August 2019

Fostering diversity in your organisation

  • By Dr Ali Burston, Director, Metisphere Business Consulting

Being different means thinking differently

The spotlight is on diversity. In this article, I want to provide some practical tips for organisations to start thinking about diversity and becoming more diverse.

I’ll do this through exploring answers to three questions that many organisations are now asking themselves: 

1. what are the benefits of being a diverse organisation? 

2. are we a diverse organisation? 

3. how can we increase our diversity?

Defining diversity

Diversity is two-fold. Identity diversity can include race, ethnicity, heritage, gender, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status. A socio-politically charged topic, identity diversity is to a large extent trackable and visible within an organisation. 

Cognitive diversity refers to our education, experience, background and our thinking styles. Both identity and cognitive diversity are important for organisations.

What are the benefits of being a diverse organisation?

Talent acquisition and retention 

Organisational diversity is an increasingly important consideration for employees. In the resources sector, where skilled and high-performing workers are sought after, organisations must do everything they can to be attractive to prospective (and current) workers. Too many times I’ve heard the tale of a talented employee leaving an organisation to go to an employer that made them feel included and valued because of their differences, and not just a tolerated outlier. 

From a recruitment lens, wanting to be diverse increases the number of potential candidates and thus increases your talent pool. This improves the chances of getting the best people.

As an organisation, if you want the best emerging talent, you must have diversity. 

Creativity and innovation 

Cognitive diversity breeds creativity and innovative thinking, and identity diversity breeds cognitive diversity. A range of voices brings a range of experiences, perspectives and insights. Furthermore, when people feel included, innovation has been shown to go up by 83 per cent (VicHealth, 2013). It’s time organisations started to leverage diversity to drive innovation and creativity. 

Organisational responsibility and community engagement 

There is building socio-political pressure on organisations to improve their identity diversity. Beyond the bottom-line benefits that are significant, there is a human element to encouraging diversity within your organisation. 

In recent times, the resources sector has been subject to intense media scrutiny. Ensure your organisation is in the Sunday paper for the right reasons: for example, for improving stakeholder engagement or building a reputation for engaging with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. 

While the business benefits are substantial, the desire to be diverse and inclusive needs to be genuine. Sincerely welcoming people into an organisation and allowing them to thrive is the real hallmark of a diverse and inclusive environment. 

Are we a diverse organisation?

Unfortunately – according to the statistics – probably not. A recent and comprehensive Hays Report (Hays, 2019) breaks down diversity rates in Australia and New Zealand. While I recommend everyone takes the time to read through the whole report, I want to highlight some of the statistics related to leadership and diversity. 

A diverse leadership team is important, because it shows that an organisation doesn’t just hire ‘low level’ employees to boost up their organisation’s diversity percentage, while never actually giving them the opportunity to advance (see previous point on being genuine). In the Hays report, it’s alarming to see that only 23 per cent of women have the top job in a business, while rates are even more alarming for the report categories of Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic people (BAME; 1%), people living with a disability (1%), people who identify as LGBTIQ+ (1%), and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people (0.79%; Hays, 2019). If your organisation mirrors these statistics for senior positions, then it’s likely that more can be done to increase your organisational diversity.

How can we increase our diversity?

Visible leadership 

You’ve likely (hopefully) heard the sayings ‘if you can see her, you can be her’ or ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. Having visibly diverse leadership shows people throughout the organisation that people who haven’t typically had equal opportunity are being given it. Additionally, boards with more women are linked to improved corporate governance (Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA, 2017). Visibly diverse leadership goes a long way to setting the tone and changing the culture within an organisation. 

Culture 

I couldn’t write a whole article on diversity and not mention culture. While many organisations are adopting ways to increase their diversity, the sustainability and longevity of such changes is dependent on cultural attitudes held within the organisation. Improving the culture of an organisation reduces turnover, increases job satisfaction, and in turn improves performance. Shared value in identity diversity both personally and at an organisational level can strengthen the impact on culture, thus encouraging acceptance and uptake of a diverse workforce. Establishing a ‘Diversity and Inclusion Committee’ is a way to build and maintain a mutual commitment to diversifying the workplace. 

Removing barriers to diversity 

Discouraging diversity is not always malicious. The reality is, we often like people who are similar to ourselves. Therefore, as the mining industry in Australasia has historically been dominated by Caucasian males, senior people within organisations in charge of hiring are more likely to hire more Caucasian males. This isn’t about people overtly trying to stop diversity within your organisation, but does explain how an inbuilt mental bias can influence our behaviour and decisions. ‘Blind hiring’ is a method to help eliminate this unconscious bias. By picking the best handful of applications without information such as age, gender, ethnicity, or other identifiers, we are free to make decisions based on merit. Other policies around quotas or diversity targets can also sometimes encourage recruiters to think about an even spread of hiring across nationalities and gender. 

Conclusion

Diversity in the workplace is not an easy feat. We need the commitment of the most senior people within an organisation to see the value in diversity. Buy-in at the top is essential for every large-scale change and, make no mistake, improving diversity is a large-scale change. With motivation and deliberate action, we can see more equitable statistics in the future. 

References

Chamber of Minerals and Energy Western Australia, 2017. Diversity in the Western Australia resources sector [online]. Available from http://www.cmewa.com

Hays, 2019. Diversifying diversity: Hays ANZ diversity and inclusion report 2018/19 [online]. Available from: hays.com.au/diversity-inclusion.

VicHealth, 2013. How cultural diversity can be good for business: Information sheet. Retrieved from https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au


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