Why diversity is good for business

Leading companies are trying to eliminate unconscious bias and more actively target and develop diverse talent.

Tech tools to boost diversity, inclusion in the modern workplace

Australian organisations are revamping their HR systems and processes as they look to build more agile, diverse workforces to meet modern demands.

Research shows that diversity is a business advantage. Since 2015, McKinsey has consistently found companies that hire and promote historically underrepresented groups – including women and minority races – to be more profitable than their peers.

Despite this, Australian firms have made limited progress. On average, women still earn 14 per cent less than men and hold half as many directorships in ASX 200 firms. As for racial diversity, people of Anglo-Celtic or European backgrounds occupy 95 per cent of senior leadership roles, despite representing only three-quarters of the overall population.

“We all know that if you have more diversity in your workforce, then you’re going to have better input, better information, more perspectives,” says Stephen Jack, Managing Director and Vice President Australia/New Zealand of Workday, a leader in enterprise cloud applications for finance and human resources.

“The organisation will therefore be able to make better decisions and will perform more effectively for that.”

According to Workday’s 2021 Employee Expectations Report, demand for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) at work has accelerated over the past year. Workday used its Peakon employee engagement platform to collect and analyse 30 million comments from workers in 160 countries. Diversity, health and wellbeing, and flexible working were key concerns in a year shaped by Black Lives Matter protests and the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response, Workday offers it’s VIBE (Value Inclusion, Belonging, and Equity) capabilities and tools, to enable organisations to set diversity and inclusion goals, track their progress, and assess their results against industry benchmarks. Data is presented in easy-to-read dashboards that describe diversity and pay equity throughout the entire employee lifecycle – hiring, promotions, leadership, belonging and attrition – and identify areas that need the most attention.

VIBE Central is already available to Australian customers, and VIBE Index will be available to Workday customers by the end of the year, complementing Peakon, which is already used by more than 100 organisations across ANZ, including Aurecon and Ricoh Australia to measure and analyse employee sentiment.

Stephen Jack describes the suite as a source of data that could underpin significant cultural and technological change, allowing organisations to be more transparent and accountable about their diversity and inclusion progress, and more responsive to feedback and trends.

“Every large Australian organisation is expected to do a social responsibility report, and a big component of that is things that would be associated with VIBE,” Jack explains. “I think we’re going to see a shift from presenting that information in an annual report to the board wanting to see that more Dynamically and to review trends over time more often.”

Leading organisations have sought to eliminate unconscious bias from their recruitment processes.

Recruiting without bias

Despite various attempts to improve gender equality in Australia’s workforce over the past decade – including through the federal Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency and its successor, WGEA – diversity and inclusion has remained a stubborn challenge due in part to recruitment processes that typically favour men.

Highly prescriptive job descriptions that seek experience with specific industries or tools, for example, may obstruct women from breaking into traditionally male-dominated roles. The language used in job advertisements can also have a subtle effect on candidate diversity, with research finding women more likely to respond to communal words like “support”, “collaboration” and “interpersonal”, versus language that focuses on individual power and achievement.

Leading organisations have sought to eliminate unconscious bias from their recruitment processes and more actively target and develop diverse talent.

At engineering firm Aurecon, job postings focus on essential criteria only and proactively advertise Aurecon’s inclusive culture, flexible working and parental leave policies. Hiring teams actively monitor their LinkedIn connections to ensure they are reaching diverse cohorts, and interview panels include people of diverse backgrounds.

“Our focus is on creating inclusive, objective processes,” says Liam Hayes, Chief People Officer at Aurecon. “At the end of the day, you can only bring diversity to life when you’ve got an inclusive culture that ultimately celebrates people’s uniqueness, and allows their voices to be heard and valued in the business.”

Other organisations are building up internal databases of “skills”, allowing them to assess what a person can do instead of what job titles they have had. One firm has combined its Workday HR, jobs, skills and performance assessment data, so it can rapidly assemble project teams to meet specific requirements, including relevant experience, performance as a group, and diversity.

“Looking forward, we will see the skills marketplace increasingly coming into focus as organisations become more agile,” Workday’s Jack says. “Instead of rigid, traditional workforce structures, the whole thinking is moving to projects, skills and capabilities, where an organisation might bring in skills to complement their internal capabilities for a particular project, on a contracting basis.

“That work style is starting to support how people want to work – I do think people are prepared to move into the contracting workforce, particularly since COVID, as they see that organisations are able to value the skills that they have.”

Source: The Australian

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