Successful, Diverse and Inclusive Teams – Part 1

From my soapbox!

I’ve been involved in the workforce for some five decades. In that time, I’ve seen a lot of changes, a lot of challenges and some interesting trends.

At one time, there was a focus on recruiting women. Women weren’t well represented in the workforce, and it was deemed that the solution was just to recruit more women. Many of the organisations that I witnessed in their bid to address this disparity, with all good intent, set about targeting women in their recruitment activities. Unfortunately, I didn’t really witness it being a resounding success. As a result, it seems to me that the initiative both failed to recruit the right people in many instances, and of equal concern, definitely failed to retain people (leading to distress, disharmony and disappointment all round).

At other times I’ve witnessed recruitment drives for people identifying as being from a particular ethnic background, people with disabilities and people identifying as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. I whole heartedly support all people having equitable access to jobs and being able to feel genuinely welcomed and supported in workplaces. Sadly, in all my years in the workforce, I have never seen targeted recruitment strategies achieve this. Thus, I feel impelled to jump on my soapbox.

So just to be clear, I am totally committed to diversity, equity and the creation of safe, inclusive workplaces (see my work on culture creation and diversity and inclusion). However (yes, there is a however), as a woman, I NEVER want to be given a job solely because of my gender (NEVER!). I want to know, when I’m offered a job that it’s because I’m the best person for the job and that I’m being offered a job by an organisation that will value me for who I am (which isn’t a statistic) and that I’m applying for jobs that align to my values, ethics, qualifications and aspirations. I want to be a person, not a staff member. I think many people probably want something similar.

To recruit only based on gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual preference or any other ‘collective identification’ is not only fraught with danger, but also unfair and, from my observations, usually unsuccessful. To truly build an inclusive workplace, we have to go beyond buzz words and fad surfing in the boardroom and we have to create workplaces with people as the central focus.

We have to create workplaces where people want to work.

Recruiting someone because they fit into a group or because it helps the organisation be seen as inclusive is, in my view, contrary to the purpose and aim of procedures, protocols and legislation around inclusion.

It’s critical for all businesses and organisations to truly embrace and ENACT the principles of inclusion, not pay lip service to it. Let’s look at how we might do that.

Big Decisions

Throughout the first couple of decades of my career, I worked in the government sector. In the early part of my career, I had a range of exciting, dynamic roles and I also had some pretty mediocre, and less inspiring ones. It’s called a career.

As a single mum, I chose jobs to apply for that enabled me to manage the working (single) parent juggle. It was important to me to work relatively close to home and to not have a role where there were expectations to travel. These were decisions that I made, and I stand behind them to this day.

When my daughters grew up and became independent then it was my time to shine. Having completed my tertiary qualifications part time, I felt equipped and ready to launch myself into a substantial career. More than just a means to pay the bills. It was now time to contribute to society and to make a difference.

I have to say, I consider that I was pretty successful. I progressed into management roles, became known for my ability to take teams and individuals through major change, participated in national consultative committees, undertook national projects, played an extensive consultation role, where I would hold community meetings and then report directly back to the minister of the day (we were successful in influencing a range of legislation changes particularly relating to women and families – I’m really proud of the work I did in this space) and I launched and embedded significant government initiatives. I enjoyed the challenge of all these roles, and I am proud of the difference I was able to make to people’s lives every day.

I gained promotion quickly and, by anybody’s measure, I think I could say I enjoyed a successful and fulfilling career. And I loved it.

I was blessed with wise mentors (both female and male) and strategic counsel. I believe I was well respected and highly regarded for my skills and my capacity to undertake a role and do it well. I was noted for my skills, abilities, intelligence and insights (both people focused and strategic). I felt recognised, valued, supported and welcomed in the roles I undertook. And I was seen as someone with the capacity to go far. The corporate ladder was mine for the climbing.

For those of you who speak public service speak, I settled happily into middle management roles, and took the opportunity to glance over the wall and into the SES (senior executive service). It was at that point that I resigned.

When I saw the expectations put on staff at that level I baulked! The work hours, the travel, the commitment. This was way more than a pound of flesh. They wanted your soul! I decided I could be more influential from the outside (there is some great insights into change creation and the value of being an internal change agent or an external change agent – both are valid and successful; I chose to go external). I believe that if we truly want a diverse workplace, then people need to be welcome and represented at even the highest levels and the jobs being offered at the highest levels were NOT jobs that would attract and retain anybody who wanted a life and an identify outside their job description.

I resigned after 25 years in the sector. I took 6 months to complete my Masters thesis, I ran away and lived in France for another 6 months and then I returned home and hung my shingle as a consultant. I’ve been flat out busy ever since and I know I’ve made a difference.

What’s the Point of That Confession?

Turns out, I’m not Robinson Crusoe. Since my decision to resign and start my own business, I have spoken to numerous people who have either considered or chosen to jump ship for the same reasons.

Creating an inclusive, diverse workplace doesn’t start and end with recruitment. It is way more complex and involved than that. After all, recruiting a diverse workforce is one thing, retaining them, promoting them, well that’s a completely different kettle of fish.

If businesses and organisations really want a robust, energetic, workforce that includes and values all their people (irrespective of gender identification, family status, ethnicity, family of origin or any of the other multitude of factors that make us human beings who we are), then they have to create a workplace that genuinely welcomes and includes EVERYBODY! Lip service has no place in any strategic plan or corporate direction.

What’s Julie Andrews got to do with it?

Her advice in the Sound of Music needs to preface every management and leadership textbook. ‘Let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start’.

Companies who are leading the way in retention, staff satisfaction, knocking KPIs out of the ballpark and seeing those profit margins (if profit is your driver) and client/customer satisfaction levels go off the scale, do something really well. They create a workplace where people (irrespective of background, lifestyle, gender or anything else) want to work and want to stay.

The first thing for every organisation to do, in my view, is some culture mapping. How do you stack up as a place where people want to work?

Most businesses conduct exit interviews, and they can be really helpful, but they are a bit late if you ask me.

I’m advocating for ‘stay interviews.’ Talk to your people and ask them things like:

1. What do you enjoy about working here?
2. Have you thought about leaving? What stopped you?
3. What could we do better to support our staff?
4. If you were the CEO / Director / Boss for a day what would be your top three priorities?

I’ll leave any other questions up to you. These ones are just a taster to get you started.

Often these surveys are done anonymously, and I get the reasons why however, I would suggest that an aim of any business is to develop a level of trust that is so rock solid that we can ask these questions face to face – now that’s a goal to aim for!

Once you have the information, DO SOMETHING WITH IT. So many staff satisfaction surveys result in nothing. Nothing changes, nothing is acknowledged, the same issues keep occurring and the same behaviours continue to be enacted. The term, ‘same old, same old’ becomes the order of the day.

To really create a workplace that includes, welcomes and values everybody, we have to listen to our people. It’s more than talking about valuing our people. It’s more than creating expected behaviours that talk about valuing our people. It’s listening to our people and then INCORPORATING THEIR FEEDBACK SO THAT THE WORKPLACE REFLECTS WHAT THEY ARE SAYING.

I once saw an episode of an Amercian 60 minutes show. I was on an airplane; I was probably feeling a bit bored. This show definitely woke me up. They were featuring a software company who reported a less than 1% staff turn over every year. That’s an amazing statistic in an industry where head hunting is the norm and ‘mobility’ has a whole new definition. The business was a private business owned by one man. An array of ‘innovative’ people retention strategies had been introduced (you don’t need to do these, I’m just offering examples), including work based child care (parents were able to have lunch with their kids everyday), beautiful art work (the owner’s philosophy was that he needed his teams to be creative so they needed a creative environment to work in), an in house concert pianist (probably a bit over the top for anybody reading this) and community vegetable gardens that were available for anybody on the team to access and take home produce.

A number of his staff were interviewed. Several said that they had been offered jobs at much higher salaries elsewhere, but they chose to stay because they loved working there.

Students from a local university had used this business for a business sustainability project and had concluded that the low rate of staff turnover DIRECTLY resulted in savings of over $1BILLION (yep, that’s billion) a year. That’s just the impact of the high retention rate. They didn’t measure the positive impact to the financial bottom line due to having happy staff, productive staff, loyal staff, staff who advocated for their employer (and therefore potentially attracted the best people to want to work there). The list goes on and on and I don’t think a value could actually be put on all that.

The final person interviewed was the owner and I’ll never forget his closing comments – ‘everybody thinks I’m some sort of business lightweight because I put people first, that’s not true. My staff are my business. They represent over 90% of my current and future capital, and they are my only appreciating assets, and when they walk out the door in the afternoon, I want to do all I can to ensure they come back tomorrow, and the next day and the next day. I believe that makes me an astute businessperson. I suspect my bank manager agrees (insert a soft chuckle here)’.

This model isn’t the ‘right’ model. There is no right model. This model was his model and it worked because he listened to his people. In order for us to create a diverse, inclusive, successful workplace we have to build a workplace that invites, welcomes and retains the talent we require.

Imagine a workplace where someone can be offered a promotion somewhere else, but they choose to stay because working with you provides them with recognition, psychological safety, opportunity, inclusion, appreciation, the list goes on and on. And it’s possible to create this. By speaking to your people, by listening, by taking action, by involving everybody in the organisation and through that process, creating a culture where people want to come to work and where they want to stay. A culture that recognises that people have lives and priorities outside work and doesn’t ask them to choose or make unreasonable compromises.

I have so much to say about this that I’ve decided to turn this blog into a serial so watch out for part 2 when I will talk about inclusive recruitment and retention.

Meanwhile, if you would like to make a start on creating a culture that supports excellence, give me a call. I can lead you and your managers through a process of culture mapping, taking the pulse of your business and putting steps in place to support your people to be the best versions of themselves every day. Imagine how things will improve when we achieve that.

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