A team approach to problem-solving different D&I challenges

Diversity Partners bring together accomplished D&I professionals and leadership experts as an external centre of excellence for organisations.

Diversity Partners bring together accomplished D&I professionals and leadership experts as an external centre of excellence for organisations.

Because organisations are at different stages of the D&I journey, it’s no surprise they have different needs when they contact us. Sometimes they’re looking for support to review recruitment policies with a D&I lens, sometimes they want guidance to build a strategy, and sometimes they’re looking to build inclusive leadership capability through education programs. And sometimes it’s all of these, and more.

Whatever the need, we’re able to meet the diverse needs of clients thanks to the breadth of capabilities and experiences of the team at Diversity Partners.

Across Australia, we bring together accomplished D&I professionals and leadership experts as an external ‘centre of excellence’ for companies and public sector departments wanting to achieve greater diversity in the workplace and more inclusive work environments.

Among the team you’ll find process and policy experts, with years of corporate experience in analysing talent policies and workforce data to support greater diversity and reduce bias. Some, for example, have developed large-scale flexibility pilots and programs, and know the in’s and out’s of parental leave policies and other key retention strategies.

Some have extensive experience guiding employee resource groups and inclusion and diversity councils. Some are accessibility specialists with a deep interest in job and facility re-design to support greater inclusion.

Each engagement we undertake is assessed and customised appropriately to meet the specific needs of the client.

Some of us have a deep passion for research and writing – for client in-house publications and global industry publications – to share our learning and further the conversation on diversity and inclusion in Australia and Asia.

Some of us have substantial corporate experience in D&I; others have more diverse backgrounds including law, marketing, and business strategy. Many of us are collaborating with universities and industry groups to help transform workplaces - so they’re more inclusive, more diverse, more innovative, and higher performing.

Our facilitators also have extensive experience in helping organisations develop inclusive leadership capability through recognising and challenging unconscious biases that impact decision-making in general, and diversity progress in particular.

Each engagement we undertake is assessed and customised appropriately to meet the specific needs of the client. You get the benefit of multiple perspectives and multiple skill sets. That way you know you’re in highly qualified and trusted hands every time.

We’re always interested to explore how we can help organisations progress diversity and inclusion, and invite you to contact us at info@diversitypartners.com.au to organise a chat.

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 info@diversitypartners.com.au.


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

Flexing your approach to flexible work arrangements

Three factors distinguish leading workplaces committed to supporting flexible work practices.

Many companies are working hard to normalise flexible working, as more and more Australians use technology to work in an agile and innovative way. Telstra, PwC, Origin Energy, and ANZ among others promote ‘all roles flex’ to shake long-held assumptions that jobs need to be full-time and based at an office or company site.


Numerous research studies show a markedly positive impact on productivity and employee engagement when companies offer flexible work arrangements. An IBM Survey of 675 CIOs and IT managers of large enterprises across multiple industries in Australia, China, India, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States found that on average, those taking action to create a more flexible workplace reported 20%+ improvements in productivity and cost saving.

Employees are more likely to recommend their company as a place to work when they work in companies where flexible work practices are widely used.

For companies that are developing or refreshing their approach to flexible work arrangements, we've found a few key principles make a big difference to acceptance and utilisation of flexibility among the hundreds of client firms we've supported on their diversity journey. 

Three principles can be readily applied across different industries and types of workplaces:

1. ‘Flexibility’ is defined broadly.

It extends to how, when, and where employees work. Arrangements include formal options such as job-sharing or part-time work, changes to start and finish times. Arrangements also include informal, ad-hoc flexibility - usually the most requested type of flexibility - to meet short term needs, and most of these are agreed verbally or via email between the employee and their manager.

2. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis taking into consideration the needs of the business, the team, and any potential impact to clients/customers.

Some roles, by the inherent nature of their tasks, lend themselves to less flexibility. That said, leading firms encourage managers to carefully consider all requests as part of a ‘can-do’ flexibility mind-set, and provide ‘reasonable business grounds’ for any requests declined. In a number of companies, managers who intend to decline requests have to seek approval from Human Resources – an ‘if not, why not’ measure that challenges traditional (albeit surprisingly resilient) assumptions that flexibility is ‘too complicated’ or will ‘set a precedent where everyone will want it’.

3. Decisions are ‘reason neutral’.

This important principle recognises employees have different needs at different times in their lives. Some need flexibility to juggle caring responsibilities, others may want flexibility to pursue a hobby or additional study, for example.

The ‘reason-neutral’ approach also tackles the prevailing bias that flexibility is okay for working mothers, but less so for fathers. While the percentage of fathers using flexible working hours to look after young children has nearly doubled to 30 per cent since 1996), men are twice as likely as women to have requests for flexible hours rejected. A Bain & Co/Chief Executive Women study of more than 1,000 employees across Australian workplaces last year found approximately 60% of men are working, have or want to work flexibly, but there’s still a lack of senior support.


There are many other principles adopted by leading firms outline in our ‘Guiding Principles for effective flexible work practices’. Please email us if you’d like a copy.

Diversity Partners has developed comprehensive toolkits that cover guiding principles, tip sheets, and a four-step framework guiding managers and employees through the process of applying for, and reviewing, flexible work arrangements. We draw on best practices, and customise the toolkits to your business.

We also facilitate 'Making Flexibility Work for Everyone' workshops to help organisations entrench flexible working successfully. We'd love to hear from you if you'd like to talk through your organisation's flexibility strategy, education or policies.