“A diverse organisation will out think and outperform a homogeneous organisation every single time.” A. Lafely, Chairman and CEO – Procter and Gamble
There has been much recent media attention given to the issue of diversity, especially as it relates to the presence (or absence) of women at senior levels in Australian organisations. While the gender focus is important, it is only one aspect when ensuring an organisation is truly reflective of the society in which it operates.
Beyond the issue of fairness, why should organisations actively promote diversity at an executive level? Research over a number of years has demonstrated that the more diverse an organisation’s leadership group, the greater the likelihood of innovation and increased problem solving capacity. By having multiple perspectives not limited by age, gender, race, religion, social or sexual orientation, rich thinking and better decision making is promoted. Furthermore, many governments and other institutions require suppliers to demonstrate commitment to diversity practices. And finally, a commitment to diversity is also vital in both attracting and retaining talent.
With its benefits widely accepted, why then is the topic of diversity failing to gain traction with many Australian organisations, resulting in limited meaningful action and change?
Based on our experience consulting to the senior leadership teams of Australian and international organisations, we suggest the following:
- For an organisation to move to a place where it can consider itself to be truly diverse, it must first recognise the requirement for significant cultural change. If diversity is seen only as a ‘problem to be fixed’ it is unlikely that there will be a positive impact on business performance.
- Diversity is not just an inwardly oriented issue – it is vital that organisations understand their diverse external markets and stakeholders. Is a lack of diversity internally limiting comprehensive external engagement? Once an organisation accepts this, diversity naturally becomes a core part of the business strategy.
- Diversity strategy is not the responsibility of HR to either develop or implement. Like most change and business improvement programs it should be driven by the board and C-suite. Key to this is ensuring a shared understanding of why diversity is important. There are a number of contemporary studies supporting the positive business and commercial impacts.
- Many organisations appear to spend much of their efforts seeking to address diversity at a senior management level. However, leading organisations are also focused on the junior/entry/graduate recruitment process. Are middle and lower level managers and supervisors merely hiring clones of themselves? How much is diversity being championed at this level? How is the organisation communicating the importance of diversity?
- For diversity to remain front of mind it must be given the attention necessary over time. This can only be achieved by measurement and linking to individual and group performance objectives. It is no different to measuring the impact of any other business strategy.
An organisation’s desire to embrace and proactively drive the concept of diversity as a key business strategy is already starting to position some organisations ahead of others. How does your organisation shape up?