I was disappointed to read on the front cover of Harvard Business Review that most diversity programs don’t work. Really? I beg to differ – I have seen the difference programs make at KPMG and for me personally.
The benefits of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace are well researched and documented. Increased innovation, richer solutions to problems, better recruitment and retention of talent are often cited in thriving businesses. Across Australia and in my own organisation, a range of D&I programs are in place. In the past five years, I have seen a tangible difference in their success.However it is leaders taking personable and actionable steps to champion real change that brings diversity to life on a daily basis.
Learning to speak two languages was my first diversity experience. I grew up in the seventies in a small town in the French province of Quebec. A river separated us from Ottawa, the nation’s capital. My exposure to diversity was largely limited to cultural differences between the French and English.
Looking at my public high-school yearbook, we largely looked the same; European heritage from early settlers over decades of immigration. Interestingly, both Australia and Canada now have richly diverse ethnic communities and cultures across its cities. I am resolute that both countries are better and stronger from this diversity.
Earlier in my career I joined KPMG’s first D&I board. The focus was on gender diversity – rightly needed. But my personal appreciation and growth in actively promoting D&I was impacted more by my daily interactions with the people I worked with and my experience of servicing client needs.
Fast-forward forty years and my exposure and appreciation of D&I has evolved significantly. Through various office and country transfers, I experienced real shifts in attitude in the workplace. My work team now resembles a league of United Nations. It’s a more open and inclusive environment, and people are more appreciative of the benefits of diversity.
From my experience there is much you can do to promote and encourage diversity in the workplace.
Widen the net of people you mentor and sponsor.
A vital learning is to make a deliberate choice to increase the range of people you interact with on a daily basis. With more gender balance, diverse age groups and a multicultural workforce, this is more possible than ever. I find the more time I spend with people with different perspectives, the more enriching and challenging the dialogue becomes.Dive
Challenge when necessary.
Have your antenna on high alert for unconscious biases. A vivid moment was when, during a client workshop, a team member clearly articulated his hypothesis formed with a negative gender bias towards a female client. My Unconcious Bias Awareness Training kicked in and I challenged the assertion immediately. It was a callout that got noticed. Being alert and in the moment is fundamental for this to occur.
Don’t be shy to openly engage with your teams on what diversity means to them.
Over the last 10 years, I’ve had conversations on diversity that would never have happened before. A safer and more open environment has helped with this. Sometimes I am clumsy in my dialogue around LGBTI. Learning from these initial awkward conversations has been good for me. Now I am more sensitive to the impact of what I say and how I say it.
Expose yourself to different situations.
Take the plunge and expose yourself to diverse cultural situations and conversations. Global travel helps but so has attending seminars on diversity and inclusive leadership. Hearing and listening to global thought leaders on diversity has challenged my thinking and made me reflect on different ways to take action.
Widen the net for succession planning.
Increasing female representation in corporate leadership through targets is widespread now – and it needs to continue. For leadership teams to be more diverse, we need to actively consider candidates from different backgrounds and gender. For all leadership roles, we must step back and look at succession planning for both women and men. Equal opportunity means that every employee has, in fact, an equal chance of success.
Look closely at any formal feedback sources.
Pull out your 360 feedback for insights on how you could build and grow diverse teams. Seriously commit yourself to change. As part of my people management responsibilities, I often find that best leaders are outstanding at honing the richness of working with diverse teams.
Diversity has come a long way since I was a senior at high-school and my experience since has helped me be more open and hopefully a more authentic and better person. Can I be doing more? Absolutely. I can advocate more; share success stories; commit to specific goals, and keep up with the diversity agenda and its evolution.
Professional leaders, let’s get more behind the importance of diversity in the workplace. Programs play a valuable role but it’s the actions and changes in our personal leadership behaviour that make the real and lasting difference.