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Why improving diversity will increase your staff engagement and performance.

It’s time for a diversity audit! Just a quick one in your head – think about your team, or the people you work most closely with. How diverse are they? Don’t just think about the obvious demographics like gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation, but also diversity of age, experience and skills. When you look around you, are you surrounded by people whose skills, knowledge and life experience complement yours and reflect the diversity of your clients, or are you surrounded by a sea of same-ness?

“If 10 per cent more employees felt included in the workforce, attendance could increase by one day every year, per employee.”

Julia Gillard, quoted in The Business Case for Diversity by Chloe Hava,

If you think back through teams you have worked in, and consider a diverse team in comparison to one where everyone is very similar, you will likely notice that where the team members are very similar to each other (i.e. the opposite to diverse), there is a tendency to notice the differences. For example, you will remember the oldest person, or the person with a finance background. The point is that those differences become tokenistic. When they matter, that person becomes the representative for everyone with that characteristic, which is of course unrealistic and creates the potential for alienation, or even bullying or harassment. Where there is little diversity, a team can feel competitive and potentially unsafe. In a truly diverse team, there is a tipping point where the diversity is no longer an issue and it is the commonalities that bring the team together, while their differences are valued and respected.*

By improving diversity within your team or organisation, you will see a change as the team begin to lift and support each other, rather than competing with each other. In some tough sales environments, people may thrive on internal competition, but what most people want is to feel that they are heard, supported and safe. Once the team are safe and looking out for each other, the results will start to speak for themselves. As staff become more comfortable to be themselves, they will naturally become more engaged in the work that they are doing.

Take the opportunity to review your team skills and experiences and rather than just requiring qualifications and experience of a specific role, consider the value of lived experience of mental illness, homelessness, or disability for example. Or the value of a young team member, who gets where your younger client group are coming from, or an older worker, who can not only relate to your older clients' life experience, but can mentor younger workers and may also have a wealth of experience behind them. Imagine the dynamic shift of your team, if some of them can relate a lived experience which matches that of your client group.

Review each aspect of your employment life-cycle from recruitment and selection, through to termination of employment and everything in-between.

  • What are you doing to ensure that a diversity of candidates know when you have vacancies?

  • How do you make sure they are getting in the door?

  • What are you doing to make sure they stay with your organisation for all the right reasons?

  • What training and development do you have in place for managers and staff to ensure that your organisation is culturally secure for everyone there?

  • What bench-marking do you have in place to ensure that your organisation is continuing to improve the workforce diversity?

“It takes courage for an organisation to embrace GLBTI-inclusive practice. It requires the organisation identify what it is not doing well and what it needs to improve. It also often involves seeking feedback from stakeholders and risking criticism.”

Dr Catherine Barrett and Kylie Stephens,

Beyond - ‘we treat everyone the same’

If you would like to discuss your organisational diversity aspirations, objectives or other HR matters, please get in touch.

*According to the AICD, "when you reach 30 per cent female representation, you get the benefits of genuine diversity and better outcomes for stakeholders and shareholders" quoted in The CEO Magazine

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