Business case

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vendor conduct this research through a diversity diagnostic not only helps to uncover organisational biases and outdated practices that inhibit progress, but also gives the organisation a path forward to overcome them, based on best practice evidence.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

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.)

 

 

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).

Innovation