Leadership | Diversity | Inclusion

The impact of increasing workplace diversity

Research has found that workplace diversity has both positive and negative outcomes on team performance, University of South Australia Business School, Centre for Workplace Excellence Director, Professor Ingrid Fulmer has told a CEDA audience.

Speaking in Adelaide on diversity and inclusion, Professor Fulmer said, “the general consensus of this research is that indeed, diversity can have these positive outcomes on team performance in the ways that we expect – by bringing different perspectives to problems, customers, market segments and so forth.”

“However, diversity can have some negative consequences as well, such as increased conflict, difficulties in communication and so forth.”

Professor Fulmer said the challenge with research now is figuring out how organisations can make the most of the positive aspects of diversity, while minimising the downsides of diversity.

“To investigate this question, research has branched out in different directions,” she said.

“One type of research has sought to examine what types of HR managerial practices can help make the most of diversity.

“For example, some of my colleagues have found in their research that gender diversity is more likely to lead to better overall workforce productivity, when it is accompanied by a greater number of work/life practices.
 
“When we talk about work/life or work/family programs, we’re talking about supporting things like childcare responsibilities, elder care responsibilities and workplace flexibility."

Professor Fulmer said other research has found that while high levels of gender diversity can have an effect on increasing turnover, that effect is reversed in organisations that have a lot of gender supportive policies and practices.

“When I talk about gender supportive I don’t necessarily mean that they favour women but that they support members of both genders,” she said.

“These can include things like holding managers accountable for equal opportunity goals, monitoring turnover rates for both men and women separately to keep an eye on those statistics and then recruiting widely for positions.”

Professor Fulmer said she encourages organisations to do more research on diversity internally.
 
“If you’re implementing practices that you think are going to be effective, you can conduct small studies, you can do some analysis yourself to see if they’re actually working,” she said.
 
“Academic research is also available, and we involve industry partners as well, so I would encourage you to participate in that, all with the goal of let’s see what works.

“To the degree that organisations can choose more evidence-based practices to put in place and then actually use data to evaluate their effectiveness, those are the organisations that are going to see more of that net positive benefit from diversity.”

SA Power Networks General Manager, People and Culture, David Syme said his organisation has been chipping away at increasing the gender diversity.
 
“In 2010, our current CEO Rob Stobbe joined the organisation and said one in eight women is not enough, so we created a 12 month secondment position in HR, and the role was to go around the organisation, talk to people, muster up support and help us to develop a gender diversity strategy,” he said.
 
“The strategy had three elements; getting more women into the organisation, more women into leadership positions and more women in non-traditional roles.
 
“It’s had some success, the approach we took wasn’t through mandating targets in each of those areas.
 
“After the secondment came to an end we set about implementing that strategy through a group that we put together of influential leaders from across the organisation and they came together under the Gender Diversity Action Group. 

“Fast forward to 2018, we have one in six females, so we’re making some progress, but it is slow progress.”

KPMG Chairman of Partners, Justin Jamieson said his organisation’s inclusion and diversity strategy is multifaceted with the aim to foster diversity of thought and a culture of inclusion across KPMG.

“The principles that overarch KPMG’s inclusion and diversity strategy form the basis of our objectives, to embrace inclusion, share and learn from each other and contribute to social change,” he said.

“Underpinning all of this is a culture of flexible working, critical to attracting and retaining diverse talent, our Everyone Agile policy gives our people the freedom, trust and empowerment to choose their way to deliver the best outcomes for themselves, their clients, their teams and the firm.”

Mr Jamieson said their inclusion and diversity strategy has a strong focus on gender.

“KPMG’s gender balance is relatively smooth in the early stages, they join the firm as a graduate in their early 20s – we are always around 50/50 in that range – but as we move up the ranks it certainly skews far more towards the men, culminating in approximately 22 per cent of all partners at the moment being female,” he said.
“We want and need more women in leadership levels, it matters to our firm, it matters to our communities and it certainly requires positive action for change.”
 
BHP Olympic Dam Asset President, Jacqui McGill said when she started with Olympic Dam they had around nine per cent women.
 
“Not a great scorecard, I was pretty determined though that we have a gender balanced leadership team and that’s something I’ve maintained in my team since I’ve been at Olympic Dam over three years,” she said.

“I’m also proud of our efforts and the work we’ve done to lift the level of women in our employment, we’re currently over 15 per cent.
 
“Really deliberate hard work has gone into that and more importantly – not just about recruitment and retention – but in terms of culture, in terms of changing the landscape in which women, and people of aboriginal descent for example, feel welcome and engaged in the workplace.

“When you give someone a giant shifter to do a job and say ‘go at it’, whether you’re 25 and you weigh 50kg or you’re 62 and you’re at the end of your career, you can’t lift that heavy device over your head and do the work safely.

“When you change the way you approach that work, you make it easier for Desiree, who couldn’t lift a 20kg pipe wrench over her head, but you also make it easier for the 62-year-old gent to work through to the end of his planned retirement.

“I am of the belief that when you improve the work environment for women, you actually improve it for everyone.”
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