Don’t Just Talk The Talk: How To Actively Foster Diversity & Inclusion From The Top Down

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There’s no arguing that a diverse and inclusive team ultimately leads to better business outcomes.

Diversity has been one of the big talking points not just in adland, but all industries of late, and there have been some encouraging signs of progress. However, new research has revealed business leaders across the trans-Tasman still have a long way to go.

According to the 2018-19 Hays Diversity & Inclusion Report, 77 per cent of respondents identified the most senior person in their organisation as male. Unsurprisingly, the number of senior leaders from traditionally underrepresented groups was even lower.

Just three per cent are of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) descent, one per cent have a disability or identify as LGBTIQ+, and less than once per cent are Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander or Māori.

This is significant, considering half of all survey respondents said their organisation’s leaders have a bias towards people who look, think or act like them.

One alarming finding was that only 46 per cent of survey respondents overall trust their organisations’ leaders (senior manager level and above) to deliver change on the diversity and inclusion agenda.

This trust deficit was even lower amongst traditionally underrepresented groups, with just 45 per cent of women (compared to 47 per cent of men) and mature-age people, 44 per cent of those who identify as LGBTIQ+, 43 per cent of BAME respondents, and 34 per cent of people living with a disability stating they trust their leaders to deliver this change.

Another key finding was that just 45 per cent of survey respondents consider their leaders to champion diversity and inclusion in particular through challenging traditional viewpoints and established ways of working.

This figure was similar for both groups, with one exception: it fell to 24 per cent of people living with a disability.

And despite a wealth of research noting business benefits of a diverse workforce and inclusive workplace, only half of those surveyed said their organisation’s leaders understand the link between diversity and inclusion, and the successful attraction of talented new employees.

Another 50 per cent said leaders understand the relationship to customer insight; 49 per cent to creativity, innovation and profitability; and 48 per cent to employee engagement and staff retention.

Walking the walk

To address these issues, Hays recommended business leaders need to lead from the front as conscious and self-aware champions of change.

“They should learn to recognise their own unconscious biases, so they are able to mitigate any unintentional consequences these may have on the demographics and culture of the organisation they lead,” the report said.

“Only then can they be seen as authentic champions of change in diversity and inclusion.”

The report also urged business leaders to focus on understanding employee sentiment towards their leadership style across all demographic groups, which can be done through regular face-to-face ‘town hall’ meetings and anonymous employee feedback ‘pulse surveys’.

In addition to supporting their self-awareness, Hays said regular ‘health checks’ of employee opinions may help leaders investigate the reasons behind both positive and negative sentiment, and take active and transparent steps to increase trust, confidence and a sense of belonging amongst their workforce.

The report said inclusive leaders should aim to clearly, regularly and effectively communicate that diversity and inclusion is on their agenda.

“Communicating diversity and inclusion policies, promoting any initiatives being undertaken, and sharing the social, personal and commercial successes which result from these will help increase employee confidence that leaders understand the importance of diversity and inclusion to individuals and the business as a whole,” it said.

While business leaders don’t need to be from an underrepresented group to champion diversity and inclusion values and behaviours, a lack of diverse role models makes it more difficult to picture the possibilities of success.

Hays’ report encouraged leaders to identify people who can and are willing to act as diverse role models within their organisation.

It also noted that certain policies can help ensure progression opportunities are inclusive to all employees.

For example, diverse role models could mentor or establish networking programs for underrepresented groups to provide them with access to leadership development opportunities.

If diversity sceptics exist within an organisation, Hays recommended leaders collect all the data they can and use it to demonstrate the link to business performance.

Diversity data is mostly sought during or following the recruitment of new employees, but the report argued that it should also be collected throughout the employee lifecycle.

“Not only will this help inform an organisation’s diversity and inclusion commitments and progress, but it will identify any areas that can be addressed through leadership training, such as a lack of diversity in a particular team, unfair people practices or career development decisions,” the report said.

Diversifying diversity

Hays’ managing director for Australia and New Zealand, Nick Deligiannis, said the human case for building fairer and more inclusive workplaces is certain.

“Regardless of background, everyone deserves to work in a safe, supportive and respectful environment,” he told B&T.

“There is also a vital business case for diversity and inclusion which at its heart drives increased access to and active participation in the world of work from all parts of society across Australia and New Zealand.”

Deligiannis noted that while a diverse workforce is one inclusive of a wide variety of demographics, so often the focus is on gender.

“This is not surprising when women represent 50 per cent of the population and there certainly remains significant work to be done to secure greater gender balance in the workplace,” he said.

“However, while acknowledging that gender diversity remains a vital issue, we must also be front-footed in our need to ensure that we look beyond gender and place greater focus than we are at present on wider aspects of diversity, and thus consciously diversify diversity.”

For more tips on how to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace, click here.

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