Leading Beyond Diversity

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Nick Wailes, deputy dean and director of the Australian Graduate School of Management at UNSW, talks with AACSB's chief officer of Asia Pacific, Geoff Perry, about how bringing together diverse talent isn't enough; organizations need to create connections for employees to thrive.
Recorded November 2020.


Geoff Perry: [0:15] Diversity means a lot of things to different people. Aspects like gender and ethnicity come to mind quite readily. What are some of the other areas of diversity that business leaders should consider when trying to broaden perspectives within their organization?

Nick Wailes: [0:34] From a business point of view, what you should be looking for is diversity of opinions and diversity of thought. The way I see this is that having one or two ways of looking at a problem will lead to a certain set of outcomes. Having 10 different ways of looking at the same problem will lead you to better decision making because you've got multiple perspectives.

[0:58] Over time, we know that diverse teams make better, more optimal decisions than teams that are more homogeneous. If you think about that, there are lots of different ways to think about diversity.

[1:11] I did some work with IBM. They have a neurodiversity initiative in their organization, bringing in people with Asperger's and a range of spectrum based disorders, and finding a place for those people in their organization, and figuring out how to make them effective in their organization.

[1:32] The benefits for that, not just for the individuals that have got meaningful work and are contributing to an organization, but for the IBM business as a whole have been really noticeable. There's that aspect.

[1:48] Then another initiative that we've looked at, which we think is interesting, is an organization called Wounded Warriors that works with military veterans and helps them as they off ramp from their military careers into corporate careers or organizational roles.

[2:10] For those people, the military graduates bring a huge amount of skills dealing with complex logistics, understanding networks, those type of things. Providing a framework that will allow them to successfully be able to transition those into another area.

[2:26] I wouldn't limit the view about diversity, what I would do is I would say as a business leader, "Where are there opportunities for us to bring in new sets of skills and new sets of perspectives, and how might we take advantage of that?" As organizations in society, we should reflect the values of the society that we want.

[2:48] Top of mind for leaders should be, "How do I create a more gender balanced workforce and how do I ensure that different cultural and racial groups have got a equal chance of succeeding in my organization?" They are baseline thing that you have. Then you'd have to think about, what are the other diversity?

[3:08] Ultimately, you want a place where people can bring their whole self to work. We all know that when we're happy, and comfortable, and relaxed about where we're working, we do better work. That should be the objective. That has benefits for the individuals, but it ultimately has benefits for the organization as well.

Perry: [3:27] Bringing the whole self to work is so important. Then the ability for each person to contribute what they have, what they can bring to the workplace. The range of perspectives and paradigms leads to much better decision making, much better performance when it's interwoven effectively together.

[3:46] I'd like by having a look at some of the communication that's been coming out from the AGSM and UNSW on the diversity and inclusion area.

[3:55] You stated before that diversity in an organization is not just about creating the right composition of people with different perspectives, but leaders need to facilitate the connection among those people so that they can comfortably work together. How can you do that?

Wailes: [4:12] Many of us are aware of the research on diversity initiatives where recruitment teams are set targets. For example, we want to increase our percentage from this demographic and percentage from this demographic.

[4:25] If it's not a enterprise wide initiative that's thought through, what ends up happening is you bring those people into your organization, but it's an uncomfortable environment where they don't feel like they can be themselves at work. You get high levels of patrician.

[4:38] Organizations spend a lot of time and resources on changing the composition of their workforce only to lose that and not get any benefit. My key way of understanding this is that just because you have diversity doesn't mean you're going to have diverse thinking. It's a leader's job to create the inclusive environment that allows that diversity to be able to become a resource for the organization.

[5:05] There are probably three things that I would recommend to leaders, based on the research that we've done and the evidence. One is, firstly, to know yourself. As a leader, you can't lead other people unless you can lead yourself.

[5:24] For many leaders and organizations, that is doing things like thinking about what are your unconscious biases? Surfacing those, and being clear about them, having a view about seeking feedback. If something didn't go well, seeking feedback about how you could have done things better and created a more inclusive environment.

[5:49] That working on yourself and being open to improving how you do things, that's important. As a leader, if you do that, you're also signaling to the rest of the organization that that's the expectation that you have of your people.

[6:05] Second thing is, you need to think of an inclusive environment, not as something that magically appears out of something, but as something that you create and work on. Organizations that are successful at this see the developing this inclusive capability as something that they need to develop over time.

[6:29] When you have a diverse group, bringing them together, you don't expect them to get on and work straight away. You have to put in place activities and exercises that builds that trust and relationships between things, and understanding, which later on will allow you to create better decision making things.

[6:52] Anyone running a leadership team should be thinking about, "What are the steps I need to take to build connectivity and understanding amongst this group, so that we can unlock that power?" That's about building that capability.

[7:06] The third thing, which seems obvious and simple, but it's important, is calling out behavior that you want to see and also behavior that you don't think is acceptable. These are traits of good leadership in any regard, but particularly, in creating inclusive environment.

[7:26] If you see things going on that undermine that inclusiveness, you need to step in, and call that out, and say, "That's not acceptable. That's not how we do things around here." For me, it's about reducing the gap between what you say you do, and what you actually do in your organization. You need to be consciously aware of those things.

Perry: [7:46] It's interesting. You raised three things, the critical role that leadership plays, calling out behaviors. One of the key things in there is being proactive. It's not going to happen by itself. You need to be reflective, see what's happening, and put things in place to facilitate connections between people.

Wailes: [8:06] Yeah. Organizations that are benefiting from their diversity and have an inclusive environment, it's not accidental. There's been a program there. They've worked on it and they continue to work on it.

[8:19] You think about it, if this is a critical business function being able to tap into the diversity of your workforce, there's nothing else in your business that you would leave to chance. You would work on it and do those things. You need to work on this as well.

Perry: [8:32] Thanks, Nick, for the opportunity to have a discussion today and to draw the insights out from you on diversity and inclusion. It's been great. We've covered the range of diverse opportunities that are available for firms, how they need to be proactive.

[8:49] Putting in place leadership is important, but there are huge benefits to all organizations for having effective diversity and inclusion approaches that makes everyone, I like your term, bring themselves to work and contribute that in the workplace. Thank you very much.

Wailes: [9:07] Pleasure, Geoff. Thanks for the opportunity.

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