The importance of diversity and inclusion has only increased as we become more connected across time zones, businesses and locations. Diversity doesn’t begin and end with gender – it extends across other demographics such as race, sexual orientation, age, physical ability, education, and other personal factors such as lifestyle and personality.
Offering a wide range of perspectives and welcoming people from all backgrounds into a workplace creates a melting pot of ideas and insights. It also delivers better customer experiences, drives talent motivation and retention, and improves business outcomes. It’s no different from the rich experiences we gain with travel around the world – and we all know how much we’re missing that during this pandemic.
According to McKinsey, businesses with ethnically and culturally diverse boards are 43 per cent more likely to experience higher profits than those with less diversity. While we see many businesses looking at how sales strategies, investments, and partnerships impact the bottom line, how many are looking at their team diversity to improve business outcomes?
The reality is, if it was any other part of the business framework, most organisations would set a target towards it. For a company to provide better services and differentiate itself from strong competition, diversity must be deeply embedded from entry-level positions through to the board.
Building diversity in education
Diversity and inclusion needs begin at the very start of a person’s development – in early education. To start with, we need a greater focus on promoting STEM subjects to a broader group of students in schools. By encouraging young girls and all socio-economic groups to pursue interests in STEM subjects at school and university, we develop a wider talent pool for our industry. The knock-on effect this creates will drive creativity and innovation, leading to more competitive companies and a stronger industry.
Another strategy for improving diversity and inclusion in our sector is encouraging alternative paths to success. Traditionally, the people we work with tend to be university educated and of a socio-economic background that enables tertiary education. Should we be asking ourselves why so many of us mandate a university degree, when much of what we learn is actually taught on the job?
At Telstra, we encourage a 70/30 split for vocational learning, meaning 70 per cent of your role is taught while doing your job. By promoting different learning pathways beyond a university degree, we can expand the talent pool and include individuals with the aptitude to learn in different ways.
Promoting multi-generational teams
There has been a lot of discussion around about digital natives and agile working as we adapt to new working styles during COVID-19. When we think about digital natives we might automatically consider millennials, yet it’s important to realise that the first millennials will be turning 40 next year – I’m one of them!
We talk a lot about the different perspectives across generations. In our industry, our bias towards new technologies means we look forward, not back. Whilst progress marches on, it’s important to look back at where we came from in order to understand how we have grown and changed to face the future. Like any one of our grandparents might have said – there are some skills that only life teaches you. Those with more experience in the workplace bring the benefit of hindsight, and are an asset to mentorship programs and retrospectives, helping us understand how to build and improve on previous projects.
A new approach to reducing workforce ageism is one we’ve been adopting at Telstra in recent years. Our agile ways of working strips out hierarchy, and by reorganising our teams we have the opportunity for new chapters (groups based on expertise or topics) to work together.
Our teams are now organised to have people representing a wide range of experience and positions working together on projects. This encourages multiple perspectives and drives an acceptance of differences in experience – removing preconceived ideas of how teams work together. While technology continues to move at a rapid pace, it’s essential that we don’t leave the collective wisdom of our older generations behind.
Keeping businesses in check
In my experience, one of the best approaches to driving diversity and inclusion is to conduct regular temperature checks that offer actionable insights.
A great example of this is the HR and financial software firm Workday, which conducts regular employee engagement surveys every Friday. Called "Feedback Friday", this gives employees the opportunity to answer two to three simple questions relating to their teams and the business.
The results of these surveys are compiled, and managers are provided with actions and targets based on the feedback. By benchmarking the business on these targets, they take on the responsibility to make real changes within the business.
It’s this type of responsibility that our industry needs to take, when it comes to driving initiatives that improve diversity and inclusion. The accountability to fast-track change for parity starts with us.