The business case for workplace diversity is well-established: it improves innovation and increases productivity, engagement and revenue. How can organisations prime their recruitment process to ensure it delivers the diversity they need to succeed?
Organisations need to do more than pay lip service to diversity to unlock its benefits. Four diversity and inclusion specialists from some of Australia’s leading corporations explain how they make diversity work for their businesses.
The case for diversity
Flight Centre Travel Group is a business that relies on relationships and exceptional customer service. “The better we do as a business in nailing diversity, the better our people can build connections with our customers,” he says. “Creating a balance when it comes to things like cultural background, beliefs, social status, gender, ability and age enriches our ability to understand and better serve those who choose to do business with us.”
Paolini believes that diversity drives innovation and enhances problem-solving. “When you have teams that are a mix of backgrounds, cultures, abilities, working styles and experiences, you have the potential for totally new ideas and solutions to be created. When each person approaches a problem in a different way, you spark discussion, healthy debate and the growth of ideas that isn’t possible in a homogenous team.”
It also creates teams that are more engaged, says Paolini, citing a report by Deloitte which found that companies that focus on diversity and inclusion saw the highest levels of employee engagement. “To put it simply, employees who feel included are therefore more engaged.”
The power of inclusion
Diversity on its own is only half of the equation. Inclusion is critical, says Heather Geary, Ignite Innovator and Talent Leader at EY. “You need inclusion to make a safe place for people to express new thoughts, be creative and have an environment which is safe to fail. At EY, we talk about diversity being the mix of people and inclusion being how we make that mix work – diversity requires inclusion to see these results.”
Diversity isn’t just about optics. To be an effective leader, it’s essential to seek out other points-of-view and incorporate them into the decision-making process, says Geary. “Diversity increases our chances of bringing other perspectives to the table – whether it comes through different life experiences, different worldviews, different values or different abilities.
“However, an inclusive mindset is again crucial here to understand that people have different comfort levels giving their opinions, providing feedback, challenging seniority or buying into commitments. When we talk about decision-making, we need to ensure we are enabling everyone to participate in the decision – and that this sometimes looks different to a snap decision around a meeting table.”
At Optus, inclusion means encouraging people to bring their authentic selves to work, says Catherine Fitzgerald, Head of Talent Acquisition. “Employees feel a sense of belonging and are valued for their specific attributes, talents and contributions so that everyone feels welcomed and part of the team and are encouraged to share their unique perspectives, backgrounds and experiences. Everyone feels they can contribute to a common purpose.”
An inclusive culture is not a simple by-product of diversity – it’s something that organisations have to make a conscious effort to achieve. “In a diverse organisation, you can find that groups of people work in silos rather than together as a whole because there isn’t an active push for inclusion,” says Flight Centre’s Paolini.
To be an inclusive organisation, he says, leaders must give equal attention to ideas from people of all backgrounds. At the same time, it’s critical to show that non-inclusive behaviour “like dismissing a person’s opinion or preventing someone from speaking” will not be tolerated.
“Similarly, inclusive behaviours need to be celebrated and rewarded,” says Paolini. “When diversity and inclusion are achieved in the workplace, it leads to a culture where all employees, regardless of their background, can share in equal opportunity and work together to be more successful.”
Diversity and recruitment
Diversity must start at the top, says Paolini. “Organisations that have homogeneous teams, particularly at the management level and in recruitment teams, will have a hard time ever achieving diversity in their workforce.”
Fitzgerald agrees. Leaders who prioritise diversity in the recruitment process to create high-performing teams act as role models to other leaders, she says. “If they share their experiences and promote their approach to hiring, it soon catches on.”
At Optus, the Talent Acquisition team works closely with hiring managers, says Fitzgerald, “training them on diversity and inclusion and also using psychometric testing and video interviewing to help create more fairness in the process. We also work to ensure we achieve key diversity targets such as including at least two female panellists during the executive interview process.”
At Flight Centre Travel Group, a rigorous recruitment process establishes performance benchmarks from the start and actively addresses unconscious bias, an invisible force that can hamper an organisation’s efforts to hire diverse teams and create an inclusive culture.
“People want to work with people who are like them, who they can have a beer with, who they share common interests with,” says Shayna King, Talent Acquisition Specialist at Flight Centre Travel Group. “This common connection can give the illusion of a good hire, but just because you get on with someone doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the right fit for a business.”
Flight Centre Travel Group has adopted strategies like deidentification, double screening of applications and mandatory re-assessment of rejected applications to remove unconscious bias from the recruitment process. The organisation also uses data-driven processes to constantly monitor for its presence. “Looking to the future, we’ve got our eye on technology and artificial intelligence as tools that could help us further eliminate bias,” says Paolini.
It’s this kind of demonstrable commitment to reducing bias and creating an inclusive culture that signals to all employees that, as an organisation, you’re serious about diversity, he says.