Insights by AUSPACK

Diversity AUSPACK 2019

Build strength through your hiring practice, says diversity promoter

Posted on September 27th, 2019 in Insights by AUSPACK

In an increasingly diverse society, it pays to have a diverse workforce. Research has shown time and time again that a diverse set of people helps drive better performance at work and, often, it doesn’t take much to create a more diverse company.

Dr Katie Spearritt, CEO of Diversity Partners, spoke about the many benefits of diversity at the 2019 AUSPACK Business and Industry Conference.

What do we mean by diversity?

To some, diversity something of a buzzword but as society becomes more switched on we’re starting to see that there’s a lot more to it.

For Katie, a diverse business is a positive business. It’s not just about ticking boxes or filling quotas, it’s about making a difference to how an organisation runs.

Katie said, “In Australia, many people think that diversity equals gender diversity, which is kind of code for ‘women’. So if I’m a man, why would that even be relevant to me? We’re going to explore that this is very relevant to every one of us.”

Other examples of diversity that Katie gave during her talk included cultural, age, indigenous background, disability and LGBTQI. But she was quick to point out that diversity is not just about demographics; it’s diversity of thinking that’s key.

Why is diversity important?

Although there are many benefits to diversity, perhaps the most important one is diversity of opinion. By hiring staff and having a management team with diverse backgrounds, you’ll get a wider range of ideas, solutions and ways to take your company forward.

Katie quoted the executive of a major global search firm who had recently said “The leaders of the future are those who are humble enough to explicitly encourage alternative perspectives, to challenge the status quo and to hear different views. They’re the leaders whose business will become the innovation incubators.”

Adding to that in her own words, she said, “Diversity is not a side-show to mainstream business issues. Diversity inclusion is actually an opportunity for better decision making, good innovation, potentially safer work practices and better commercial performance overall.”

Part of the reason diverse workplaces become safer and have better performance is because of an avoidance of groupthink. By having different ideas in the room, you get more challenges to ideas and people spend longer thinking up better solutions.

What is preventing diversity in most workplaces?

For Katie, it comes down to unconscious bias. It’s not necessarily that people are deliberately discriminating against certain sections of society, but that we often make hires based on something more than just merit.

She said, “We can think we’re being rational and objective and merit-based, more of our decision making is influenced by irrational implicit assumptions than rational, explicit thinking.”

“Here’s a lovely example. A University of Colorado study done by psychologists showed that if you are holding a hot drink, that can influence your perception of someone. People who held a cup of hot coffee were judged as being warmer people than those who held a cup of iced coffee.”

Some of the most common biases are affinity bias and confirmation bias. Put simply, these tend to make us hire people we like more than people who will do a good job or people who seem to fit in with our ideas of who will be a good hire rather than actually looking at their qualifications and experience.

Reflecting your community

The face of Australia is changing. Women have more rights than 50 years ago, there are more cultures represented in most cities and people are more inclined to be open and honest about who they are.

If your company doesn’t reflect this in its workers and management, it can give off a negative signal that you only cater for a certain, over-represented section of society.

Katie said, “Think about the diversity in your team and your organisation today. Does that reflect your customers? Does that reflect the community in which you operate? If not, why?”

If you’re saying that it’s because you can’t get women in or this and that in, think again. It can be an easy way out to say ‘They’re just not there’. What do you need to potentially change in your processes? For example, try blind hiring where you take out names, cultural background and age in CVs. See if that makes a difference. Research shows this makes a significant difference to people who come into your organisation.”

Three key takeaways:

  • Diversity can present itself in many ways and isn’t just about gender.
  • Diverse management teams tend to have a wider range of ideas and look at problems more deeply.
  • Diversity is often impeded by unconscious bias, which can make you hire people for the wrong reasons.

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