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How not to fail on diversity & inclusion in business

Friska Wirya on why the progress for workplace diversity is glacially slow and what business can do about it.
April 23, 2024

Diversity & inclusion thought leader Friska Wirya shares her views on why workplace progress on diversity is glacially slow

Diversity is a complex and multifaceted concept that is essential for any business seeking to remain relevant today.

As a change management thought leader, speaker and consultant who has spearheaded change programs for the biggest names in mining, engineering and tech, I regard D&I as the most difficult change management initiative to implement.

Diversity requires a fundamental shift in organisational culture. It is not enough to simply hire a diverse workforce or organise unconscious bias training.

To truly embrace diversity, organisations must be willing to challenge their existing assumptions, beliefs, and practices. This requires a healthy amount of introspection and self-awareness by not just leaders, but its workforce overall.

Unfortunately, many diversity & inclusion initiatives have failed to produce meaningful change. One example is the tech industry, which has long struggled with issues of diversity and inclusion.

According to a recent study by the National Center for Women & Information Technology, women hold just 25% of computing jobs, while Black, Hispanic, and Native American individuals hold only 12% of these positions.

The financial services industry has also struggled. Despite many firms making public commitments to promoting diversity, the industry remains largely homogenous.

For example, in 2018, Google faced criticism over a memo written by a male employee that argued women were biologically unsuited for tech jobs. While Google publicly denounced the memo, the incident highlighted the pervasive culture of sexism and bias.

Companies have also faced accusations of “performative wokeness” in their approach to diversity & inclusion initiatives. Public commitments to diversity and inclusion are made, but failure to follow through with meaningful action ensues.

While there is still much work to be done on diversity & inclusion, in Australia there are signs of progress.

Atlassian: has made significant strides in promoting diversity and inclusion within its workforce. The company has implemented initiatives such as unconscious bias training, diverse hiring practices, and the creation of employee resource groups for underrepresented groups.

Atlassian’s commitment to diversity and inclusion has helped the company to attract and retain diverse talent, and has contributed to the company’s reputation as a leading tech employer in Australia.

Lesson: Prioritize diversity and inclusion as a key component of your company culture and implement initiatives that support this commitment.

Coles: has demonstrated a commitment to diversity and inclusion by implementing initiatives such as flexible working arrangements, employee resource groups, and appointing a Diversity and Inclusion Manager.

Their CEO has been a vocal advocate and made it clear that creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace is a key priority for the company. This commitment from the top has helped to drive change and ensure embedding into the company’s culture and values.

Lesson: The importance of senior leadership buy-in and commitment, tracking progress towards diversity goals, and a systematic and strategic approach to change management is critical.

Lendlease: has made a commitment to diversity and inclusion through its Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). The RAP includes initiatives such as targeted recruitment and training programs to increase the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Lendlease’s workforce, partnerships with Indigenous communities and businesses, cultural awareness training, and support for employee-led networks.

As a result, Lendlease has seen increased engagement and retention among its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees and has been recognized as a D&I leader in the property and infrastructure industry.

Lesson: A comprehensive strategy, including targeted recruitment and training programs, partnerships with underrepresented communities, creates an inclusive workplace culture

So what can business leaders do differently to accelerate change in the diversity & inclusion arena?

1. Establishing a sense of urgency is critical to successful change. However, many organisations fail to recognize THEN create the urgency of diversity and inclusion changes. This leads to a lack of commitment and follow-through, as well as a lack of resources to make change happen.

2. Creating a guiding coalition is essential to building support and momentum for change. Ironically, many diversity and inclusion initiatives fail to build a coalition that includes a diverse range of stakeholders. Without buy-in from key stakeholders, the initiative won’t get traction.

3. Developing a D&I vision and strategy must align with the organisation’s overall goals and objectives. However, many fail to develop a clear and compelling answer to ‘why’ diversity and inclusion.

4. Communicating the change vision – how we’ll make tangible steps towards a more diverse and inclusive culture – is essential to building support and enthusiasm for the initiative. If people don’t see how the organisation will practically get there, they won’t buy in.

5. Empowering others to act on the vision. The reality is many organisations fail to provide the necessary resources, training, and support to enable employees to act in diverse and inclusive ways.

6. Creating short-term wins is important to build momentum. Many diversity and inclusion initiatives fail to explicitly articulate achievable short-term goals that demonstrate progress and build gradual support.

7. Consolidating gains, showcasing wins is critical to seeing more change. Story telling is powerful. Yet, many organisations are too lazy to search for, solicit and spread these hero stories of change.

Finally, anchoring new approaches in the organisation’s culture is essential to ensuring the change is sustainable. Culture takes time to build. It’s even harder to change. Many leaders today are impatient. They don’t persist long enough and hard enough to make a dent in the cultural fabric of the organisation. Hence instead of a legacy, they leave a laundry list of reasons why the D&I business case doesn’t stack up.

To change our sub-par performance in the D&I arena, we must apply lessons from the change management playbook.

Failed diversity efforts lead to a lack of innovation, poor decision-making, and an inability to attract and retain top talent. Companies that embrace diversity and inclusion will not only reap the benefits of a more innovative and effective workforce, but contribute to a more equitable and just society.

Together, we can build a brighter, more inclusive future for all. Change won’t happen, unless we change ourselves first.

So my challenge to you is this: What are you going to do differently tomorrow?

Friska Wirya is the founder of Fresh by Friska. She is a bilingual MBA-qualified Top 50 Global Change Management Thought Leader, TEDx speaker and triple best-selling author who has led change in 6 of the seven continents. Her clients have included Salesforce, Microsoft, Culture Amp, PRP, Expert360, The CEO Institute and f5 Networks.

Financy covers gender finance, diversity, inclusion and ESG issues. We advocate for gender equity change through the Women’s Index report and help businesses take action on DEI through tech solutions like IMPACTER.

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April 23, 2024
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