• Beyond Buzzwords and Box-Ticking: Building Inclusion into Organisational DNA

    19m 42s

    Dr Niki Vincent is the South Australian Commissioner for Equal Opportunity. Prior to this appointment, Niki held the position of CEO of the Leaders Institute of SA which, amongst other programs and initiatives, delivers the renowned Governor’s Leadership Foundation (for the development of wiser, more ethical and adaptive leadership for the common good). She has authored numerous academic publications. She is also a member of the Play by the Rules Management Committee. 

Graphical summary and transcript


In my work as the Equal Opportunity Commissioner for South Australia, I received complaints of discrimination under the Equal Opportunity Act. Most of these 70 per cent, in fact, occur in organisational contexts. We see some very devastating impacts and so it's a very tough part of our work.

Another more positive part of our work is in the prevention space, where we undertake research and consultancies to educate the community and to prevent discrimination. I come from a solid background in research and leadership development. So this part of my role is is a very exciting extension of that. And one of the areas that you might be most interested in, in the work that we've done recently is in a major independent review of the South Australian police force, in particular with respect to sex discrimination, sexual harassment and particularly predatory behaviour. We undertook that review over 12 months and then released the report. The review report and our 38 recommendations to S.A. police in December 2016.

To his credit, the South Australian Police Commissioner committed to implement all 38 of the recommendations. And my team has spent the last three years, almost three years monitoring the implementation and assessing the impact of the implementation of those recommendations. We're coming towards the end of that now. We'll produce our final report on S.A. police in February 2020. On the back of that work we've also undertaken a major review of the culture in the Metropolitan Fire Service in South Australia. Probably the least diverse organisation in South Australia, more so than the South Australian police.

I hope that this experience, my experience as the commissioner, but also in undertaking these major reviews will be useful for you today. And I hope that my talk will help help set a framework for you for the rest of the talks throughout the day today.

I know that many of you are already involved in work in cultural change in your organisations and in implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives. So I want to acknowledge that work and I want to acknowledge how difficult this is. But there is no need to reinvent the wheel on this. I'm going to offer you some tools that are already there that can help you in this work, make it easier. The Workforce Gender Equality Agency or WGEA, as I'll call it. So Workforce Gender Equality Agency, which year has developed a lot of tools that are freely available on their website. Most things that you need to do to implement diversity and inclusion in your organisations at a more strategic and sustainable level are on that website. And as I said, we use that in all of our work at the commission. I'm not going to go through all the research about the benefits of diversity and inclusion.

I'm sure you'll hear lots about that from other speakers today, particularly at the individual player level and the importance to community. We know that sport can be so powerful in contributing to a sense of community cooperation and tolerance. But on the flip side, it can also reaffirm existing power structures and inequities in our society and reproduce division and exclusion. At the organisational level there is plenty of research from all over, all over Australia and all over the world that shows that diverse and inclusive organisations are better organisations.

They have better innovation, they have better decision making, they're better at mitigating their risks and they're better at employing people and retaining people.

They're better in all sorts of financial and non-financial ways. Again, I won't go through all of that, but we do know that many of our sporting organisations are far from diverse and inclusive.

And there's a big difference, of course, between diversity and inclusion.

Going back to the South Australian police state poll, what we found was that there is about 25 to 30 per cent gender female representation in state police, depending on what you looked. And of course, not at all levels of the organisation concentrated generally in lower levels of the organisation. And some would say for a male dominated organisation that that could be fairly reasonable. But the problem was that those women, many of those women that we talked to and surveyed said that in order to to remain in that organisation, they needed to behave like men, and they often needed to put up with subtle and not so subtle sex discrimination, sexual harassment and most horrifically predatory behaviour from senior people in the organisation. They either did that or they left. And of course, many of them left and the impacts were incredible. I'm talking about gender equality a lot here. And the WGEA tools are targeting gender equality. But I have to say, you can apply those tools and the sort of work that we've done in the commission on this on these major reviews to any forms of diversity. So you can just take out gender and put in race or disability or whatever.

So say SA Police was diverse to a certain extent, but far from inclusive. And that's why strong, well-informed leadership is so critical to drive the changes that we need to see in our organisations and society in general.

This isn't just the right thing to do from a human rights and equal opportunity perspective. It's the smart thing to do. From a business perspective as well.

So up here on the slide, I've got some basic diversity and inclusion indicators according to the Workforce Gender Equality Agency. I've taken out the word gender and put in diversity. And you, as I said there, just the basics. So these are the things you can do to look at what how diverse and inclusive you are in your organisation. So have a look at your workforce, what's the diversity in your workforce and at all different levels. Often we find it's diverse at lower levels and not so much at senior levels. Diversity on your governing bodies is particularly important. Do you have equal remuneration across all levels of the organisation? Most organisations I talk talk to say yes, absolutely we do. But if you haven't done a remuneration review, you may be in for a shock when you do. Flexible working arrangements are very important. Consultation with employees about diversity, inclusion and also the lack hopefully of harassment and discrimination in your organisation. In relation to gender equality in particular there's a lot more that needs to be done, but it can also, again, can apply to other forms of diversity. And we really need to think about redesigning roles so that they are more flexible and inclusive. And that's not just for women. That's for everyone.

We will never have gender equality in our organisations and in society in general until men are willing and able to work flexibly so that they can take up their 50 percent share of caring and household responsibilities. Women simply can't have two careers, one at home and one in the office that they get paid for.

We need to actively sponsor and support rising women and rising people of other diversities. We need to support them through the life transitions.

And we need to challenge traditional views of merit in recruiting and promotion. And I'll come back to that in a minute. And finally, we need to invest in frontline leadership capabilities to really drive the cultural change that we need. We see a lot of change at the top level often, but it's sometimes not filtering down right through the organisation, which is very much focused on what we know, what what is this and why are we doing this? As I said, the same would apply to all sorts of other forms of diversity.

Building a diverse and inclusive organisation won't happen by accident. It is like any other important business strategy. You need to take a strategic approach to it. It needs to be built in to your strategy in the organisation and WGEA has a great toolkit for this. It's called the Gender Equality Roadmap. As I said, it can be used for other forms of diversity and I'll pop it up.

Here is a is a is a basic snapshot, a basic diagram from the tool, which I will explain. Each of these stages on the slide.

In my experience with many organisations and sporting organisations included is that in spite of all this talk about diversity and inclusion, it seems to be really something that has been at the forefront in my life anyway.

That a lot of organisations are still very much on this avoidance stage where they deny the need to do anything and or they don't even recognise that there is a need to change. I had heard about an issue that was going on in one of our major sporting organisations in South Australia, and one of our prominent MPs told me about a conversation that she'd had in relation to this, going in to support the person. That was making their complaint, a senior woman, and she was speaking to the chairman of the board. And she said to him, "do you actually have any women on your boards?"

And he looked at her really puzzled and he said, "well, all the board members have wives is that's what you mean."

Now, that's particularly this avoidant and recognising that there is any need to do anything about diversity and inclusion in this area. And in fact, I've heard so many stories about that organisation. They really are laggards and they're going to become obsolete. I hope very soon.

But the next stage where is compliant. So this is where the box ticking comes in. All right. So this is where we do this, just because we have to, because we've been told to and not because it relates to any kind of, you know, strategic imperative or, you know, this, that there's a really strong business reason for it. It's often seen as a distraction from other core business, sometimes in SA Police inside what we had. Well, you know, this gender stuff, like it's we're about saving lives. We're about protecting the community.

Why is this important? Well, I think it's important for you in South Australian police to be upholding the law inside your organisation as well as in the community. And the same goes for any other organisations. So support functions in the organisation at the compliance stage will handle this box ticking exercise and there'll be no leadership really involved. You might hear people in authority throwing about a few buzz words to look good with the right audiences, but they're really doing nothing more than they absolutely have to. The very bare minimum to get by. At the programmatic stage. The next stage, we see actions and initiatives happen when something bad goes, when something goes wrong, when there's a racist incident on this sexual harassment incident. Then a program is developed and put together and there's a whole heap of hoo ha about it. But when the issue dies down, usually the funding is removed and the program goes away. And this really this kind of response really limits synergies and really limits any major kind of change happening and also limits funding as well. It's very reactive.

What we found in SA police when we looked a couple of years ago, a few years ago, was that they had they were all at all three stages of these these early stages of development in their diversity and inclusion.

But what happens when they need to get serious about it, which is exactly what they did after we did the review. And I have to stress that we were invited to do this review. Our commissioner of police freely admits that there was a similar review done by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and in Victoria. And they found that awful things were happening in Vic Pol and our commissioner in South Australia thought we'd be much better than Vic Pol. So he invited me to do it and then found that they were just as bad. And so he was really, really passionate about implementing the changes. And they got strategic, which is the next stage, and started to build a business case for why diversity and inclusion was important. They built a strategy. They linked that strategy to the other strategies in the organisation to build its sustainability. And they used that strategy to guide their efforts and initiatives in specific areas.

And they also put in governance and reporting mechanisms so that they could be held accountable for what they were aiming to do.

This isn't an immediate panacea, though. There can be lots of resistance, which can be especially challenging in organisations like, SA Pol, and it can take many years to work through this. And then the next level is where diversity and inclusion becomes integrated into the whole organisation. So everyone at every level understands what it is, why it's important, and it's unaffected and affected by other business challenges and all of the structural barriers to to diversity and inclusion and progression in the organisation are actively challenged.

Finally, an organisation can begin to move to the sustainable level, that final level where the diversity and inclusion are just part of the organisational DNA. With this development, this role, this model was developed through research in other areas. And I don't actually know any organisation that's fully at the sustainable level yet in Australia, although maybe you have some examples or other speakers have some examples.

Obviously this is where everyone understands it. It just becomes business as usual. It doesn't matter if the leaders leave. It's not going to make any difference because everyone just operates in this way, taking diverse and inclusive perspectives. And it's just part of who you are as an organisation.

There's a lot more to this. And I encourage you to go and download the kit from the WGEA Web site, the WGEA website also has instructions on how you can conduct pay audits. Supporting materials and so forth for that and how you implement flexible work. So we will use this as a model for all of our work. But it does it. And most organisations are not at one level. As I said, but it will give you a starting benchmark for where you need to go and what you need to do to get there.

Underpinning all of this, though, are a couple of leadership fundamentals that I think we really need to get our heads around because we'll never get beyond the programmatic level unless we do. The first area and I understand most of you already would know about unconscious bias, but I really want to specifically link this to merit because this is something that gets I get challenged on every time I talk.

I talk about targets and setting targets in an organisation. And people really hate the idea of that often. So I want to link because because merit should be at selection should be based on merit.

I think this could help you in your organisations. If you have that conversation. We all know that our decisions are often based on unconscious stereotypes, unconscious ways of thinking about groups of people. And in organisations this can particularly impact our recruitment, our selection, our promotion, etc etc. It's all about our human tendency to gravitate, gravitate to people who are similar to us and to base our decisions on particular stereotypes about people. I've got unconscious biases. I've checked mine at that. Using the Harvard Implicit Assumptions test that you are. It's up here on the slide and I encourage you all to be brave. There's all kinds of bias is that you can have raised of disability, gender, sexual orientation and so forth. You can put yourselves through in a private way. Those unconscious bias tests you don't have tell anyone, but at least you know. You can work on mitigating those in situations.

The danger of those unconscious biases is that they basically work to keep the status quo in an organisation which we know in the organisation's already diverse and inclusive isn't going to serve the organisation well. And merit is a social construction. It's an invention. It's bandied about a lot as a buzz word, but I never really hear it defined. It's assumed to be self evident.

But sadly, what looks like merit is often based on outmoded and outdated standards. It's often based on the person that was in the role before. And what we need to be doing is really looking to what are the current and future needs of our organisation and redefining merit accordingly. Not based on the past. Based on the present and the future.

So next time you hear the word merit, people saying I want recruitment on merit blah blah blah. I challenge you to ask, what do you mean by that? And think about whether there are unconscious biases embedded in it. Finally, I'm going to my last slide is this next tool, which is the leadership shadow. This was designed by chief executive women and the Male Champions for Change. SA Pol leaders are using this in their work, as are our chiefs for gender equity in South Australia. Chiefs are just like the male champions, except we include women in ours. It's about asking your questions. It's about your self questions about the how the impact of what you say and do. Is it really as strong as you want it to be? And so I've got a whole bunch of questions up there on the slide. I won't go through them. I encourage you to go in and download the model and have a look at it yourselves. I assume because you're here, you're all leaders who are who are wanting to be at the forefront of this progressive movement in society. This movement of change from organisations designed by men for men. Men who, generally speaking, well, had no overt disabilities that would prevent them from dedicating themselves 100 percent to their work. Men who had wives at home looking after the children and taking care of the household.

Most organisations, most families don't look like that anymore, and organisations need to change in response to that.

I know there are far too many sporting organisations that are still lagging behind on this. I'm hoping and I'm absolutely confident that they'll be obsolete soon. I wish you well in your leadership in being at the forefront of this progressive movement. Thank you.