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Perception and reality in diversity: It’s time to take real action

By Inga Latham, Chief Product Officer at SiteMinder

  Posted in Opinions

Whether you work in a corporate environment or a startup, the chances are that the majority of those around you are second- or third-generation Australians who, by definition, already constitute quite a diverse workforce. By ethnicity, skill and socioeconomic status – and, if you’re lucky, by gender – many workforces in our country are, organically, incredibly diverse. At least, below the senior management layer, that is true.

So, stop for a moment and recognise that you have probably already ticked many of the ‘diversity’ boxes you wanted to, without even trying.

As an Anglo woman with a seat at the executive table of a global tech company, my being a face for diversity is either an expected cliché or a contradiction in terms. That’s because, while diversity in technology has emerged as a hot topic of conversation, its success is often measured by numbers, which isn’t a genuine measure.

As leaders, we also need to look at the other, more important half of the equation and that is to quote Aubrey Blanche of Atlassian: belonging.

Let’s track our traditional diversity numbers, but also recognise it’s about more than gender and have a look at behaviour.

We need to think beyond attracting diversity and focus on keeping it, because without retention and satisfaction, without a culture transformed from the inside-out, we rob ourselves of the creative thinking, innovative ideation and stronger bottom-line results that true diversity can deliver.

Following tech’s lead

No matter the industry you’re in, as a society our ways of working have fundamentally changed – due, in large part, to the technology industry which has led the charge.

Specifically, the technology industry has given rise to agile ways of working and design – or, human-centred – thinking. It’s thinking that absolutely embraces diversity by numbers, but also, more importantly, encourages diversity of thought and avoids convergence without exploring the options through initial divergence. It recognises a top-down approach can create gaps and welcomes, instead, methodologies that create environments where everyone has a voice and is empowered to contribute.

How well do you know your own people – their beliefs, values, ceremonies, rituals and preferences? When was the last time you asked? And, do your work practices and accepted behaviours allow your people to be open about these?

It’s crucial your people have the power to make decisions, as allowing them to take ownership of problems ultimately results in individuals being more invested in a better, more diverse outcome. When was the last time you chose to have your teams come up with the solution, rather than delegate a solution to them?

Agile ways of working require the full participation of the whole team, giving a great platform for inclusion and belonging, because, when it comes to diversity, what is key is different ways of working, thinking and acting. Too often companies fall into the trap of thinking that if they look diverse, then they must be. The reality, however, is that if ways of working and  behaviour have stayed the same, if your people blindly follow a prevailing mindset and an established way of working, and have no voice to provide the contribution that inherently makes them unique, then you cannot really claim to be a diverse workforce.

Holding ourselves accountable

Without doubt, a great company culture requires building and fostering at all levels. It also requires discipline and management, which too often is pushed from the top down when a bottom-up approach is proven to be far more effective in embedding a sense of belonging.

I’ve been fortunate to have worked around the world, and been inspired by companies that have successfully managed to create such cultures. I have also seen some pretty old school leadership and behaviours in action, and today I remain a firm believer that what you walk by is what you accept.

For anyone hoping to stop walking by, here are five ways you can take action:

  1. Review your definition of diversity. If it’s still limited to gender issues, redefine it. Demographics such as gender and ethnicity are a good starting point, but are proxies for genuine diversity which requires culture change.
  2. Set a target to be measured against and accountable for. Words lack meaning without goals that are transparent and actioned.
  3. Make it clear what is and what isn’t acceptable behaviour. The acceptance of wrong behaviours can hold back progress, especially progression in true diversity.
  4. Have a few diversity plays going, including a change in your hiring profile. A unique skill set will only take you so far; it’s diversity of thought that brings a true richness to your workplace. For behavioural change to permeate throughout your organisation, you need to employ multiple plays. Diversity is never binary.
  5. Establish an MVP and allocate budget to support your people through the transition. Funds can go towards documentation, coaching, additional roles or simply iterations.

Hand-in-hand, diversity and belonging offer us all broader perspectives and better outcomes that are truer reflections of the population.

Implementation will take time and some ideas will fail, but having your people involved and bought in to the process will ultimately achieve a greater result, for you and for them.


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