Sunday, 28 February 2016

What the experts say about diversity and innovation

By Bridie Walsh

Do you have diversity in your workplace? I don’t mean the token variety. 

If you walk into most businesses today you will meet a collection of cardboard cut-outs – people who look, act, dress and even think the same. What’s the deal? 

“For a lot of employers it is how they see the world,” explains Matt Lambelle CEO of WISE Employment – an organisation set up for people excluded from jobs because of their disadvantage and background. It’s a phenomena that can creep into recruitment – like hires like. 

Lambelle joined the diversity panel discussion run by job matching business Two Square Pegs at PauseFest in February 2016. He explains, “They hired Johnny, Johnny was good. They hire another Johnny.”

The problem is, not only do hierarchies of employability exist, largely based on stereotypes, but it affects a business’ opportunity to innovate, reach their customer base effectively and impacts profits. 

“Research and statistics show that organisations that have diversity on their boards have a better return on investment,” says Jacinta Carboon co-founder of Taking Care of Business and Me, women in the workforce advocate and former executive with 30 years’ of corporate experience. 

Research also indicates that creative projects or business issues that require innovation benefit from a diverse and collaborative group of workers.

In short, we need diversity in the workplace. So how do we get unstuck?

We need to bust myths and stereotypes and look at the research evidence says Philip Taylor, Director of Research at National Seniors Australia. 

Stereotypes run thick and fast. Women aren’t interested in technology, they’re too emotional, and uninterested in leadership. The disabled will take a lot of sickies and be unreliable. Older workers resist change. These attitudes permeate our culture. We often don’t critically evaluate them or even examine if they are true. 

“We’re a society obsessed with age,” he says. “Stereotypes are trotted out as fact. But we shouldn’t be recruiting based on age.” Nor should we exclude because of age Taylor argues.

A common stereotype related to ageism is that older people are more reliable than younger people. Employers agree, but their behaviour shows that they don’t recruit based on reliability. 

“Why do we define people according to generational categories like X, Y and boomers?” Taylor adds. “I find it deeply depressing that we compartmentalise people like this. They don’t even agree on the age ranges.”

“Age categories don’t matter,” Taylor says. “They simply aren’t predictive of behaviour.”

Lambelle’s organisation WISE Employment also has hard evidence that shows productive benefits for business with lower sick days, and lower workers compensation costs who hire people with a disability or mental illness.

As the manager at the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, Baqir Khan says, “We need to transform the frameworks in which we think.” The people he meets on a daily basis are highly skilled but can’t get a job. 

“I run the volunteer program, recently we had a man come in to volunteer. He’s a helicopter pilot.” 

He adds, “We often evaluate people on their ability to speak English not on their intellect.” 

“A person-based approach to address the inequity is much more appropriate than a problem-based approached,” he says.

Evidence also supports the assumptions we make about people are often wrong. Jan Owen is CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians. She works to create opportunities for young people.

In a bid to provide opportunities for youth in the workplace she attended a meeting with 20 CEOs of leading companies.  “One company described blind interviewing. They de-identified gender, age, name – everything except the actual letter and CV,” explains Owens. 

The difference in their hires compared with the past 20 years was outstanding. “It changed the diversity in their company almost immediately,” Owen says. Blind interviewing has now become a practice in that organisation. It castrates our unconscious biases. 

Owen argues another issue undergirds the problems we experience to create a truly diverse workforce, and it’s structural.

“We know that in Australia 17 percent of young people are unemployed,” says Owens. “There are 30 percent underemployed – people with a degree or two working in hospitality or similar roles.”

What lies at the heart of this issue is that Australia is 136,000 jobs short.

We need to generate more jobs. Therefore we need to be more innovative. To be more innovative requires diversity. Diversity in skills, roles, ages, experience, know-how and perspectives.

1 comment:

  1. Nice summary. I think in future you should also cover the big R: racism.