A growing body of research shows that diverse and inclusive organisations have an edge over their competitors in terms of financial outcomes, innovation and overall business performance. Until recently, however, many organisations took a ‘head count’ approach to diversity, at the expense of creating an inclusive culture.
As the Deep Dive on Inclusion: Inclusive Culture Survey 2019 notes, diversity on its own is not enough: it is ‘inclusion that brings the value of these demographic and intellectual differences alive’. Or as the executive chairman of insurance law firm Wotton + Kearney, David Kearney, says, ‘diversity is about being invited to the party, but inclusion is about being asked to dance’.
The Deep Dive report, sponsored by Wotton + Kearney and SURA in partnership with ANZIIF, further notes that organisations with an inclusive culture perceive difference as an asset rather than an obstacle.
Unconscious bias poses a threat to achieving an inclusive and diverse culture, because it filters out difference and embeds our prejudices, says the report’s author and the managing director of Psynapse Psychometrics, Jennifer Whelan.
She explains that our brains simplify vast quantities of information, as we couldn’t cope if every single decision was made consciously. Streamlining routine tasks, such as getting dressed or driving a car, are necessary and helpful, but not in every context.
‘Problems arise when you use unconscious thinking for tasks where there’s more than one answer, or you don’t know the answer, or the answer today might not work tomorrow,’ says Whelan. ‘And of course, when we’re trying to create culture change and organisational diversity. That’s where unconscious thinking turns into unconscious bias.’
Unconscious bias includes things like gut reactions, snap judgements and intuition. It often skews our hiring or workplace preferences.
‘Everybody has unconscious bias to some degree. The question is, what do we do about it?’ asks Whelan.
Joshua Box, director of clients and innovation at Wotton + Kearney, likens it to other learned behaviours. ‘It takes time and constant reminders and nudges to break the habit and embed inclusion in our decision-making,’ he says.
Part of his role involves helping to implement ‘bias hacks’ to combat unconscious responses to things such as gender, culture and LGBTIQ preference.
‘The hacks can be small things like message boards for meeting hosts to remember to include everyone’s voice, minding your language and the jokes you make, or rotating the chair for regular meetings,’ says Box, who also sits on the firm’s Diversity Council and leads its external Dive In initiatives.
We spoke to three insurance companies with a firm commitment to eliminating the harmful impacts of unconscious bias.
CHU UNDERWRITING AGENCIES
Winner of the inaugural Australian 2019 ANZIIF Excellence in Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Award.
When CHU chief executive Bobby Lehane talks to his team about diversity and inclusion, he likes to tell stories. It’s his way of overcoming those who will try to suggest that ‘it’s just political correctness gone mad’.
‘Several years ago, I was interviewing someone for a role at a previous organisation,’ he tells his staff. ‘The candidate answered every question perfectly. The other person on the interviewing panel said to me, “Wasn’t he excellent?” I agreed but said that something didn’t sit right with me. Suddenly it struck me and I said, “What is a middle-aged man doing with a ponytail?” It was the voice of my father from years ago. I was going to make a decision not to hire someone on the basis of a bias.’
Lehane tells this story because he believes leaders have an important role to play in combatting unconscious bias. ‘As a leadership team, we call each other out on unconscious bias and I think that gives staff permission to do the same.’
Since CHU turned diversity and inclusion into a strategic imperative in 2017 and implemented a host of strategies, its employee engagement score has grown by 11 per cent to reach 85 per cent.
‘We just had our best year ever in our 41-year history,’ says Lehane. ‘I attribute that success to our diverse and inclusive environment.’
Finalist for the 2019 ANZIIF Excellence in Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Award in New Zealand.
‘As a global firm, our daily interactions with colleagues and clients in over 40 countries means that ethnic and religious diversity is inherent in our structure. That’s the easy bit. The bit we’ve been really working hard on over the last five years is getting people involved in five initiatives that foster inclusion and diversity,’ says DLA Piper partner Caroline Laband.
She is proud that 30 per cent of the law firm’s staff are involved in initiatives such as the BMX Committee, which aims to enhance relationships between baby boomers, millennials and gen Xers.
‘We’ve had unconscious bias training and we also rolled it out to clients, because we know it’s something they’re interested in,’ says Laband. ‘However, training is one thing: the key is to put it into practice.’ In 2019, DLA Piper ran a session with an external unconscious bias expert.
‘We all were given yellow cards. When anyone spotted something that could be unconscious bias, we were encouraged to raise our card and discuss it,’ explains Laband. ‘It was collaborative rather than confrontational. It was a way of asking, “Are we OK with that? Or is there something going on here that we should be more aware of?”’
Laband notes that while leaders have an important role to play in creating a positive and diverse culture, it can’t all be top-down. ‘It’s not something that should be imposed on people. It’s something that everyone wants to be a part of.’
Recognised as Employer of Choice for Gender Equality by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency for four consecutive years. Named an inclusive organisation in the Diversity Council Australia’s [email protected] Index in 2017 and 2019.
Over the past four years, mortgage insurance lender Genworth has focused on building a diverse and inclusive culture. It has set multiple targets, such as a minimum 40 per cent female representation in management roles and minimum 25 per cent female representation on recruitment short lists. Its recruitment panels include gender diversity and diverse thinking styles to guard against unconscious bias.
It also conducts leadership training sessions to help managers identify biases and counter them, and it analyses performance rating and pay outcomes to ensure there is no gender bias.
According to the former managing director and CEO, Georgette Nicholas, one of the biggest challenges is ensuring continuous momentum.
‘We manage this by making sure that our diversity and inclusion objectives are aligned with our company values, against which we are all evaluated as part of our performance assessments.’