Diversity & Inclusion in the workplace

Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace: Ask the expert.

The transcript of our recent discussion with D&I expert Dr. Bree Gorman.

Simon McSorley

Simon

So we spoke a couple of weeks ago, talking about sort of diversity in the workplace, equity in the workplace, what it all means, and sort of agreed that this is a good idea to have a bit of a chat and share. 

You run your own consulting business, Bree Gorman Consulting, helping businesses to understand and roll out programs around diversity and equity in the workplace. Is that right? Is that a fair way of describing it?

Diversity & Inclusion go hand in hand.

Bree Gorman

Bree

Yeah, that’s a good way to describe it. I generally talk to people about how I can help organizations increase the diversity of their workforce, but also at the same time, look at how we create inclusion because we can’t have one without the other.

So that’s really what we focus on.

Simon McSorley

Simon

So for anyone who’s been living under a rock for the last few years, diversity in the workforce, equity in the workplace, what’s it all about?

Bree Gorman

Bree

It’s a great question. To me, it’s always about two things. It’s increasing the access to opportunities, career opportunities for people from all of society, rather than just a narrow cohort of people that perhaps have had that open access to opportunities over history.

But it’s also about improving businesses and improving organizations. And then the beauty about diversity and inclusion work is that it does both those things. It’s the right thing to do in that we should be providing these opportunities and we should be breaking down privilege in our workplaces and in our systems and policies, but it’s also the smart thing to do because it really does improve a business’s capacity to innovate, to be productive, to retain staff, and to access staff. So to me, it’s just the sweet spot.

Cognitive Diversity is everything.

Simon McSorley

Simon

And when we sort of use that language, it sort of becomes blindingly obvious, and I think particularly in the technology space where we operate, where markets move so quickly, where consumer needs change so rapidly, where product adoption and mass markets suddenly say, “Yes, I want this thing”, those consumer markets are diverse as well. So having a workforce that’s diverse (in order) to serve that customer base kind of makes sense.

But then as technology changes and morphs and grows, and the demands on these products and these technology businesses change, they throw up new problems that sometimes these businesses have never had to solve before. And to me, diverse thinking, diverse cognitive ability, coming from a diverse workforce, sometimes it’s the best way to solve the problems. Is that sort of the thing that you sort of see with some of your customers as well?

Diversity and Inclusion impacts behaviours and thinking.

Bree Gorman

Bree

Yeah, absolutely. There’s plenty of research now to show the benefits of diverse perspectives and diverse thinking, particularly on innovation & product development. But the really interesting thing about that to me is that I think some people look at that and think it’s because men and women think differently, or a person with a disability thinks totally differently from a person who doesn’t, but that’s not what brings us the benefits at all. It’s part of it in that from our diverse perspectives and experiences in the world, we bring different things to a problem.

But the true thing that gives us the increase in innovation is actually the fact that we behave differently when we’re amongst people who aren’t like us.

So if you’re amongst a group of a team and you’re working on a problem, and everybody has the same educational background, you’ve got the same perspective on the world, you’ve kind of had similar backgrounds, you can’t tackle that problem in the same way that a group of totally diverse individuals can tackle it, because you don’t have the thinking processes that are different. You don’t have different perspectives and knowledge.

And we’ve seen this in studies, there was an excellent study done where they took… I think they had 10 teams, and initially, they started them all as completely gender-segregated. So they just had teams of women and teams of men, and they set them the task. And sure, the teams got there, they worked their way through the task and they delivered on the task.

But then they brought one woman into the male teams and brought one man into the women teams. And they saw an uplift, not only in the outcome, yes, they still completed the task, but they completed the task in a much more innovative way. 

But interestingly, when they actually mixed the team, so there was a complete gender balance on each team, the uplift was 30& or 40%.

Simon McSorley

Simon

That’s really interesting.

Bree Gorman

Bree

And that was not because the women brought something different to the conversation necessarily, but it was because when we’re in a group of people who aren’t like us, they found that we ask more questions, we consider more facts. So more facts are brought to the table and we consider more facts. We’re more likely to mitigate risk. So more examples of risks will be identified in those conversations, and that’s how we end up getting an improved outcome.

Simon McSorley

Simon

Yeah. Amazing.

Bree Gorman

Bree

And the fact that we behave differently, whereas if everyone’s like us, we jump into groupthink, we get the decision made a lot quicker and it’s easier, absolutely.

So that’s something we’ve always got to kind of battle against when it comes to diversity and inclusion. It’s easier to work with people who are like you, but you don’t necessarily get the better outcome.

Simon McSorley

Simon

Yeah. And it’s interesting, isn’t it? I think what you see in those scenarios as well, and I experienced it at home, a different person’s perspective on something can also then change your thinking.

Bree Gorman

Bree

Exactly.

“Actually, I hadn’t thought of that. That’s a good point. Oh, what if…” And then these what-if scenarios then start leading to different thinking about the same problem.

Simon McSorley

Simon

Yeah. And so I think where a lot of businesses are at the moment is unfortunately, a few still sort of still see it as this sort of almost this HR sort of box-ticking exercise, you know what I mean? They still sort of see it as this thing we have to do.

And I’m guessing that’s one of the challenges that you see with businesses that you talk to, is sort of moving this mindset from this thing we have to do, because it’s PC, to, “Oh wow. Actually, there’s some real benefit here.”

And perhaps “Well, if we go down this path, there’s actually a whole bunch of business benefit, not just this thing that we have to do.”

Bree Gorman

Bree

Yeah, absolutely. And it’s interesting, I don’t see as much of that now in my business because the people who reach out to me, the organizations that reach out to me, at least the leadership are 100% behind the idea that they need this for their business, and that’s why they’re paying an external (to come and help them)

But certainly, the organizations that… I still definitely get phone calls from organizations who don’t have the money to spend on our business but want to do exactly that. “How can we just get over the line here? We’ve got some complaints or we just want to improve. We want to match our competition because our competitors are doing X, Y, Z, and we’re not getting access to talent.”

And unfortunately, talent can see that. When it’s box-ticking, it’s very transparent. And so, it really doesn’t deliver any of the benefits that they’re hoping for.

Three Lenses for D&I.

Lens 1 - The internal lens.

Simon: 

That’s it. So when we talk to clients about this issue, we sort of look at it through three lenses. (Internally, externally and the hiring process) So first internally; is this something that’s driven from leadership? So in other words, does the whole business believe this is how we should behave as a business? Is there coaching and mentoring being rolled out to teams who’ve never had to manage diverse groups before? 

So for leaders who’ve never had to manage diverse groups before. We’re now in an age where we’ve got remote working as well. So if you’ve now got remote and diverse teams, for some people… that’s really challenging…” I’ve never had to do this before.”

Bree: 

Absolutely.

Simon: 

So is there congruence between what you say you’re doing as a business and how you’re actually doing it? “Does the sausage match the sizzle?” I think someone said this to me the other day. I’m not sure if that’s right, but I think it is 😆

Lens 2 - The external lens.

And then, this external view of, how are you displaying and conveying (your business) to the diverse markets that you want to attract talent from? That you’re an employer worth considering, that they’ll have a voice, that they’ll have equity of thought and impact, and all these sorts of things.

Which channels, which mediums are you using? Are you doing videos like this, where you’re talking to some of your diverse staff about some of the stuff they’ve been working on? In the tech sector, and I’m sure plenty of other sectors as well, people want to be doing work that’s meaningful to them. 

And so by having some of your staff talking about the meaningful work they’re doing, what it’s really like, you tend to display a culture that’s worth considering.

Lens 3 - The hiring process.

Simon: 

And then the third lens in the way that we engage and attract that talent, what are the messages? What is the language we’re using? Do we know how to go out and find where diverse talent might be online communities for examples? For example, are there some of those communities out there online that we should be putting our company brand and jobs in front of and saying, “Hey, does this interest you?”

So we sort of look at it through those three lenses, but the second two will only work if the first one works.

The challenges of leadership engagement.

Bree: 

Yeah. I think you’re right. There was an interesting article that came out last week around essentially the apathy of leaders towards diversity and inclusion, and this paper was particularly around gender equity. But what I found was there is this huge push that we need to have the leaders and we do. 

We need to have leaders engaged to really do meaningful work in the diversity and inclusion space, but actually getting that engagement from them is quite difficult because predominantly, the leaders of an organization, regardless of what sector they’re in, have had multiple layers of privilege that have allowed them to get where they’ve gotten to. And they haven’t necessarily seen or experienced the exclusion that others are in their workplaces, or in other workplaces that they’ve been in.

And so they don’t have as much buy-in because they don’t really understand the drive or the need for it. And it was an interesting paper because it reminded us, it’s exactly what you’re talking about with that second point, is that you actually have to get those managers on the ground, and also the people on the ground to really understand why we’re doing this, and what it looks like?

And so, I run inclusive leadership training specifically for that, to get people to actually put a different lens on so that they can see the experiences that others will have in the workplace.

Because only if they have that empathy with others and that understanding of the barriers that do exist, that they personally haven’t experienced, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there.

Once they get that understanding, then we create an organization that’s going to be much more inclusive because they’re proactively seeking to include.

The real definition of Inclusion is...

Simon: 

Yeah. Amazing.

Bree: 

Instead of that current mentality or the common mentality that we have where it’s just like, “Everybody’s fine here. We treat everybody the same.”

Simon: 

Yeah. And I think that’s probably the sentence that resonated the most off of the first call that you and I had, where you said inclusion isn’t about treating everybody the same. It’s about going out of your way to ensure that everybody feels included.

There’s a big difference there, isn’t there?

Bree: 

A huge difference. I do a lot of research and consultation with orgs, so part of the way we work with organizations is to hear the voice of the people, and what you hear commonly from people who are, and it’s not just white males, it’s also white women as well. You hear this concept that “If we just treated everyone equally, if we just treated everyone the same, then we’d be fine. We hire the best people for the job,” et cetera, et cetera. And it’s not intentionally ill-willed.

Simon: 

No.

Bree:

Their intentions are good, but they just don’t understand that difference in that if we treated everybody the same, which is what we kind of do, we don’t see change because there are barriers that exist that they’re not seeing.

Simon:

Yeah. Interesting. And from an inclusion perspective, do you think that mindset shift is probably the biggest light bulb moment that some businesses and leaders have, where you convey this idea to them and they sort of go, “Ah, now I get it?”

Bree:

Yeah. I think it’s that conversation between when you really explain the difference between equity and equality, and that absolutely creates that light bulb. So for those who haven’t ever really unpacked the difference between those two things, equality is when we treat everybody the same and we give everybody equal opportunities.

Simon: 

Yeah.

The unseen challenges of equity.

Bree: 

And the problem with doing that is that not everybody comes from the same starting point. So equity is when we do provide additional support to acknowledge because we acknowledge that there are barriers in place and we want to help people get over those barriers.

And so talking to leaders, but also people at the grassroots of the organization about that difference and why we might need to provide extra support for people who do have caring responsibilities. Parental leave is equity, it’s an equity initiative that we pay somebody to go and have children because they had the womb and had to go and have children.

So we try and get people to understand why we would introduce things like equity, and why we would think about affirmative action to prioritize whether it’s people of different races or sexualities, people with disabilities into the workforce, because otherwise they just won’t make it there because we’ve put too many barriers in place for them.

Simon:

Yeah, absolutely. And it’s funny you touched on that because I think when you start talking about workplace diversity, I think a lot of people’s mindset immediately jumps to gender split and gender ratios. 

But it’s easy to not sort of considering the age of your workforce. Do you (for example) consistently hire under 35s? There’s a whole bunch of more mature experiences out there, you could be tapping into. Diverse ethnic backgrounds bring different thinking as well. 

(When we think about) People with disabilities. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some people in the tech space who have been amazing thinkers, and I’ve read some resumes from people in that sort of data science space where they’ve worked on some really complex things. And you meet them in person, they’re in a wheelchair and you wouldn’t know. You wouldn’t know any different, but is there a right place for them to be working?

So embracing disability, the LGBTIQ community, different ages, different ethnic backgrounds, obviously, our indigenous community as well. There’s got to be some great sort of tech brains out there. Diversity is all of these things, true diversity, not just this gender split, which we’ve fallen into this trap of letting ourselves think, “that’s what it is.”

The discomfort of diversity

Bree: 

Absolutely, and it’s really quite difficult to get organizations to shift from that because I think it feels safer to tackle gender. People feel more comfortable talking about gender and collecting data on gender. They feel really uncomfortable collecting data around ethnicity, for example, or sexuality. And I think there’s more pressure to do work in the gender equity space because there are more women than there are people with disabilities in the organization.

So there are a few things you have to push against, and there’s this mentality that people talk about, “If we get it right, if we do the gender equity piece first, then next year we’ll do disability, or we’ll do Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.”

Simon: 

Yeah right.

Bree: 

And there’s just such an inherent problem with that because women are Aboriginal, and women have disabilities. And so we use the term in our space, intersectionality, which is the intersection of a range of different aspects of your identity that create the experience you had in the world. 

And if we’re not cognizant of that, then sure, we might make some traction in the gender equity space, but five years down the track, you’ll look at your executive team, they’re just all white, straight, able-bodied women and men.

And that’s not diversity.

So you’re going to get some benefits, absolutely, from diversifying in that way, but you’re not going to anywhere near receive the benefits that you get from true diversity.

Simon:

Yeah. And for the record, women are just as good at falling into making the same old decisions as men do as well.

Bree: 

We’re all raised in the same society, we’re just as biased. Yeah, we’ve seen the studies prove that, absolutely.

Simon: 

Yeah. And it’s one of those sorts of conversations that you can have for a long time. if you were to give away just one snippet of advice that normally a customer might pay an absolute fortune for, of where to start on this journey for anyone who’s listening or watching, that knows deep down it’s something they want to do, they’ve never been sure where to start, what what’s the one thing they could do to kick-off?

Bree: 

They have to listen, it’s as simple as that. You’ve got to do the research first, and I do have clients come to me and they just want to create a strategy and then talk to their people, do surveys, do focus groups. And sure, you can get some traction with that.

But diversity and inclusion are about culture, and it’s about the culture that exists within your organization. So what works for somebody else, (maybe) doesn’t work for you. You might not have the same issues or barriers, and you can create a strategy from scratch and you’ll end up with 100 actions to take on, and you’ve got no idea how to prioritize them.

Simon: 

Yeah.

Bree:

So you’ve got to start with the data. You’ve got to hear from your people. Surveys, focus groups, whatever path you take, to really understand what’s going on within your organization. Then you can find some really quick and easy wins, and you can also identify the longer-term work that you need to do.

Simon: 

Do you think that businesses that are perhaps more mature in how they think about and live their culture, can make that transition easier? 

We’re fortunate, we get to work within a fair few technology companies. And some, they have their values and their website, and for some, it’s kind of lip service, unfortunately, but for others, it’s this constant conversation internally. 

Performance reviews are a good one, “Does this behaviour reflect whatever our values are? Does this behaviour reflect that? The way we’re approaching this problem, does that talk to this value?”

So there are those businesses who really do live and breathe this idea of what their culture is, and what they’re all about. I think there are others who, as I said, it’s words on a wall, sort of trying to remind everyone how to behave.

But do you think those businesses who are cognisant of this, find this transition or find this pathway easier?

A simple way to gauge cultural maturity

Bree: 

Yeah. I think absolutely, they do. Exactly, if you’re more progressive in terms of creating a culture that people understand and are aware of. I ask a question in the surveys that I do, “What are the most rewarded characteristics, traits, or behaviours in your organization?”

Simon: 

Right.

Bree: 

And the organizations that really do have the culture stuff sorted, the amount of terms you get is smaller…

Simon: 

Right.

Bree: 

Because people know what is rewarded, and they know how to behave to get promoted. And if they happen to start aligning with the values, then you’re doing really well. It’s a great kind of indicator question.

But for organizations that really haven’t done this yet, you get a laundry list of terms.

Simon: 

Ha.

Bree: 

And they’re not necessarily positive. And yeah, you can see very quickly that they haven’t done that particular work. The only thing I’d say is that many values that organizations do put in place aren’t inherently inclusive.

Simon: 

Really?

Organisational values

Bree: 

So they are kind of around excellence and high-performance which sure, you want to see that, but sometimes when you put those in as values, you are prioritizing behaviour from managers that actually goes against the work you’re trying to do in the inclusivity.

Simon: 

And that segues nicely. Look, my next question was going to be, in that laundry list of questions here, do you have things like good sales performance as one of those things people get rewarded for?

Bree: 

Yeah, exactly.

Simon: 

That’s a skill, not a value, to be a good salesperson.

Bree:

Yeah. And it’s always a balance in any organization, profit, people, but we also know that people trust profits.

Simon:

Yeah.

Bree: 

So you’d hope that you actually have to actively reward your people for being inclusive. And some organizations find that incredibly difficult because it’s not tangible and they can’t measure it. So that’s where we go in and say, “You can measure it.”

Simon: 

Right.

Bree: 

We can absolutely measure inclusion. We just have to get into your organization and see what kind of markers make sense for you? And then we put something in place, that we treat diversity and inclusion like any other business or issue in your organization. We measure it, we manage it.

Simon: 

Yeah. Interesting. Coming back to your comment on the data around ethnicity and work workplaces, and workforces. Netflix for me, in that space, is probably sort of the gold standard, Go to jobs.netflix.com. Their diversity inclusion page, they have a breakdown, a simple pie chart of the whole business by gender, and then ethnic backgrounds.

Simon: 

So the whole business, then the leadership group, then the technology group, and they have one other as well, and I can’t remember what that is. Interestingly, the leadership group, off the top of my head, it’s skewed just over 50%, female versus male. The engineering team is only 40% Caucasian. The rest is multiple ethnicities, which to me is really cool. Again, anyone who’s listening, I’ll put a link in this as well, jobs.netflix.com. I love it when businesses can be that open about, “Hey, this is our workforce.”

I think a really good sign as well for businesses, is when you see a lot of sort of internal fraternities. I don’t know if that’s the right phrase, but internal groups. So they have a Pride group, they have black women in technology group, internally as well, where they get together and they probably work through challenges that each of those sorts of groups faces.

Netflix Employee Resource Groups

New people, who join one of those groups might be nervous working in this big global powerhouse technology business, “Where do I fit?” There’s a group there, who’ve been through that as similar to them, and so they can help guide them through that.

To me, that’s a really good sort of example, or a good trait, if you like, of the businesses really embrace this thing, this concept. Zendesk does that particularly well, globally, here in Melbourne as well. They do a brilliant job.

Bree: 

Yep. I’d say I’d agree, but I’d also put a bit of a caveat on that too because sometimes we see organizations do that first. So they set up what they call their employee resource groups. And they set that up, they have no strategy and they have no funding or resource. And they set up these groups that essentially, they say, “All right, here’s a group for people who are LGBTI. Now you fix the problems that you’re experiencing in this organization.”

Simon: 

Ah, gotcha, yeah big problem.

Bree: 

“Or you tell us how to fix the problems.” And to me, that’s the totally wrong approach…

Simon: 

Right.

Bree: 

Because we’re putting the burden on the people who are actually having the marginalizing experience, or the experiences of exclusion. And it gets quite extreme because these groups, and whether it’s Pride or whether it’s women in leadership groups, because there is no other action, they’re left feeling that if they don’t do something, that the other people who have the same background as them in that organization, they feel like it’s on them that they’re having a bad experience.

Bree: 

And so they’re working hours and hours, particularly, let’s get around to Pride Month when there are all these Pride events, and it’s the LGBTI groups that are having to do that.

Simon:

Yeah.

Bree: 

No, the events team should be putting that on and they should be seeking advice from the LGBTI group or the Pride group. So you’ve got to do them right when you set them up. And there’s a brilliant Consultant, Jenner Saunders, who does a fair bit of work in this employee resource group space. And I know she’s very much of the same mind as me, that they can be really effective and impactful, but you just can’t expect them to be creating the change.

It’s the leader’s job to create the change, and it’s their job to advise and say, “Well, these are the experiences we’re having. Do something for us about that.”

Simon: 

Got you. Cool.

Bree:

As you say, where it’s just, you join an organization, you’ve got a Pride network to go and join, and absolutely necessary and really valuable.

Simon: 

Could talk all day, couldn’t we?

Bree: 

Yeah, we could.

Simon: 

I think we’ve been through 25 minutes so far. So thank you, an absolute pleasure talking to you. If anybody wants to get in touch, we’ll put your details in the comments, thank you so much.

Bree: 

Excellent. No, thank you for having me.

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