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.