Organisations which are genuinely benefiting from diversity have at least one thing in common: they have recognised the unconscious bias that can lead to the recruitment, retention and promotion of a particular group, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission.
“We know that some industries are better than others and that some organisations are better than others,” said Sarah Winter, a senior advisor at the Commission.
“These organisations have established policies that place diversity at the centre of their people strategy.”
While there is an increasing number of organisations who embrace diversity successfully, Winter said there is still a long way to go in terms of true diversity when it comes to leadership.
“Even organisations that have a genuinely diverse workforce will look pretty similar at the management and executive level with the majority of organisations led by men from similar cultural backgrounds,” she said.
“Several organisations are beginning to recognise the need for leadership strategies that address this gap.”
Winter said the most common diversity challenge for businesses is not recognising the unconscious bias that exists within organisations and within individuals.
While most organisations are keen to stamp out overt discriminatory, racist and sexist views in the workplace, she said it takes an enlightened organisation to reflect on its lack of diversity and accept that an unconscious bias is occurring in recruitment, retention and promotion processes.
Another pitfall that organisations can make is assuming that being open to diversity is enough.
“To truly embrace diversity an organisation must identify what diversity will look like for its organisation, establish policies and strategies and track the organisation’s progress,” she said.
Key diversity trends
As Australian society becomes more diverse and society continues to embrace diversity in all its forms, diverse workforces will become even more important, Winter explained.
“Business leaders recognises that businesses are communities in themselves and that they operate in communities,” she said.
“This means that there is a business case for reflecting the diversity of the broader community within business.
“Diversity will ensure the widest talent pool in terms of staffing and that products and services reach the broadest range of consumers.
“But even more importantly, freedom is promoted for everyone when organisation moves to embrace diversity and that means motivation at the individual level and innovation at the organisational level.”
The role of HR
HR leaders play a key role in diversity, and Winter said they can take a number of steps in conjunction with the business to improve diversity and commercial outcomes.
Ensuring that all staff understand what discrimination is and how the law operates is fundamental to diverse workplaces, according to Winter, who said the law provides a minimum standard of behaviour that will assist businesses on the road to the diversity.
“HR leaders have the technical know-how and some of the key things they should initiative are regular training and easy-to-understand information for staff on discrimination,” said Winter, who added that the Commission recently launched a Good practice, good business employer hub, which aims to support employers in understanding discrimination law and embracing diverse, fair and productive workplaces.
Beyond the legal imperative for a discrimination free workplace, she said HR leaders need to use their expertise and influence to work with senior management to develop policies and strategies that specifically identify actions for improving workplace diversity.
“HR leaders should consider working with the business on cross-organisational working groups, executive sponsored events, using diversity related performance indicators and sharing good practice across their industry,” she said.
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