Diversity: Not an HR Thing, a 'Be The Change' Thing

I’m not really sure why Diversity is typically labelled an HR domain. I continue to see HR leaders who don’t have the understanding of or interest in diversity but are handed the charge to drive initiatives and lead change. People & Culture comprises a whole host of things aligned to supporting business performance and so the support of D&I initiatives does, in principle, makes sense but leading it requires a solid foundation of understanding and a genuine desire to drive foundational change that will make a difference beyond the confines of the business itself.

Diversity and inclusion quite simply won’t be achieved where companies allocate individuals, HR or otherwise, to ‘champion’ it then sit back and hope everything will change. The outcomes in those scenarios are all too often ambiguous measures for box ticking purposes so that “strap-line” values can continue to purport a diverse and inclusive culture.

The first step towards actually achieving positive change is making the connection between diversity and business goals.

Here are 4 key data derived facts to support the business case for creating a diverse and inclusive workplace:

Improves Financial Performance

Research shows that companies with the highest representation of women in management and senior leadership have better financial performance than companies with the lowest representation of women; companies with the highest representation of women had 35% higher return on equity and 34% higher total return to shareholders.

Increases Innovation & Group Performance

Women tend to have higher levels of social sensitivity, proven to be a critical factor of groups who are most effective at problem solving. Achieving collective intelligence in a group surpasses groups where one person dominates and the more women in a group, the greater the presence of social sensitivity which engenders good group member cooperation and leads to greater problem solving abilities.

Women Outperform Men in Leadership Competencies

A study of 7000 leaders showed women to outperform men in measures of outstanding leadership competencies including “takes initiative,” “practices self development,” “displays high integrity and honesty,” and “drives for results”, as well as the more predictable “nurturing” competencies like relationship building and developing others.

Improves Employee Engagement

It’s no surprise that commitment to their manager is a critical factor in employees engagement. A global survey of over 50,000 employees put “shows a strong commitment to diversity” at the top of the list of managerial characteristics that most effectively engages employees.

Pioneering technology leader, John Sullivan writes authentically and passionately of his experience driving such foundational change at MYOB where he makes the unapologetic observation that leaders of “mon-cultured” teams who do nothing about it are fundamentally failing as leaders. He draws some insightful examples that highlight fails in diversity of thought in product development and he describes his own and others need for immense perseverance to keep going with this program, such is the effort required to tackle the issue.

Earlier this year I met with consultants from financial services advisory, Rice Warner. CEO Michael Rice has lead pioneering research into Age Pension dependency which affect women’s ability to accrue sufficient Superannuation for retirement. Consequently they created a “Valuing Females” policy that includes paying female employees an additional 2% super. Incidentally, it took over two years lobbying through the Human Rights Commission to prove it was not discriminatory to men. Rice continues lobbying for budget and legislation changes and beyond this, he has established an education programme for women in their 20’s on how to mitigate the super shortfall they are likely to experience.

These are just a couple of examples of male leaders who have a genuine intent to do the right thing, not only for their own organisations, but for gender D&I as a broader social and economic issue.

For me, one of the biggest challenges is getting male leaders to drive the D&I agendas in their organisations, modelling behaviour and creating an environment of awareness. I genuinely believe the desire is there for many CEOs to create truly diverse and inclusive businesses but they simply don’t have the support to enable their desire to develop into action. People & Culture leaders aren’t always equipped or motivated to give that support either, so progress is slowed.

When I came across Male Champions of Change I was buoyed by its impressive list of powerful male leaders from world leading companies. The agenda, a ‘movement’ if you will, to speed up the pace of change, addressing the “unacceptably low levels of women in leadership”. The strategy is about male leaders advocating for and acting to advance gender equality. Decent, powerful men working together to understand gender equality issues, step up beside women and work collectively to disrupt the status quo.

“Let’s not pretend that there aren’t already established norms that advantage men. Men invented the system. Men largely run the system. Men need to change the system.”

I was recently discussing exactly this with Sam Riley, CEO of successful Australian born software company ansarada. He typifies the leader I’ve described above who has made both the “head and heart” connection; understanding both the business opportunity and the challenges women face. Now he is looking at how he can prioritise the issue of gender equality at ansarada. The job is to engage leaders to take collective, far reaching action and that involves bringing to life for them how ingrained systemic, conscious and unconscious gender bias is. ansarada has an almost entirely male leadership team, mostly middle aged white guys who will of course, unconsciously, think like middle aged white guys.

The advice of Male Champions of Change for leader’s like Riley in engaging his leadership team to take action is “listening to the human stories shared by women and men (and not just through the advice of HR advisors), is critical to building the emotional engagement and necessary sense of urgency required for tackling gender equality.”

John Sullivan blogged about his own journey to becoming intentional about hiring for diversity while at Thoughtworks. He was faced with a male and female candidate for a grad tech’ role where the male was technically stronger. He was challenged by his leader at the time to consider the benefit of having more females in their overly male team, this outweighing the tech’ skill set of the male candidate. Sullivan hired the female and the result he says was that “she added more than any super gifted technical genius”.

In my last role I experienced a similar hiring dilemma but sadly I failed to counsel the leader at the time and the male candidate was hired based on a relatively minor technical strength. The result is an infrastructure team that is still all male and a leader who doesn’t recognise the supreme benefit of having females in his team over a technological skill.

I am continuing to champion the D&I agenda with clients I work with but I’d like to see more male leaders, at every level, getting involved, educating themselves and making it a priority to make a difference.

My advice to leaders is simple: Be The Change.