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How smart organisations embrace diversity and inclusion

The current debate on same sex marriage highlights why all organisations need a diversity and inclusion policy. Because smart organisations understand that their clients are diverse, and it helps to build an authentic brand by promoting diversity in their organisation.

It helps them embrace different, innovative ways of thinking and be a good place to work so talented people stay.

Diversity and inclusion is no longer a marginal politically correct gesture. Mainstream businesses such as Virgin Australia, Medibank, NAB, Rio Tinto and AGL have policies with specific targets that they actively promote. Government is doing it too.

What I’ve found from working with organisations on developing a Diversity and Inclusion Policy is that it’s challenging. And it should be. If you’re doing it well, it should push the organisation to change.

While supporting the YES campaign like Qantas and the AFL isn’t for everyone, a culture of mutual respect, teamwork and diversity definitely should be.

The Diversity and Inclusion Strategy of the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning Victoria is a policy that pushes the organisation to be flexible. It provides for all staff positions to be offered on a part time basis. That means women and men with family responsibilities don’t have to put career progression on hold while they work part time to look after young children or elderly parents. It means managers have to accommodate it, and even model it (the department's secretary works four days a week) .

Most organisations would find it a challenge to adopt that sort of flexibility but they should at least consider it because its getting results. I know many talented women lawyers who've left law firms because they didn't allow for part-time work. The law firms who did so are the winners.

Diversity and inclusion isn’t limited to targets for female representation on boards, equal rights for LGBTI people and recognising the rights of people with disability. They promote diversity of culture, religion, gender, gender identity, age, sexual orientation, as well as different experiences, perspectives, knowledge and skills.

And while the policy statement is the product, the most important thing is the conversations among staff, managers and the board when they’re developing it.

I’ve seen organisations just present a draft policy to the board for approval with the attitude that we’re doing it because we have to. The results of this approach are likely to be along the lines of ‘we’re doing OK’, no need to change.

A smarter organisation will guide the conversation, starting with a description of where the organisation fits in its sector and community then presenting alternatives policies that might be considered.

Ask the board, management and staff where on a spectrum of policy positions the organisation should be, and consider what the clients, staff and wider constituency will think.

A good policy describes the organisation’s context and makes a formal commitment to diversity and inclusion setting out:

  • what the organisation is doing now (what you’ve done and what you’re working on)

  • where it wants to get to (with goals and targets) and

  • how it’s going to get there (an action plan).

It’s useful to state why the organisation has a diversity and inclusion policy because it varies, and to define the scope of diversity it covers. Some organisations have an advisory committee or council to provide leadership. They can lead measures such as staff pledges and holding events in support of campaigns against racism.

Three well established ways to promote diversity and inclusion:

  • encourage staff recruitment and referral – use the networks of your staff to target the type changes in staff profile

  • educate staff about cultural awareness such as special dates and festivals of religions and cultures that are not part of the majority

  • have measurable goals in the diversity policy and report on them publicly.

Measuring and reporting is vital. A 2016 survey found that many Australian organisations fail to adopt measurable goals or accountabilities in their diversity and inclusion plans. Only 41 per cent of diversity and inclusion practitioners reported that their organisations measured the outcomes of their D&I initiatives.

Not-for-profit organisations in Australia tend to regard themselves as champions of diversity so assume their practices are good. But research shows that they are generally homogeneous and in the larger organisations (more than 50 staff) very few have a large proportion of women in leadership roles due to unconscious bias.

If your organisation doesn’t have a Diversity and Inclusion Policy or you’re thinking about updating the one you have, give me call. I can help you with a fun and engaging process to that will have an impact.

I can help you with a fun and engaging process to develop a policy that will deliver resultsation.

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