Getting Personal About Committing to Diversity

July 3, 2014Today’s blog is a guest post from Juliet Bourke, a Partner in Human Capital at Deloitte in Australia. In her post, Juliet describes how business leaders at Deloitte and elsewhere are working collaboratively with groups like Male Champions of Change and Chief Executive Women to transform workplaces across Australia—and shares some lessons about diversity and inclusion that are crucial to leaders everywhere. Visit our website to see Why Diversity Matters and how to implement it in your workplace—and be sure to take Catalyst’s Are You An Inclusive Leader quiz!

Over the last few years I’ve seen a marked change in the conversations people are having about diversity. These conversations are now more intense and infused with a sense of passion and urgency. They are more sophisticated, focussing not only on demographic diversity but on creating the conditions for inclusion as well. But the most important change is who is having them: namely, senior executives. While intensity and sophistication are vital to pushing the diversity agenda forward, there is nothing more critical than getting under the skin of senior leaders and having that intensity come from them.  

Because a senior executive shapes an organisation’s practices and has authority in the business world as well as local communities, it’s golden to hear a leader like Lieutenant General David Morrison, Chief of the Australian Army say, with his hallmark intensity, “You can accept things will change over time and just do your part, or you can grasp the nettle and do it.” It’s equally compelling to hear Giam Swiegers, CEO of Deloitte Australia, commitment to inclusion: “Ultimately, the buck stops with me. I need to make sure that all of the leaders in my organisation are inclusive. I don’t want this to be a diversity project—it has to underpin the way we do business.” What’s even better is seeing these two leaders standing shoulder to shoulder with their fellow CEOs from Qantas, IBM Australia and New Zealand, Goldman Sachs Australia and New Zealand, and Telstra, among others, jointly and repeatedly asserting their commitment to accelerating the advancement of women in leadership.

These conversations present a unique opportunity. More than some “shared interest” chit-chat between senior leaders, these conversations have stimulated a stronger sense of personal responsibility for organisational change and a desire for personal growth. That’s not surprising; in my experience, few of us can stay in the diversity conversation for a sustained period of time without reflecting, at some point, on our personal contribution to the diversity problem as well as the solution. And that’s especially likely when the conversation turns to the hot topic of “inclusive leadership.” The challenge is to take this moment of self-reflection for leaders and use it to generate practical behavioural changes. 

Not an easy task—until now, that is. I’ve seen real change happen as leaders move from insight to action with the publicly available Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Shadow tool, co-created by Male Champions of Change and Chief Executive Women, which provides an effective way to stimulate these types of conversations. Built around four quadrants (“Say,” “Do,” “Prioritise,” and “Measure”), this simple tool helps leaders dissect their leadership shadow and identify whether it is the one they intend to cast and, if not, to find the points of adjustment. Let’s just focus on two quadrants by way of example: “Say” and “Prioritise.”

Say: Simon Rothery, the CEO of Goldman Sachs Australia and New Zealand, wondered whether his staff was really hearing his message that diversity is critical. We talked about the research Deloitte had done elsewhere which showed that leaders often think they are communicating their commitment clearly, but staff report hearing silence on the topic. Why is this? It’s usually a question of relativity: the leaders are talking about diversity, but not to the same extent as other business priorities, and in an environment of information overload what gets said less frequently is at risk of being missed completely. For Simon, this conversation led to his decision to earmark a place for diversity in every significant communication moment. Now, whether he’s talking to new employees, the media, or his staff, he makes sure to include diversity as one of the five key messages he wants to impart. It’s a very deliberate strategy to ensure that his message gets heard.

Prioritise: Leaders committed to diversity make sure to prioritise it. Time is a precious commodity for all of us, especially senior leaders, and where we spend our time signals whether a verbal commitment is a true priority or an empty promise. If diversity is a priority for a leader, then it will be reflected in her or his scheduling diary. For Alan Joyce, the CEO of Qantas, that realisation led him to audit his diary over a six-week period to review the amount of time he was allocating to his women mentees and test whether it matched his personal commitment to advancing women through mentorship. Alan’s intent turned out to be reflected in his actions—but the audit was hugely symbolic in its own right and served as a model for other leaders in his organisation.   

These are just two great examples of how talking about a leader’s shadow can facilitate genuine reflection about a leader’s impact—not only about whether words and actions are aligned, but whether what a leader thinks she or he is communicating is actually heard, and what a leader thinks she or he is demonstrating is actually seen. Leaders who are committed to diversity and inclusion want to have maximum impact, and the Leadership Shadow tool helps ensure that leaders’ diversity shadows fall the way they intend. It’s worth a conversation.



The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.