership workshop approach is underpinned by the notion the ‘privilege of oblivion’ leads to awareness deficits in how we lead and interact with others. So we have to actively invite different perspectives and approaches.’
— Dr Katie Spearritt, CEO, Diversity Partners
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Backward climbing up the diversity and inclusion mountain in Australia

It’s not surprising those of us deeply involved in driving diversity progress sometimes feel disheartened about the pace of change in our workplaces.

But I’ve come to recognise this happens mostly when I focus my attention at the top of my (aspirational) mountain - a gender-balanced, culturally diverse, flexible and inclusive workplace achieved through systemic change efforts.

Instead, looking at what’s been achieved so far – ‘backward-climbing’ up the mountain, so to speak - leaves me more motivated and optimistic about making a difference. It’s a technique I’m learning to apply more generally when feeling overwhelmed and dispirited.

That’s why we’ve chosen in this blog to feature some of the positive developments in diversity and inclusion over the past decade - the same decade in which a formal apology to Australia’s indigenous peoples was made, Australia’s parliament legislated for marriage equality, and the iPhone transformed our economy and society.

Gender diversity has obviously become a mainstream business issue for public and private sector organisations, spurred on by ASX Corporate Governance Guidelines introduced in 2010 requiring listed entities to formally report their diversity initiatives to the public or state the reason why no disclosure has been made. 

Company boards are significantly more gender diverse. The percentage of women on boards of ASX 200 listed companies grew from 8.3 per cent in 2009 to 26.2 per cent in 2018. 

Currently 84 ASX 200 companies have reached the target set by Australian Institute of Company Directors of achieving 30 per cent female representation across ASX 200 boards by the end of 2018.

Gender diversity has become a mainstream business issue for public and private sector organisations.

The pipeline for executive and board positions is growing too. Between 2014 and 2017, the proportion of women in management ranks (in organisations reporting to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency) edged upwards from 35.9 per cent to 38.4 per cent.

The proportion of women in the labour force now stands at 47 per cent. This has been steadily increasing from 36 per cent in 1978.

'A meaningful shift towards female employment in the male dominated sectors' was noted by Westpac economists in June 2018. This is significant, because Australia has long had one of the more highly segregated labour forces compared to other OECD countries, and achieving gender representation throughout the workforce in all industries and occupations is key to addressing the gender pay gap.

Notwithstanding the major concern of gender pay inequity in Australia, data released the Workplace Gender Equality Agency in November 2017 showed a notable 10.8 percentage point rise from the previous year in the proportion of employers analysing their remuneration data for gender pay gaps. 

And of course the #MeToo movement has given added impetus worldwide to stamping out inappropriate workplace behaviours and unequal practices, and creating greater psychological safety in our workplaces.

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

The Australian workforce has also changed in its age make-up. For the first time in history, four, and in some cases five, generations are working side by side.

We’ve seen a broad increase in participation among Australians in their 50s and 60s, particularly over the past decade. This is encouraging because it shows we're overcoming stereotypes of older workers as less motivated or resistant to change, as well as providing opportunities for older people who need and/or choose to prolong their workforce participation. 

For the first time in history, four, and in some cases five, generations are working side by side.

Cultural diversity is a rapidly growing area of focus among corporates, with groups such as the Asian-Australian Lawyers Association and Leadership Council of Cultural Diversity (bringing together chief executives from business, government, media and higher education) providing visible advocacy. Since being launched in 2012, more than 200 organisations – from the business, sports, education, local government and community sectors – have signed on as supporters of the national anti-racism campaign, ‘Racism. It Stops with Me’. 

Underpinning many diversity efforts is a shift to make flexible work practices the norm. More and more of us use technology to work in an agile and innovative way. Several large firms offer ‘all roles flex’, shaking up long-held assumptions that jobs need to be full-time and based at an office or company site. Nearly 70 per cent of organisations reporting to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency have a policy or strategy for flexible working. 

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 30 per cent of Australian employees worked from home in 2016, a 10 per cent increase since 2001. Most encouragingly, we've seen a significant growth in men opting for flexible working programs. The ABS says the amount to dads choosing to take up flexible working hours increased to 30 per cent in 2017, which is almost double what it was in 1996. 

This is a major step in reducing gender inequality in the workplace because it supports a fairer split of caring and work responsibilities and reduces some of the subtle advantages men enjoy from employers anticipating they won't take time off or work flexibly.

Access to paid parental leave has also improved over the decade. Australia's first national Paid Parental Leave scheme was introduced on 1 January 2011, providing two payments – Parental Leave Pay and Dad and Partner Pay (including adopting parents and same-sex couples). In addition to the Federal Government's paid parental leave scheme, 46 per cent of organisations reporting to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency provide primary carer's leave and 39 per cent provide secondary carer's leave.

More than one million Australian workers are now able to take leave and enjoy other protections because of domestic violence clauses in their workplace agreement or award conditions (as of 2016).

The past decade has also seen significant developments for people with disability. In 2008 Australia ratified the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and today organisations such as the Australian Network on Disability provide outstanding resources and benchmarks so organisations can better meet the needs of customers and employees with disability.

We've also seen a marked growth in Pride Inclusion programs assisting Australian organisations with the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) employees. This year, 12 organisations were awarded Gold Employer status at the Australian LGBTI Inclusion Awards.

Particularly notable was the shift in the industry make-up of top award winners, previously dominated by companies in financial and professional services. Gold Employer winners included EY, AGL Energy, the Australian Taxation Office, Brisbane City Council, Clayton Utz, RMIT, and Woolworths. EY - one of the first large companies to voice support for marriage equality in 2017 - noted the value of awareness training and education programs when it was named the most inclusive employer at the 2018 Pride in Diversity Awards.

There are many other encouraging signs of change. Numerous organisations have embedded unconscious bias and inclusive leadership education in leadership curriculums. Many have undertaken substantial diagnostics to understand their diversity challenges and opportunities and refreshed talent management processes to reduce the potential for unconscious bias. Many have set targets that extend beyond demographic markers to broader measures of inclusion tracked through engagement surveys.

Numerous organisations have embedded unconscious bias and inclusive leadership education in their leadership curriculum and undertaken substantial diagnostics to understand their company's inclusion challenges and opportunities to bolster performance. 

Of course, there’s so much more to do to press for progress and each one of us can do our bit. As leaders, at the very least, we can practice ‘micro-affirmations’, the term coined by Professor Mary Rowe of Massachusetts Institute of Technology to describe ‘tiny acts of opening doors to opportunity, gestures of inclusion and caring, and graceful acts of listening’.

As leaders we can practice 'micro-affirmations' - ‘tiny acts of opening doors to opportunity, gestures of inclusion and caring, and graceful acts of listening’. 

This might be as simple as actively seeking out diverse views in your meetings or considering where and when team meetings and social events are held to avoid inadvertent exclusion. There's many other actions we can take to lead inclusively and support diversity.

But today’s about recognising the progress we’re all making as we climb the mountain, step by step, to create more inclusive workplaces that benefit everyone and lift performance. As PwC Chief Executive Officer Luke Sayers recently said, diversity is key to a successful workplace: 'The more diverse the thinking, the more diverse the experiences, the better the outcome.'


Choosing a credible partner to support your diversity and inclusion goals

Many companies now recognise that progressing their diversity and inclusion goals may require specialist support along the way. But how do you choose a credible external partner?

It helps if you can first articulate what you're trying to achieve, and why that's important to your organisation. For example, are you wanting to encourage diversity of thought to lift innovation? Is gender-balanced and culturally diverse leadership important to reflect your customers?

We recognise that identifying those objectives is not always straightforward either, and engaging a consultancy can help at this early stage.

We know you want to be confident about the quality, credibility, and experience of the consultancy you choose as your D & I partner, so we've put together some questions you might like to ask prospective consulting firms to get the best outcome from your investment.

Some are about experience in developing strategies and embedding inclusion; others are about approaches to leadership development.

Questions to ask potential partners - developing strategies and embedding inclusion

1. What skills and experience does your consultancy offer to support diversity, foster inclusion and reduce bias in organisational cultures?

2. What is your consultancy’s evidence-based knowledge of the business case for diversity and inclusion and global best-practice, particularly relating to creating strategic linkages with business strategy and objectives?

3. What practical experience do your consultants have in embedding strategic programs of work for diversity and inclusion across a range of organisation types and sizes? 

4. What’s your experience in identifying diversity challenges and organisational biases? What analytical methodologies do you use? 

5. How do you go about developing a customised strategy to progress diversity and inclusion?

6. What are the types of diversity and inclusion-related cultural challenges and opportunities you typically identify? Does this differ across industries and what have the impacts of your previously recommended client strategies been for their business?

7. What’s your experience in navigating organisational resistance to diversity and inclusion efforts?

8. What tools do you offer to build the capability of leaders in making diversity and inclusion part of the overall business culture and how do you know these work? 

Questions to ask potential partners - leadership development

Helping leaders to build awareness and skills to lead inclusively and challenging bias requires facilitators who are experienced in dealing sensitively with the range of issues usually raised in discussions about diversity and inclusion in companies. It's important that, along with a passion or interest in the topic, facilitators have skills to lead meaningful conversations and encourage participants  to reflect on their responses and behaviours in real time.

You might have someone in the company who's passionate about safety, but that doesn't automatically make them an effective facilitator to influence leadership mindsets and behaviours. It's the same for diversity and inclusion. 

Along with a passion or interest in the topic, it's important facilitators have skills to lead meaningful conversations and encourage participants to reflect on their responses and behaviours in real time.

Along with a passion or interest in the topic, it's important facilitators have skills to lead meaningful conversations and encourage participants to reflect on their responses and behaviours in real time.

Some questions you might like to ask potential partners are:

1. How do you apply adult learning concepts in the design and delivery of your workshops?

2. What learning outcomes do you aim for in your workshops and how do you know you’ve achieved this?

3. How do you facilitate open and meaningful conversations about diversity, particularly with participants who may be resistant to the concepts being discussed?

4. How do you handle questions that may be sensitive for some in the group? Can you give examples of when this has occurred and what your response has been?

5. How do you recommend organisations cement learnings beyond the workshop?

6. What tools do you use to coach leaders to build inclusive leadership capability?

If you'd like more information about the types of services provided by Diversity Partners, please contact us at or call our office on 1800 571 999.