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.