We've achieved culture change before - we can do it again with diversity and inclusion

Safety is now built into the systems and cultural DNA of how Australian organisations do business - we can do the same with diversity and inclusion.

Safety is now built into the systems and cultural DNA of how Australian organisations do business - we can do the same with diversity and inclusion.

Over the past week, I was reminded of the positive energy and goodwill that is released in spades in organisations that embrace diversity and inclusion as how they do business. I loved the quote from AFL star Jason Ball celebrating last week’s AFL Pride Game that captures the essence of what we are seeking to achieve in diverse and inclusive organisations:

Six years ago I could never have imagined I would be standing before you today with rainbow flags at AFL house, backed by VicHealth and AFL Victoria with players in rainbow jumpers from Gippsland, Geelong, Hamilton, Shepparton, Sandringham, from men’s footy to women’s footy, from community football all the way to AFL.

The unleashing of energy, creativity, and discretionary effort is the prize being sought by CEOs and business leaders who are prioritising diversity and inclusion as a way to promote healthy and adaptive work cultures. These are in the best interest of employees, customers, and the community, and provide a powerful competitive differentiator to attract and retain talent, customers, and increase business performance.

I am feeling optimistic that we are close to the tipping point of accelerating diversity and inclusion culture change as we are starting to see media and public condemnation of business CEOs who make casually sexist comments and attempt to dismiss these as a joke. I was very excited reading the headline from the Financial Review this week that ‘Sexist jokes from CEOs no longer pass the pub test,' in response to the sexist comments made by newly appointed International Air Transport Association (IATA) Chairman Al Baker at the annual meeting held in Sydney. His statement, that only a man could do his challenging job of running an airline, was met by a gasp from the audience followed by an immediate effort by Australian Male Champion of Change and Qantas CEO Alan Joyce to cut off his biased comments. 

 To achieve the tipping point to diversity and inclusion we must maintain the momentum and continue to build awareness by educating beyond the converted.

Looking at the IT industry last week, on the one hand we saw hopeful comments from HP’s CEO Nick Lazaridis, stating that the salesroom “cowboy cultures “ of the IT industry have gone. However, he blamed the historic lack of women completing STEMM degrees for the lack of women in the STEMM pipeline, which I see as a rather naïve view when we know the biggest issue in STEMM is the leaky bucket of ambitious and talented young women who go into the IT industry but are unable to thrive due to toxic work cultures

What’s more, the voting down of Alphabet shareholders, including their top executives, to defeat a campaign to tie pay to diversity goals is of concern. Despite a motherhood statement from Google’s Head of HR Operations that the company remains committed to their internal goal to reach “market supply” by 2020, without KPIs that link diversity and inclusion performance to the business strategy there is little hope of sustainable change.

There is no excuse for inaction - Leaders can learn from Australia’s safety journey

The ability for workplaces and people’s mindsets to change is clear through Australia’s safety journey. Thinking back to the 1980s, it was accepted that workers would die from workplace accidents – particularly in traditional male workplaces. However, since then, leader and employees safety mindsets, systems, culture and processes have shifted dramatically. Every worker can now reasonably expect to return safely home each night after work.

Through the strengthening of legislation, leader role-modelling, prioritisation of resourcing, awareness and education, workplace culture shifts, and policy, system and process redesign, change was able to occur. This was supported by robust strategies and action plans anchoring to the business strategy that engaged and mobilised every staff member, alongside keeping scorecards that held people accountable. Through this combined effort, things changed for the better for everyone.

These days, walking past a construction site, driving down the highway, or standing on the railway station, you rarely see a construction or transport worker who is not wearing a high visibility safety vest. Every employee is expected to take responsibility to work together to create and maintain a safe workplace culture.

Creating a workplace that embraces and leverages diversity and inclusion requires the same approach. Like building a safety culture, everyone must get on board. Like safety, the cost of not addressing the systemic and cultural issues that diverse employees face is high - both to business capability and productivity. Like safety, the personal cost of unconscious bias, exclusion, and psychological injury through harassment, bullying and discrimination is unacceptable in 2018.

If Australian businesses all took a similar approach to embedding diversity and inclusion into the DNA of their organisational culture as they did to safety, we could dramatically accelerate progress in 30 years; rather than the 170-year pace of change to achieve world gender equality calculated last year by the World Economic Forum. 

The evidence is clear – changing culture:

  • Must be leader led,
  • Needs a community of people to champion and role-model the new behaviours,
  • Needs network builders and culture influencers, who can be at all levels of the organisation,
  • Takes time and requires deliberate action.

The goal is for culture change to 'go viral.' 

When progress accelerates due to achieving the 'tipping point' through power of the few, the stickiness factor, and the power of people understanding, the business imperative for the change to be successful grows. It's time to embrace this in all Australian workplaces so we can move forward for the better. 

If you are ready to embrace this exciting cultural transformation journey and need expert assistance, contact me today!

Image via Osha.gov

Fiona KrautilComment