gender equality

Diversity: what's the point?


​**"You don’t need to talk to me about diversity, seven out of eight people in my team are women already."**

I caught up with a friend of mine recently who is the Head of Diversity and Inclusion at a major, ASX listed company. During our discussion she mentioned the comment above, made by a male manager at her organisation. This seemingly innocent enough comment highlights the huge gap between acknowledgement and belief when it comes to diversity.

Like a lot of people this manager was acknowledging the company’s stated goal of creating a diverse workplace. He’d heard of the goal, knew it was part of the strategy and like a lot of men (including me once) believed that diversity was just another label for “giving jobs to women”. It wasn’t until I was educated to the benefits of diversity and inclusion and took the time to really understand and think about it that I became a convert.

I am male, tertiary educated and had never been exposed to the gender discrimination that women face. It’s not an excuse, it’s that I hadn’t ever made time to think about diversity nor to consider my role in unconscious bias. When I examined my attitude, past behaviour and thinking I was shocked and embarrassed. I hadn’t gone out of my way to discriminate but I realised that I held and, therefore unconsciously maintained, an out-dated, male-orientated status quo attitude.

This new understanding was so enlightening. Diversity is not about “giving jobs to women”, it’s about creating a team or group that contains diversity of culture, gender, life experience. It’s about the value that comes from having different viewpoints, histories, upbringing. Multiple studies[1] have shown that diverse teams produce better results than homogenous teams. It’s a no-brainer isn’t it?

I’ve used words like “convert” and “enlighten” deliberately because despite the evidence and logic we have a long way to go still to achieve equality and become truly diverse. With more men named “Peter” than women in ASX200 Chair and CEO roles[2] and a gender pay gap[3] of 18.8% that has widened over the past 20 years, the proof is stark.

Its not enough that you acknowledge the need for diversity, it’s also not enough to understand what diversity means. To make a real difference you have to believe the value (and fairness) of having a diverse workforce and an inclusive way of working.

The manager who made this comment clearly didn't know what diversity actually meant. Hopefully once its been explained and had the benefits shared as well, he will start to believe and see the right way forward.

We all have a role to play to help educate and enlighten others as to the value and benefits of diversity and by working together and being heard we can accelerate change.

[1] A couple of examples:

http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/organization/is_there_a_payoff_from_top-team_diversity, http://www.forbes.com/forbesinsights/innovation_diversity/index.html

[2] Georgina Dent, Women’s Agenda 6/3/15 (www.womensagenda.com.au)

[3] Workplace Gender Equality Agency: Gender Pay Gap Statistics 1/5/15 (www.wgea.gov.au)

Matt is one our Contributors, read about them all here.

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