It’s time to move beyond fear of backlash by applying a Diversity & Inclusion lens to make better decisions for everyone

Chief Executive Women/Male Champions of Change breakfast round table discussion, left to right: Kate Jenkins, Cindy Hook, Shayne Elliott, Gary Wingrove, Kathryn Fagg, Elizabeth Broderick AO, Jeanne Johns, Andy Vesey and Mike Henry. 

Chief Executive Women/Male Champions of Change breakfast round table discussion, left to right: Kate Jenkins, Cindy Hook, Shayne Elliott, Gary Wingrove, Kathryn Fagg, Elizabeth Broderick AO, Jeanne Johns, Andy Vesey and Mike Henry. 

Over the past week we have seen a number of examples where decision makers failed to apply a gender or D & I lens to their decision making, with a serious impact on reputation, leadership and income.

Yet in the same week, with the launch of a major report on gender backlash and buy-in, we have seen a call from 150+ of Australia’s senior leaders in business, government and education to all employers. This call was to continue to improve the representation of women in leadership, address resistance, and be prepared to engage with the range of responses to gender equality initiatives to enable Australian businesses to be more successful.

Why is this so hard? Throughout everyday life in organisations, leaders and teams apply a safety lens to their day-to-day decision-making. Diversity and inclusion is no different to safety. We just need to spend a nanosecond checking that our decision will be inclusive of all of our people or community, yet many of us don’t take the time to do this – despite overwhelming evidence of the benefits including reducing bias and improving the quality of our decision making. In todays complex world we just don’t do it. Why?

In the current post #MeToo era, the risk and reputation impact is increasingly dire for organisations – as well as impacting lost productivity, discretionary effort, profit, and pain and frustration for employees and leaders.

Last week we saw Australian ambassador to the US Jo Hockey accept responsibility for releasing a list of 15 all white male patrons of friendship between Australia and the US. The Australian embassy was forced to retract this list, as it did not reflect the diversity of the Australian and US communities.

We also saw PM & Cabinet when they applied a gender lens to their performance management process accidentally finding that women were outperforming men in performance ratings, yet more men were receiving promotions.

In addition, we saw that despite progress in the retail industry on diversity issues including size, gender and ethnicity, there has been a tokenistic approach to including people with disability on the catwalks. This tokenistic effort reflects in-store, as many customers with a disability feel they are treated as invisible or an embarrassment, rather than with respect and inclusion.

So why is it so hard for decision makers to apply a diversity lens to their decision making? Why are we not prioritising D & I for action when it’s been identified as one of the most under-utilised levers to improve business capability?  It’s a topic that fascinates me and my observation on talking to leaders in my workshops is that there is a real fear of taking action.

People tell me they don’t have time to do it, yet they do it for safety, and they talk about the fear of overcompensating resulting in diverse groups getting preferential treatment.

Yet in contrast we don’t think like this when we apply a safety lens to our day-to-day decision-making in organisations – because we have prioritised this issue for attention and educated our workforce. This included shifting mindsets and building skills and confidence to understand that despite potential inconvenience, we will all be better off if we can provide a safe workplace for everyone, and we have established consequences for those who do not comply.

The evidence is there - a diverse team managed well delivers great results – a diverse team managed badly results in pain and frustration, lost productivity, ill health and cost. Yet we tiptoe around the edges of educating our leaders and our teams about the D & I business case, and equipping them with the skills and behaviours to create inclusion.

With this in mind, it was great to see the release of the latest MCC report on addressing backlash last week, and I recommend watching this MCC members discussion about the fact that backlash is a normal part of every change process, and that we need to push through it in the D & I space as we do with every change initiative in the workplace.

I also loved the comment on diversity fatigue from Deloitte Australia CEO Cindy Hook in the MCC video discussion – that for the many women that have been waiting their whole career, they are fatigued by the lack of pace of change. This fatigue should not need to exist, as there is now no excuse to not drive real change in organisations as we know we can solve D & I problems if we take a serious business approach to the challenge!

I recommend we all take the MCC advice, and also learn from Sydney start-up CEO Melanie Perkins, who is building a successful IT business through engaging every employee and including them. In this way, everyone feels valued and can fully contribute, as all staff are on watch together to call out harassment as well as the day-to-day micro inequities that undermine diversity and inclusion.                                                                                         

So what can we do to enable all of our people apply a D & I lens to their day-to-day decision-making?

·      Educate all of your people to be D & I aware and confident;

·      Make diversity visible and set expectations by including the D & I business case as a part of your core business aims;

·      Hold people accountable and expect them to apply a D & I lens to people and customer decision making as part of how they do business.

I would love to know your thoughts on this article, and also please contact me if you would like a copy of my free D & I maturity model that provides a map on how to put these ideas into action.

Image via AFR, Rick Stevens. 

Fiona KrautilComment