Diverse views on diversity

Last week's publication of the memo ‘Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber’ ignited widespread discussion about diversity of thought, political correctness, and the value of diversity in general.

We loved seeing the wide range of views being shared and debated. As Diversity and Inclusion consultants, we welcome any opportunity to have an open and honest conversation about diversity - that's the core premise of all of our programs and coaching work. 

We always ask that conversation be respectful, evidence-based, and reflective of company values such as integrity and inclusion.

That's important because we know many people hold strong personal views on the topic - after all, diversity and inclusion is a topic that affects all of us.

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

At the heart of last week’s debate is an important question: how do we communicate effectively with people whose views are fundamentally different from, and at odds, with our own?

Sharing personal views about diversity via an internal memo is one way to have your voice heard, but there are many other ways to do this within an organisation.

Facilitated team discussions or workshops, for example, can yield opportunities for discussion, debate, and learning about diversity and inclusion in a respectful way. This allows employees to build their knowledge and understanding by listening to each other, as well as from investigating a range of research studies.

Aside from ‘how’ the google memo author chose to share his views, there’s the ‘what’.

Many claims in the memo are highly controversial. For example, the manifesto repeats the faulty (though popular) claim that diversity somehow 'lowers the bar' of performance. (Substantial research suggests it's quite the opposite.)

Most concerning to us is the way the memo draws on, and reinforces, gender stereotypes. It’s important to remember that stereotypes are based on beliefs and not facts. This means, as Professor Binna Kandola explains in his book on The Invention of Difference: The story of gender bias at work, ‘they are often faulty, and lead to false assumptions, judgements and decision-making.’

All organisations put boundaries around what they consider acceptable, and Google’s CEO responded by saying ‘we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it. However, portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.’

...it’s more important than ever to explore diversity (of thinking and background) through respectful conversations.

It’s likely we’ll hear a lot more about the memo and subsequent events: already on Wikipedia you'll find a good summary of the diverse reactions to the memo from well-known ethicists, scientists, and psychologists, among others.

There's no doubt more and more global organisations recognise the benefits of greater demographic and cognitive diversity in the workplace. Decision-making is more robust and new ideas are generated when there's a considered approach to gaining multiple perspectives and utilising different thinking approaches. 

The strong pull of groupthink, affinity and confirmation bias can lead to echo-chambers, and it’s up to all of us in workplaces to be alert to those risks. This includes the risk of pro - D & I echo chambers.

That's why it's more important than ever to explore diversity (of thinking and background) through respectful conversations, drawing on education and research that recognises the unconscious biases we all have - and which can easily muddy our decisions and perspectives.


*This blog benefited from lots of discussion within our own team this week: I'd particularly like to acknowledge inputs from Duncan Smith and Leith Mitchell. 

If you're keen to learn more about translating diversity of thinking into practice, you'll find some tips in this interview by Peoplecorp's Tim Henry with Dr Katie Spearritt.

Innovation thrives with diversity

Innovation is underpinned by team diversity and inclusive workplace practices. That's the conclusion of a great deal of research across the fields of leadership, business psychology, and human resources in recent years.

The variety of perspectives and thinking approaches that diverse teams bring to decision-making helps to reduce biases such as groupthink - one of the biggest barriers to innovation.

The theory is being translated into practice in many Australian and New Zealand companies, as more and more leaders see the value of diversity of thinking and background for innovation.

For example, the CEO of an industry fund recently contacted us to explore how bias might be getting in the way of effective decision-making and innovation among his team. His team was gender balanced and culturally diverse, and he appreciated the different perspectives that brought.

But he wanted to go further, to identify their preferred approaches so they could consciously bring different perspectives to decision-making as they launched new products and expanded their market.

It reminds us of a recent quote from Apple's CEO, Tim Cook: 'Our best work comes from the diversity of ideas and people.  We believe in a modern definition of diversity — the big D — which supports creative friction and its contribution to making better products.'

For companies wanting to understand more about the links between innovation and diversity (both cognitive and demographic), we've found the following studies particularly useful. You can click on the links to see the full articles, or contact us for more information.


  • In a strategy execution exercise, researchers found teams with greater cognitive diversity perform faster. Diversity in knowledge processing (how people create knowledge in the face of problems) and perspective (how they deploy their own expertise versus orchestrating the ideas and expertise of others) were highly correlated with team success. (Alison Reynolds and David Lewis, 'Teams solve problems faster when they're more cognitively diverse', Harvard Business Review, 2017.


  • Employees who felt more included were more likely to report innovating on the job i.e. identifying opportunities for new products and processes and trying out new ideas and approaches to problems (Catalyst: ‘Inclusive Leadership the View from 6 Countries’, 2014).


  • A study in the United States of the performance of 1,500 companies over 15 years found that more women in top management improved the performance of firms that were heavily focused on innovation (Catalyst: ‘Why Diversity Matters’, 2013).


  • “The ideas and solutions that an intellectually diverse team generates will be richer and more valuable due to the wide variety of perspectives that inform them. Diversity of thought and perspective can protect your team from groupthink and can spark creative abrasion, a process in which potential solutions are generated, explored, and altered through debate and discourse” (Harvard Business Review: ‘Measure Your Team’s Intellectual Diversity’, 21 May 2015).


  • When measuring how diversity affects a firm’s ability to innovate, researchers reported significant benefits from both inherent diversity (such as gender, culture) and acquired diversity (traits gained from experience). They referred to companies whose leaders exhibit at least three inherent and three acquired diversity traits as having two-dimensional diversity. Their conclusion: companies with 2-D diversity out-innovate and out-perform others.

'Employees at two-dimensional companies are 45% likelier to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market.' (Sylvia Ann Hewlett et all, ‘How diversity can drive innovation’, Harvard Business Review, December 2013 - How Diversity Drives Innovation).


When seemingly small things mean so much: inclusive leadership actions

Many of us have probably experienced a thoughtless action at work such as not being introduced in a meeting, being left off an email distribution list, or others taking credit for our work.

By itself, this might seem inconsequential.

But when this happens consistently over time - like a leaky tap - it can leave those on the receiving end feeling isolated and excluded.

It was Professor Mary Rowe of Massachusetts Institute of Technology who coined the term ‘micro-inequities’ in the 1970s to describe small and often unintentional unfairnesses toward those who are perceived as different.

Micro-inequities are often the result of unconscious bias or not understanding cultural differences. They're subtle but erode confidence, explains Australian scientist Dr Jill Rathborne on micro-inequities in the male-dominated world of science for example. 

We all need to be aware, consciously, of these on a day-to-day basis if we’re to create inclusive workplaces of the future.

The good news is that there are many relatively simple things we can do to reduce unconscious bias and micro-inequities. Mary Rowe called these ‘micro-affirmations’: ‘tiny acts of opening doors to opportunity, gestures of inclusion and caring, and graceful acts of listening’.

It might seem obvious, but the impact of these inclusive actions on individuals and team cultures in our workplaces can be very significant. They help everyone feel a greater sense of belonging and reduce unconscious bias.

We all need to be aware, consciously, of micro-inequities on a day-to-day basis if we’re to create inclusive workplaces of the future.

Here's ten inclusive actions (drawing on research and discussions in our leadership workshops) that can make a positive difference to everyday interactions, meetings, and decision-making.

Inclusive interactions

1.    Acknowledge people when you pass them in the office, especially those not part of your ‘in-group’.

2.    Ask for permission before calling someone by a nickname (and think about who has a nickname and who doesn’t).

3.    Ask for the correct pronunciation of an unfamiliar name – make an effort to get it right.

4.    Be mindful that small talk at the start of a meeting may leave some feeling excluded - make an effort to invite everyone into the conversation.

Inclusive meetings

5.    Introduce all people in a meeting with equal level of acknowledgement.

6.    In your team meetings, appoint a devil’s advocate (and make sure to rotate this role) to reduce groupthink.

7.    Be especially attentive to virtual team members who dial into meetings.

8.    Consider when and where a meeting should be held and who is invited, to maximise diversity of thought and perspective.

Inclusive decision-making

9.    Next time you’re making a key decision, actively seek out multiple perspectives (especially those different to your own) to avoid confirmation and sunflower bias.

10.    Use different communication channels to receive input on a project or idea - some team members will be more comfortable providing a follow up email or direct phone call rather than speaking out in a team meeting.

These tips, and many others, are explored in our Inclusive Leadership: Challenging Unconscious Bias workshop for leaders and employees. We'd love to share more with you - please contact us for a chat.


Are you really recruiting the best person for the job? Challenging unconscious bias

We know leaders mean well when they share with us that they always hire the ‘best person for the job’.

And we know it can be unsettling when they learn that there are all sorts of hidden biases – unconscious biases – that can impact our decision-making about who is the best person for the job, among many other decisions we make everyday in business.

There’s now extensive research from the fields of business psychology and neuroscience to show we are all biased, even though we like to think that we always apply logic and reason in our decision-making. The reality is we all have these biases so ingrained we hardly notice them.

That’s why we find it useful in our consulting work to highlight a range of cognitive biases that impact decision-making and inhibit diversity progress. It’s powerful when the examples come from leaders in our workshops, particularly when they reflect on what perspectives may have been missed when making key decisions due to affinity bias, groupthink, and sunflower bias among others.

We also draw on research like the study by Yale University social psychologist, John Bargh, in which subjects primed with the concept of the 'elderly' while doing a simple task later walked more slowly when leaving the experiment than subjects in the control group who read words that were not related to the elderly.

Having bias isn’t bad – it’s natural. We naturally gravitate to people who are like us – it’s called affinity bias – particularly in social situations. We like to have our views confirmed rather than challenged (confirmation bias) and groups in the workplace have a tendency to align with the views of leaders, especially when the boss speaks up first (sunflower management).

Having bias isn’t bad - it’s natural.

But this becomes a problem in the workplace when subtle biases and stereotypes associated with different demographic groups lead us to overlook or unintentionally exclude some people and groups in the workplace.

We've compiled some practical tips for leaders to reduce the potential for unconscious bias when recruiting and ensure decision-making is genuinely fair and objective.

We've framed these tips as ‘when-then’ statements because psychologists have shown that having a specific and tangible intention plan is more likely to lead to behavioural change. Put simply, it's about creating 'instant habits' to help us reach our goals. In her 2014 HBR Spotlight article, social psychologist Heidi Grant says that if-then planning increases the likelihood of individuals reaching their goals by 300%.

By making ourselves aware of the possibility for bias, and by taking a simple action, we can reduce (and in some cases even eliminate) unconscious bias.

Our team has compiled a few tips:

When you’re preparing your job advertisement, then …

  • Proof read your role advertisements with a diversity lens to ensure the language is inclusive. It’s important that descriptions have a mix of words associated with male and female characteristics to attract a diverse talent pool. Words such as 'dominant' and 'competitive' have a masculine connotation'; words such as 'committed', 'interpersonal' have a feminine connotation.

When you’re briefing a recruiter or agency, then …

  • Share your expectation of receiving the broadest possible candidate pool. Ask recruiters to provide you with gender-balanced and culturally diverse shortlists for management roles. Explain that you would like them to focus on seeking a range of diverse skills and experience.

When you’re preparing to shortlist candidates, then …

  • Consider receiving the shortlisted CVs as 'blind CVs' with references to gender, age, disability and ethnicity removed. This will ensure you assess each candidate fairly against the requirements of the role and have a diverse mix of talent in your candidate pool.
  • Ask candidates if they have any special requirements for the interview (these may include access requirements to the interview premises, resource or support requirements).

When you’re setting up a selection panel, then …

  • Ensure you ask a diverse group of leaders to sit on the panel, including at least one male and female representative of equal decision making authority. Train those leaders to recognise unconscious biases and encourage them to provide feedback to each other.

When you’re interviewing, then …

  • Focus on the candidate’s skills, experience and knowledge.
  • Use competency-based questions that relate to the inherent role requirements and ensure everyone is assessed on the same questions.
  • Give every candidate the same amount of time so they have equal opportunity to demonstrate their strengths.
  • Appreciate benefits of diversity of thought in team make up.
  • Give adequate time to the process. Stress, time pressures, and cognitive overload can exacerbate our unconscious biases.

And a final crucial point …

  • When finalising the remuneration package, ensure there is no gender pay inequality.

If you'd like to know more about our programs to help reduce bias in decision-making, please call us on 0429 185 700 or email info@diversitypartners.com.au


Cognitive biases muddy our decision making. We rely too heavily on intuitive, automatic judgements, and even when we try to use reason, our logic is often lazy or flawed.
— Jack B. Soll, Katherine L. Milkman, and John W. Payne, 'Outsmart Your Own Biases', Harvard Business Review, May 2015

Diversity & Inclusion Moments - Simple techniques to help change stick

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

D & I moments are a simple but effective way of creating a structured space for safe conversations and questions about diversity, inclusion and flexibility.

There’s substantial research showing diversity and inclusion (D & I) progress is best achieved through a strategic, systemic change effort that incorporates a mix of targeted solutions.

More and more we are seeing D & I change efforts follow the path of safety programs that have, for years, used rigorous change methodologies and reporting to increase safety and wellbeing.

Pleasingly, across the private and public sectors in Australia and New Zealand where we work, many leading organisations have detailed strategies, governance mechanisms, targets, diversity dashboards and education programs to create diversity progress.

Key elements of these programs include:

  • Leadership and accountability – typically through a leadership council, leader KPIs, and employee working groups.
  • A strategic roadmap for 3 – 4 years and a clear business case linking the organisation’s performance objectives to diversity and inclusion efforts.
  • Agreed metrics, diversity dashboard and regular reporting rhythm to key stakeholders.

When we partner with clients to help build inclusion and diversity strategies and governance frameworks, we enjoy sharing some of the techniques drawn from change management and safety approaches that positively impact workplace cultures.

For example, we’ve seen first hand how a simple technique to create safety awareness works equally well to raise diversity awareness.

You may be familiar with the ‘safety moment’ - a short opportunity for sharing a safety-related topic at the beginning of every meeting or shift. At one global resources client we work with, diversity sub-committee meetings (via teleconference, with people from around the world) always start with a safety moment, then a D & I moment.

The D & I moments often cover personal stories such as stereotypes noticed or challenged, a new, flexible work arrangement, or a reflection on language that inadvertently excluded. Sometimes the safety and diversity stories overlap, adding to the impact and learning.

It’s a simple but effective way of creating a structured space for safe conversations and questions about diversity, inclusion and flexibility.

We'd be interested to hear your experiences - successes or challenges - in setting D & I strategies, and particularly practical tips to sustain implementation momentum, so we can all continue to build inclusive work cultures. 

Uncovering the real diversity challenges and impacts

When organisations first contact us, some have a clear idea of the challenges they’re trying to address, such as a lack of cultural diversity or gender balance at leadership levels, or concerning levels of inclusion reported through engagement surveys.

What are less clear are the reasons behind these challenges, and how best to drive progress.

That’s why we recommend a ‘discovery’ process that identifies the cultural and structural barriers getting in the way of diversity progress and overall firm performance.

Organisations can then push forward confidently with a bespoke diversity and inclusion strategy and action plans.

The research we undertake for many clients includes a detailed analysis of existing policies, current demographics, external benchmarking, together with employee views captured through interviews and focus groups. We draw on global benchmarks and local industry knowledge to recommend appropriate solutions.

Recent diagnostics have taken us from mine sites to boardrooms around Australia. We’ve interviewed CEO’s, senior managers, paramedics, IT specialists, engineers, meteorologists, digital media entrepreneurs, among others, to provide an assessment of diversity challenges and opportunities.

Uncovering new opportunities

It’s particularly interesting when diversity opportunities aren’t immediately obvious to our clients. Here’s a few examples where opportunities highlighted had an immediate impact on service delivery, product design and employee engagement.

  • A global financial services firm realised their marketing programs didn't adequately reflect the needs of their increasingly diverse consumer segments.
  • Another diagnostic highlighted an overwhelming need from employees for education about engaging with different cultural groups in the community so they could provide more targeted and culturally-sensitive services.
  • One organisation discovered that managers wanted much greater guidance and tools to effectively lead flexible teams.
  • In another firm, the diagnostic showed a significant difference between employee perceptions of biases and leadership views of how the firm was tracking on diversity. Employees were strongly concerned about perceived in-action by leadership.
A global financial services firm recognised their marketing programs didn't adequately reflect the needs of diverse consumer segments. Photo license: Getty Images.

A global financial services firm recognised their marketing programs didn't adequately reflect the needs of diverse consumer segments. Photo license: Getty Images.


If you’re wondering what initiatives will best progress your diversity and inclusion objectives, going back to the fundamentals of ‘what are we trying to achieve’ and ‘what problems are we trying to address’ is often the best step to achieve targeted and effective solutions.


What we're working on

The team at Diversity Partners has been working on several client engagements in the first quarter of 2017. Here's a sample:

  • Diversity diagnostics for emergency services organisations, resources firms, water utilities and government agencies;
  • ‘Inclusive Leadership: challenging unconscious bias’ programs for organisations in the transport, rail, mining, manufacturing, legal, and financial services sectors;
  • Flexibility programs and toolkits for financial services firms and Australian Government departments;
  • Facilitating D & I Councils for a media/advertising firm and rail operator;
  • Strategic partnership with a global mining company to advance the targeted objectives and metrics for a major division;
  • Cultural intelligence programs to build the cross-cultural communications and capability of employees in the transport sector.

Be bold for change: supporting gender equity

There's a lot to celebrate on International Women's Day, and it's uplifting to hear so many positive stories shared across social media today. We applaud the inspirational women and men supporting change in their workplaces and feel privileged to work with leaders genuinely committed to making a diversity difference day-in, day-out.

But we're also mindful of the progress yet to be made. Here's ten tips we often share to help organisations 'be bold for change' and achieve gender diversity progress.

We encourage you to share them in your organisation as a contribution to IWD.

  1. Communicate the value of gender equity to the organisation as part of a commitment to an inclusive work environment that supports diversity

  2. Feature profiles of men and women in non-traditional roles, and men and women utilising flexible work practices

  3. Include an explicit diversity commitment in job advertisements (and feature diverse teams in external profiles of the organisation)

  4. Request that shortlists for management roles include at least one woman (and extend the recruitment search process if not achieved in the first instance)

  5. Ask ‘if not/why not’ in selection decisions to achieve gender-balance across all leadership levels and monitor the pipeline for women leaders

  6. Train all leaders to recognise unconscious gender bias and to promote inclusive leadership behaviours

  7. Set targets to achieve gender equity

  8. Encourage participation of high-potential women in internal and industry-wide leadership programs 

  9. Provide reverse-mentoring and sponsorship programs for women

  10. Develop a diversity dashboard (showing agreed metrics) that's monitored by the CEO.

These tips (and many others) are part of our research contribution to a milestone report on inclusion and diversity in the urban water sector, launched today as part of IWD celebrations.

We always love hearing your feedback - join us on twitter (@DiversityLinks)and share how you're making a #diversitydifference in your organisation.

Crafting your 2017 Diversity & Inclusion Strategy

Setting your D & I Strategy

When the CEO of a rapidly expanding Australian organisation recently approached our firm to help improve the quality of decision-making among his team and direct reports, we recognised a turning point in how firms approach diversity.

The CEO recognised that, in addition to building a team with individuals from demographically diverse backgrounds, it was important for the organisation to be alert to groupthink and other biases that might derail their expansion and diversification plans.

Another senior leader shared that actively inviting alternative or dissenting views is an inclusive leadership behaviour she now prioritises (albeit a challenging one, given the strength of affinity and confirmation bias).

It's heartening to talk with leaders like this who genuinely recognise that a combined focus on diversity of thinking approaches and background (such as gender, culture, age) drive engagement, innovation and growth.

This broader focus on inclusive leadership capability and diversity is part of a strategic re-framing that’s gaining traction in progressive firms in Australia.

Where once a ‘good’ diversity program may have meant some targeted gender diversity initiatives, many organisations now have comprehensive diversity and inclusion (D & I) strategies led by the CEO.

Having a C-suite executive dedicated to leading the D & I program is the one common element that marks organisations where diversity is not seen as a barrier to progression, according to PwC's latest global diversity & inclusion survey (2016).

Organisations that are crafting D & I strategies in 2017 may also want to consider the following initiatives:

·      Embedding inclusive leadership capability in leadership development curriculums

·      Refreshing talent acquisition and management policies to reduce unconscious bias and help organisations access broader pools of talent (for example, the Victorian Government is trialling a blind CV process - removing demographic identifiers - to help reduce bias.)

·      Accessibility action plans to support hiring and promotion of people with disabilities

·      LGBTI workplace inclusion initiatives, including education and networks

·      Lifting visibility and accessibility of flexible work arrangements

·      Sponsorship programs for high-potential women

·      Reconciliation action plans

·      Requirements for suppliers to demonstrate their commitment to D & I

·      Education and tools to help 'de-bias' decision-making

·      Governance mechanisms to sustain momentum - the shape of these will differ depending on the stage of the journey your organisation is at.


While it’s common to think a step-by-step focus is best – that is, deciding to focus on achieving gender diversity first, followed by other typical dimensions – it’s rarely that linear and simple. Indeed, that approach can be counter-productive and miss some key opportunities to engage widely with this topic.

Like any major change program, making progress on diversity and inclusion takes time and comprehensive strategic intervention.

Having worked in D & I leadership roles in organisations for more than a decade, I'm familiar with the day-to-day challenges - accessing resources and budget, engaging senior leaders, competing priorities, sometimes just knowing how and where to start - that require a significant degree of patience, support and persistence on the part of D & I practitioners.

But if the outcome is an environment where people feel a stronger sense of belonging and can bring their whole selves to work, we think it's an investment worth making.

Diversity in the Actuaries profession

Photo courtesy of the Actuaries Institute

Photo courtesy of the Actuaries Institute

Dr Katie Spearritt spoke at the Annual Conference of the Actuaries Institute in Melbourne in November 2016 on why diversity is important to meet the industry's challenges and opportunities for the future. She emphasised the value of understanding the impact of unconscious bias on decision-making, particularly in professions that rely on seeming objectivity and statistical analysis.

Cultural diversity in the legal profession

Cultural diversity.jpg

Just over three per cent of partners in law firms and 1.6 per cent of barristers have Asian backgrounds, according to research by the Asian Australian Lawyers Association (AALA).

To address the challenge of a bamboo ceiling in the profession, Dr Katie Spearritt recently joined a panel discussion hosted by AALA and the Association of Corporate Counsel (Australia) that included the Hon Robin Scott MP, Victoria’s Minister for Multicultural Affairs.

Spearritt shared some of the types of unconscious biases in law firms that limit them from making the most of the benefits of diversity – of cultural background, gender, age, and other dimensions. She emphasised the importance of decisive and coordinated action to challenge some of the Western-centric models of leadership that prevail in law firms and Australian businesses generally.

The Law Institute Journal recently featured a number of articles about the importance of cultural diversity for the legal profession and tips for doing business with clients from different cultures. These tips and insights are relevant to all leaders.

Guiding principles for flexible arrangements

Photo by jackaldu/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by jackaldu/iStock / Getty Images

Applications for the 2016 Employer of Choice for Gender Equality citation are now open online and among new criteria for 2016 are requirements on embedding flexibility:

  • All managers are required to entrench flexible working for their employees
  • An organisation must support managers in how to manage flexible working arrangements by providing training for all managers.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency has produced an excellent guide to citation requirements: download guide here.

We’ve worked with several clients to provide education for managers through our ‘Making Flexibility Work’ program and have recently developed a Flexible Working Toolkit that can be customised to organisations. The kit contains nine guiding principles for flexible arrangements, and you can download them here.

Diverse Thinking = Better Decisions

Our team has compiled this list of questions to help leaders make fair and objective decisions – whether about day-to-day business transactions, client relationships or your team.

The questions are a starting point to encourage reflection on perspectives that may be missing when problem solving and making key decisions.  They also help to reduce the potential for unconscious bias in decision-making:

  • Who is most like me in my team?
  • Who is the person who will challenge me the most?
  • What is the mix of diversity such as age, gender, cultural diversity, in the team?
  • Is our team representative of our customers?
  • If the demographics are similar, is there a risk of groupthink?
  • Who is not represented?
  • Have I sought multiple perspectives before making key decisions?
  • Are meeting times and work arrangements inclusive of the team’s diverse needs?
  • Have I communicated that diversity of background and thinking contributes to team strength and better performance?
  • When recruiting for a new role, have I considered a diverse candidate pool?

These questions are part of our broader Inclusive Leader Self-Assessment resources and training programs. Please click here if you’d like more information.

Leading culturally diverse teams

Photo by bowie15/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by bowie15/iStock / Getty Images

There are many aspects to developing cultural intelligence or CQ. Awareness of cultural biases, stereotypes and assumptions is critical, and there are some excellent global tools and assessments to build a leader’s CQ. See for example: culturalq.com

One practical element for leaders in culturally diverse settings is awareness of cultural and religious days that are significant for different cultural groups and may impact scheduling and resource planning.

Some of these include:

  • Chinese New Year
  • Tet Festival
  • Passover
  • Easter
  • Ramadan
  • NAIDOC Week
  • Rosh Hashanah
  • Yom Kippur
  • Diwali
  • Christmas Day

For a 2016 calendar on countries’ national days, significant multicultural festivals in Australia, and events that are widely celebrated by Australia’s major ethnic and religious communities, refer to: https://www.dss.gov.au/our-responsibilities/settlement-and-multicultural-affairs/programs-policy/a-multicultural-australia/government-building-social-cohesion/calendar-of-cultural-and-religious-dates

Inclusive leadership makes a difference

How important is inclusive leadership to effective leadership and business performance? Is inclusive leadership development really worth the focus when leadership programs often have crowded agendas?

When business leaders ask us these questions, we ask them to think of the most inclusive leader they’ve worked with.

What’s typically recalled is how supportive the leader was, their openness to new ideas and different perspectives, their openness of themselves, and their consistent focus on results.

These leaders built an environment where people felt valued for their differences as well as a sense of belonging. Where diversity – of background and thinking – was not a threat, but an advantage.

In essence, these leaders made a very significant difference to engagement, innovation and team performance.

That’s the core essentials of inclusive leadership, which is increasingly recognised as a quality that distinguishes great managers from mediocre ones.

It’s why a significant part of our work at Diversity Partners is building capability to lead inclusively by challenging unconscious bias and encouraging diversity of thinking and background.

New McKinsey research provides even more compelling evidence of the value of supporting others and seeking different perspectives for leadership effectiveness.

Decoding Leadership: What Really Matters says the key to developing effective leaders is to prioritise four types of behaviour.

McKinsey’s global research found four kinds of behaviour explained 89 per cent of the variance between strong and weak organisations in terms of leadership effectiveness:

  • Solving problems effectively
  • Operating with a strong results orientation
  • Seeking different perspectives
  • Supporting others

McKinsey says these core leadership behaviours will be relevant to most companies today, particularly on the front line[1]. And they’re integrally linked with the qualities expected of inclusive leaders.

How inclusive leadership development enhances these behaviours

  • Solving problems effectively

Leaders learn about cognitive biases that can impact our problem solving processes – often without us being aware – and identify actions to mitigate them.

Leaders also have an opportunity to learn techniques to avoid groupthink and reduce the impact of priming in decision-making.

  • Operating with a strong results orientation

Leaders are reminded of the importance of taking personal responsibility for action and demonstrating confidence in team members by holding them responsible for performance within their control.

  • Seeking different perspectives

Leaders learn experientially about the value of diversity of thinking (acquired from our experiences and backgrounds), as well as the value that comes from ‘inherent’ diversity such as age, gender, cultural background.

Leaders are introduced to perspective taking tools and actions that help to avoid bias and genuinely promote different thinking styles.

  • Supporting others

Leaders learn about the challenge and opportunity in collaborating with team members from differing backgrounds.

By exploring majority-minority and inclusion-exclusion dynamics, leaders become more tuned to understanding how others feel in different situations.

If we’re serious about embedding diversity and inclusion principles into talent management systems, leadership development is a good place to start.

[1] Based on surveys with 189,000 leaders in 81 diverse organisations, McKinsey found that leaders in organizations with high-quality leadership teams typically displayed 4 of the 20 distinct leadership traits surveyed.

Client Snapshot


When you’re focused on driving broader cultural change to support diversity and inclusion progress, what’s often needed is a mix of solutions tailored to your workplace environment. It’s that diversity of client assignments that keeps our team energised. Assignments in any one-month range from briefing board members on diversity, detailed audits of talent management processes to reduce unconscious bias, strategy preparation, diversity council facilitation, providing advice on metrics, and leadership development and coaching programs.

We can run a single program, or we can work with you to embed diversity and inclusion principles right across your business.

Here’s a snapshot of our current clients and work:

With Bank of Queensland, we’ve completed a detailed diagnostic to identify diversity-related challenges and opportunities, supported the development of a three-year strategy and action plans, and trained the executive and top 100 leaders around Australia to promote diversity and reduce unconscious bias.

With Lander and Rogers, we’ve started with the law firm’s 2020 strategy to weave diversity and inclusion principles across the business. We’ve provided education on unconscious bias to all partners and Specials Counsel, having worked closely with the board to identify the importance of diversity and inclusion.

With REA Group, a digital media group specialising in property, we’ve provided our inclusive leadership ‘awareness’ program for hundreds of leaders, followed by our ‘building skills’ program using scenarios generated by the groups in each session to embed the learning.

With Fletcher Building Group, we’ve trained each of the key business unit leadership teams in Australia and New Zealand to recognise unconscious bias, supported the Group’s diversity strategy development, and recently provided webinars to their team of internal facilitators to extend learning to front-line managers across several regions.

With PwC NZ, we’ve travelled to a range of locations in New Zealand to provide conversation and learning opportunities for partners to promote diversity and inclusion in their consulting business.

Leo Foliaki, Transaction Services Partner and Assurance Leader for PwC New Zealand

“Diversity Partners has helped us make a meaningful step-change in how we understand and talk about diversity and inclusion within the firm.  The Unconscious Bias and Inclusive Leadership sessions facilitated by Duncan Smith have led to some powerful conversations and real insights for many of our people around their own leadership behaviour and its impact.  The sessions have also provided us with some practical tools to support us (individually and collectively) build a more inclusive culture.”

Diverse assignments to support diversity and inclusion progress

Here at Diversity Partners, our focus is systemic change in organisations. We work closely with clients to help create more diverse and inclusive work environments.

We understand the importance of finding the right solution at the right time to achieve diversity and inclusion progress, engaging key stakeholders along the way.

For some organisations, we run a single program on unconscious bias. For others, we embed diversity and inclusion principles right across the business.

Like me, a number of our consultants have worked within organisations for decades. That’s given us a deep appreciation of the complexities (and opportunities) of embedding diversity and inclusion across processes and everyday practices.

We’ve also had the opportunity to tailor insights and programs across a range of industries through engagements with more than 20 of the ASX Top 50 companies.

What really keeps us engaged is the diversity of our assignments. Some examples of recent work include:

  • briefing board members and chief executive officers on diversity opportunities
  • undertaking detailed audits of talent management processes to reduce unconscious bias and build more diverse talent pipelines
  • preparing 2020 diversity and inclusion strategies
  • facilitating diversity councils
  • providing advice on customised targets and metrics
  • facilitating development programs for hundreds of leaders to support diversity progress and reduce unconscious bias.

Some clients in Australia and New Zealand have linked their diversity efforts with strategies to build more ethical behaviour; others continue to focus on the benefits of diversity to encourage more innovation, enhance employee engagement and attract global talent.

What’s most encouraged us over the past year or so is the elevated positioning of diversity – it’s now a top strategic priority for so many of the organisations we work with.

Katie Spearritt, CEO

Challenging the ‘white guy equals bad guy’ stereotype

Can white men really be diversity advocates? It’s a question that’s attracted press coverage recently with the appointment of former Army Chief David Morrison as Australian of the Year.

‘Who would have guessed that Australia’s newest diversity champion is a paid-up member of the straight white dudes club?’ wrote Judith Ireland, national political reporter for Fairfax media.

For me, it was an inspired choice. There’s something special when a person from a ‘dominant majority’ – in this case ‘white men’ – understands the unspoken privileges of their group and what’s even more compelling is when they commit to help others challenge behaviours and subtle norms that exclude those who aren’t part of the majority group.

When these people hold powerful leadership roles – such as Australian of the Year, or Army Chief – they open doors, start conversations, and question outdated stereotypes and discriminatory practices with compelling urgency and impact.

The ripple effect of this type of behaviour cannot be underestimated.

The ‘can a white man really be a diversity advocate’ question pops up time and time again in our consulting work and during workshops we facilitate to build awareness of unconscious bias. I know, the irony …

Only last month, a lawyer running late to one of our workshops did a double-take when she saw my colleague, Duncan Smith, facilitating the session. Pausing at the door, she asked if this was the diversity session. At the break, she explained to Duncan she thought she was in the wrong place because ‘what’s a white guy doing running a diversity workshop?’

Although diversity experts have long advocated the value of engaging men in dialogue to overcome the ‘white guy equals bad guy’ stereotype, there’s a lingering view that diversity is essentially about women, people of different cultural backgrounds, and those from other minority groups.

Actually it’s even narrower in many private sector organisations: diversity is about gender diversity, which is (unspoken) code for women.

It’s easy to make that assumption when you look at who ‘manages’ diversity in organisations. Responsibility for diversity in private sector organisations typically lies with women, often in part-time human resources roles.

And that’s just one reason (among many) why it’s important to have advocates such as David Morrison, who has spoken publicly about ‘life-changing meetings’ with former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick and female soldiers.

There are now several strong programs that explicitly engage men, such as Australia’s ‘Male Champions of Change’ collaboration of CEOs, department heads and non-executive directors and global initiatives such as PwC’s ‘White Men and Diversity’ program.

Robert Moritz, PwC’s US Chairman and Senior Partner, has said that white men often default to saying nothing because they’re worried about saying the wrong thing.

In more recent times, some of Australia’s most senior male business leaders have had their own ‘a-ha’ moment and moved from simply having an intellectual understanding of gender diversity issues to having an authentic and driven engagement of the heart and mind to help advance women and men by:

• Educating themselves – they make the time and prioritise conversations with women in their organisation, particularly those who have experienced discrimination

• Participating in Unconscious Bias awareness training

• Committing to actively mentor high potential women

• Leading diversity councils

• Actively reflecting on their most recent appointments – the processes and systems they have in place to ‘catch’ and minimise unconscious biases

If we’re serious about progressing diversity in organisations, we need a range of voices and perspectives at all levels championing diversity. We also need a simultaneous and systemic focus on developing an inclusive work culture where all employees feel free to contribute and reach their potential.

These efforts focus on building understanding of power disparities between dominant and non-dominant groups, experiences of inclusion and exclusion, and identifying unconscious biases in decision-making and talent management processes as part of broader strategic efforts to embed diversity and inclusion.

We’ll know we’ve made serious inroads when all leaders have this understanding, and, like David Morrison, a genuine commitment to making a difference.

If you’re a leader committed to change, here’s a few ways to get started:

• Learn more about your own biases, preferences and beliefs by undertaking the free Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAT), one of the most effective global online tools for identifying unconscious biases: Click here to take the test.

• Engage your teams in a conversation about diversity and unconscious bias at your next leadership team meeting

• If you, yourself, believe you are part of a ‘dominant Anglo male majority’ group – reflect on the contribution or positive impact you could have in progressing diversity in your organisation and learn how others have done it:http://malechampionsofchange.com/

• Listen to Duncan Smith speak about ‘Diversity for white men’: Click here for video.

• Consider a development program to build your team’s awareness of unconscious bias and the link to better decision-making: Learn more here.

Increasing board diversity – why and how?

Photo by FangXiaNuo/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by FangXiaNuo/iStock / Getty Images

Diversity Partners’ CEO, Dr Katie Spearritt, regularly speaks about how boards can improve their performance by promoting greater diversity of perspectives, backgrounds and thinking styles.

This recent article in the Australian Financial Review says: “The diversity issue goes beyond the critical issue of getting more women to include a greater age spread and different skill sets.” The article includes this comment from Katie about how the board chair influences engagement and performance:

The role of the Board chair  is “absolutely critical”, says Spearritt. “You have to have a chair who is actively, consciously inclusive in their approach, and who knows how to leverage the diversity of perspective and backgrounds, who can facilitate discussion and ask for people to challenge their views, and who can ensure that the quietest voice in the room is heard. All of those little techniques make for a much more engaged board and a much more robust conversation at board level. And if you’ve got that, you’ve generally got better corporate governance, and that leads to better performance,” she says.

Katie has also spoken about this subject in other articles, including this one in EY’s global magazine.

Appointment expands opportunities to drive diversity progress

Diversity Partners is delighted to welcome Kathy Finckh to our consulting team.

Kathy is a highly-regarded diversity and inclusion expert with significant experience in developing and implementing innovative strategies that engage senior leaders and employees.

Based in Sydney, Kathy provides strategic support and facilitates leadership capability workshops to accelerate diversity progress for our clients.

Before her appointment as a Senior Associate with Diversity Partners, Kathy led the diversity strategy for the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) in her role as Executive Manager, Diversity & Inclusion.

Kathy’s work for the advancement of women won the CBA global recognition through the prestigious Catalyst Award and, in Australia, the Employer of Choice for Women citation awarded by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA). Under her strategic guidance, the representation of women in senior leadership in the CBA increased by nearly ten per cent, and more than 4,000 senior leaders were involved in strategies to sponsor and champion the bank’s diversity and inclusion goals.

Kathy also developed the bank’s diversity and inclusion communication plan, underpinned by the banner ‘You can be You’, that adopted multiple approaches to engage 50,000 employees.

Kathy has a strong knowledge of contemporary diversity and inclusion issues that include the advancement of women, LGBTI, age/generation, cultural inclusion, ability/disability and flexibility/workforce of the future.

A regular keynote speaker, Kathy has presented at forums for the Australian Human Resource Institute and Committee for the Economic Development, among many others. She held a variety of consulting and facilitation roles before joining the Commonwealth Bank.

Kathy’s appointment further expands Diversity Partners’ national delivery capability, enabling us to support more organisations with diversity initiatives. Since the beginning of this year, we have been engaged by more than 35 clients around Australia and overseas on a range of assignments, including:

  • Developing and implementing diversity and inclusion strategy
  • Facilitating Inclusive Leadership programs
  • Refreshing talent management processes to reduce unconscious bias
  • Providing D & I leadership coaching and mentoring.

Combining a passion for more inclusive, gender-balanced, and culturally diverse workforces with robust frameworks and commercial nous, Diversity Partners is one of Australia’s leading diversity specialist consultancies and we are delighted to increase our capacity with Kathy’s appointment.