Why are some of our best-known brands paying to associate with inequality?

Picture of a sign saying 'come in we're awesome' with cityscape in the background

There’s a sizeable and growing disconnect between the advertising and marketing industry, their clients and the brands they represent, and supporting women and other minorities.

Things radically need to change in the way marketing dollars are allocated and managed, including the buck-passing for the accountability of decisions between media agencies and their clients.  Not knowing exactly where or when advertisements will be placed is no longer an excuse.

The question this begs is why would an organisation want the brand they’ve carefully nurtured and invested in associated with an organisation or individual advocating rhetoric about silencing or ridiculing women or other minorities?

This article was published as a guest editorial and the full version is available on Women’s Agenda.

Words matter and the ones in this song changed my life

By Grazia Pecoraro, Principal Consultant & Founder, Perspective Hive

I was born in South Africa under the cruel and evil Apartheid regime. I’ve had to work harder than most to unpick the institutionalised biases that influenced my thoughts, words and actions while growing up. If I must be honest, sometimes I don’t want to remember who I was. While I didn’t hold a knife or a gun, my thoughts weren’t always kind or inclusive nor did I always call out behaviours that were hurtful when I should have.

But the beautiful thing about being human is that you can learn, grown and reinvent yourself. My perception shift started during the second-last year of high school when I was selected to be part of a youth leadership program and travel around the country in a specially-fitted out train as part of a national reconciliation program. Nelson Mandela had been released from prison the year before and the country was starting to focus on change ahead of his presidency.

I journeyed for nine days with 60 students from other schools, attending lectures and having debates and discussions, while learning more about the land and its people.

This was my first interaction, at the age of 16, with peers who were not from my background and it deeply moved and changed me. It changed my perception of fairness. When I returned I was not the same young woman whom my parents had dropped off at the station just over a week before

It was as if a fog of bias and discrimination that influenced my thoughts had been burnt away by the blistering light of understanding the impact of the opposite of inclusion – legalised, regulated and endorsed exclusion. I had been given a chance to sit and talk with, dance and sing with, as well as shake the hands of people who were persecuted for being different and who I’d been taught were less than me, yet they did not hate me.

On the final night of our train’s journey, the facilitators played us the theme song from the musical ‘Time’ performed by the great Sir Laurence Olivier. As the tape recorder (yup, this was the 80s) projected its profound words through the tinny speakers into the carriage, 60 young people listened in silence.  For me, it cemented the start of my bias rehabilitation. When I listen to it today it still gives me goose bumps and sometimes prompts tears through the stirring of such a profound memory, so I’d like to share it with you.

After much reflection this week, following the shameful massacre by a fellow Australian of people who were on their knees, peacefully praying in Christchurch, I know that words matter. Thoughts matter. Because they become what defines us.

It’s a reminder for me to be even bolder, to be braver and not accept ‘less than’ for anyone.

Time – performed by Sir Laurence Olivier (words – accessible for those who may not be able to listen to the clip):

Stand before me on the sign of infinity,

all you of the earth.

With the granting of the law of provination

comes the application of change.

I will give you the key.

And with this knowledge, please realise,

comes the responsibility of sharing it.

I will show you the way.

It’s very simple. Throughout the universe

there is order.

In the movement of the planets, in nature

and in the functioning of the human mind.

A mind that is in its natural state of order,

is in harmony with the universe

and such a mind is timeless.

Your life is an expression of your mind.

You are the creator of your own Universe –

For as a human being, you are free to will whatever

state of being you desire through the use of your

thoughts and words.

There is great power there.

It can be a blessing or a curse –

It’s entirely up to you.

For the quality of your life is brought about

by the quality of your thinking –

think about that.

Thoughts produce actions –

look at what you’re thinking.

See the pettiness and the envy and the greed and the

fear and all the other attitudes that cause

you pain and discomfort.

Realize that the one thing you have absolute

control over is your attitude.

See the effect that it has on those around you.

For each life is linked to all life

and your words carry with them chain reactions

like a stone that is thrown into a pond.

If your thinking is in order,

your words will flow directly from the heart

creating ripples of love.

If you truly want to change your world, my friends,

you must change your thinking.

Reason is your greatest tool,

it creates an atmosphere of understanding,

which leads to caring which is love.

Choose your words with care.

Go forth … with love.

Choosing a credible diversity supplier

Article co-authored by: Grazia Pecoraro (Principal Consultant & Founder, Perspective Hive) and Katie Spearritt (CEO, Diversity Partners)

With many companies focusing on diversity and inclusion, over the last few years a micro-industry of consultants who are making all kinds of claims around services and support has sprung up. Perspective Hive has collaborated with Diversity Partners, another credible inclusion & diversity consulting firm, to create a supplier check list to help companies who are seeking to find support in diversity and inclusion diagnostics, strategies, workshops and other activities, find the right partner for their needs.

  1. What skills and experience does your consultancy offer to support diversity, foster inclusion and reduce bias in organisational cultures (including leadership accountability and behaviours, talent management, policies and processes, measurement, supporting communication strategies and employee engagement etc.)?
  2. What is your consultancy’s evidence-based knowledge of the business case for diversity and inclusion and global best-practice, particularly relating to creating strategic linkages with business strategy and objectives?
  3. What practical experience do your consultants have in embedding strategic programs of work for diversity and inclusion across a range of organisation types and sizes?
  4. What’s your experience in identifying diversity challenges and organisational biases? What analytical methodologies do you use?
  5. How do you go about developing a customised strategy to progress diversity and inclusion?
  6. What are the types of diversity and inclusion-related cultural challenges and opportunities you typically identify? Does this differ across industries and what have the impacts of your previously recommended client strategies been for their business?
  7. What’s your experience in navigating organisational resistance to diversity and inclusion efforts?
  8. Who are the most important stakeholders to engage and what are the most effective ways to achieve buy-in at all levels of the organisation?
  9. What tools do you offer to build the capability of leaders in making diversity and inclusion part of the overall business culture and how do you know these work?
  10. What type of internal resourcing is usually required to support and/or supplement your consulting efforts?

We welcome you to download the questions as a resource – Supplier Questions.

Want to find out more? Get in touch.

5 steps to create psychological safety right now

By Grazia Pecoraro, Principal Consultant & Founder, Perspective Hive

In my 7+ years specialising in diversity and inclusion, I’ve found that few employee engagement surveys reveal a real and ingrained culture of fear around people speaking up. While it’s is a good outcome, there’s more to just this at play when creating an environment where employees can challenge the status quo or bring their best and brightest ideas to work with them.

Much has been written about the concept of ‘psychological safety’, a cultural environment where difference is respected and valued, and where people can challenge ideas, concepts and information regardless of their structural position in the organisational hierarchy.

This is where there’s often a discord between what’s apparently a culture of safety in speaking up and the reality of what happens in the daily interactions of employees’ working lives. What happens after someone speaks up is as important as speaking up in the first place.

It manifests, for example, when someone is invited to a product development brainstorm and spends some time preparing their thoughts, only to be told when they put their first idea on the table that “oh we tried that two years ago and it didn’t work”. Or “we’d never get signoff of that, it’s way beyond the budget” and “where’s your facts to back this up?”.

Innovation just ran yelping out the office door. Don’t bother chasing after it, it ain’t coming back.

Because when people don’t feel safe, they’re less likely to take risks, including sharing their views on problem solving, process improvement, or creating new products and services. (score one to the competition). If they believe that sharing their thoughts creates a sense of danger by making them vulnerable to judgement, ridicule or the contribution not being valued, then they will think twice before doing it again.

The oppression of input also occurs in acts of conscious omission. For example, when an employee is asked to prepare a report with financials around a particular service and when they flag inconsistencies, only to be told to “ignore those, they’re not relevant”. The current Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry has highlighted a number of examples of this stifling of information through the organisational hierarchy.

Turn off the autopilot

For leaders juggling their business, clients, teams and a multitude of often competing demands and priorities, actively seeking differing inputs is not an easy skill to acquire. Operating on default settings when against the clock often seems like the best way to get results, but it isn’t as it creates missed opportunities for additional insights, ideas or perspectives. So here are some easy-to-implement techniques so leaders can immediately start creating a protective environment that fosters difference.

  1. Create a framework for evaluation

Be clear on the intent of all your meetings. This does not happen enough. Set an agenda before-hand that states what the purpose is. If it’s about idea generation, then be clear on that. If it’s about generation and evaluation, how will the meeting be structured so that ideas aren’t judged in the creating and sharing process? Get everyone to discuss and agree at the beginning of the meeting what you’re looking to achieve and how you’ll do it. Think about how the ideas themselves will be judged, do you apply weightings to certain criteria such as market differentiation or perhaps ease-of-implementation?

  1. Ask for dissent

Proactively ask people to (respectfully) disagree with what’s being put on the table. Be clear on this. In fact, you can appoint a ‘leader of the opposition’ role – someone who actively challenges everything and who gives permission for others to as well. Make sure quieter voices are also being heard. If ideas are being evaluated, make sure that all perspectives are being considered – Juliet Bourke’s 6 problem solving perspectives are useful to reference here (reflecting risks, people, process, outcomes, evidence, options)

  1. Put the black hat aside

Sometimes, it’s important to actively set out to listen to the ideas and not judge them. There’s plenty of time for that later… Many of us have been coached through our careers to critically evaluate inputs, but this default process is fraught with unconscious bias in the way our thoughts are processed. Putting on the black hat (drawing on Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats model  of thinking about problems) and looking at a decision’s potentially negative outcomes is unfortunately a default for many people. This sacrifices other perspectives such as available data (white hat); using intuition (red hat); optimistic viewpoint (yellow hat); creativity (green hat) and control (blue hat).

  1. Listen to your gut

Good leaders tune into what doesn’t feel or appear right and question ‘why’. This is a skill that society has socialised out of us, with a preference for facts and hard data. But at the end of the day we’re people and when we’re interacting with others, hard data doesn’t necessarily provide the answers. So when somebody proposes an idea or perspective that makes you feel uncomfortable, ask yourself ‘why’. Is it because of who is presenting that idea (somebody who you don’t get on with quite as well) or is it that you’ve pre-framed in your mind what that idea or solution should be? Similarly, when it comes to the conscious omission of information when managing up, it’s important to consider the bigger implications of presenting insights that either look good, or will make others look good, and if it doesn’t feel right then speak up. Similarly, encourage your team to challenge you when you’re only presenting a particular viewpoint or information, to avoid ‘groupthink’ and the deceptive comfort of false consensus.

  1. Circle back

This is where I believe many leaders are getting stuck when navigating the innovation quagmire. Not all ideas are equal and neither should all ideas be given the green light. But the challenge is in making a decision on what gets progressed, without quashing the psychological safety of those whose ideas aren’t going ahead. Circling back to the team is critical. Let them know what went up and why, as well as what didn’t make it through and why. Thank them for their inputs and ask them to keep coming up with fresh and challenging thinking. Leaders also need to take the helicopter view and see which ideas can be pinned onto other projects or concepts. “Let’s add that view into our project on productivity improvement” or “let’s put that one on ice for our next brainstorm on new markets”.  It’s not about giving false placations, it’s about keeping the conversation and communication open. Don’t let good ideas die when the meeting room door opens and everyone goes back to their desks.

This quote from John Maynard Keynes is a good summary: “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas, as in escaping from old ones”. Equally applied to changing the way we behave as leaders, in creating an environment where speaking up doesn’t get shut down.

The perpetuating bias that women continue to ‘destroy the joint’

The perpetuating bias that women continue to ‘destroy the joint’

By Grazia Pecoraro, Principal Consultant & Founder – Perspective Hive Diversity Consulting

Wow. Miranda Devine has taken a sample size of one to come to the conclusion that “diversity is not strength, after all” (Daily Telegraph, 2 May 2018, ‘A recipe for disaster’. Referencing only one company – the resignation of AMP’s Chair Catherine Brenner and decisions made by the board –  can by no means be viewed as statistically representative for drawing conclusions about anything, never mind a topic as complex as diversity and gender equality.

I’m not defending AMP’s conduct or any of the other unethical business practices being spotlighted by the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. And no company should view this exposure smugly, because run a review like this into any industry and I am of the belief that not everyone will come out of it squeaky clean. But to suggest that the benefits sought by creating greater equality and inclusion for a range of people that aren’t just Anglo-Saxon, mostly older, males should be discredited as a “flawed” system is not a solution either.

What is the alternative, really?

I agree that diversity that is unmanaged, creates more conflict and tension in any human interaction, never mind in the fish bowls of corporate offices. Putting any people into positions they are not ready for, without relevant structures to support their development or break down the biases and barriers they may face, isn’t productive either.

But what is the alternative being proposed? Go back to the 1960s when women had to resign from their support function roles when they got married or got pregnant, if they were allowed to work at all? Or allow them into the workforce, but not challenge the systems, processes or attitudes that may be preventing them from equal participation in senior roles? Going backwards is not an option.

Our country’s oldest company is 200 years old. That’s a long time for corporate Australia to build the “rules” that the article alludes to. Rules that were made by and benefitted predominantly men, who in most cases had wives at home to do the housework and caring for children or elderly parents, while the cost of living was lower than it is now and families could live life on single incomes. The author of the Daily Telegraph article’s premise is that diversity programs have had 10 years to prove themselves but have failed. That’s only 10 years out of 200 to be given a chance to show some improvement (involving complex attitudinal and systemic change), with the reality being a glacial pace of change in many businesses and industries. Overall, our country’s gender pay gap is still at 15.3%, female board participation is only 27.1% (at March 2018) and only 11 out of the ASX 200 top companies have female CEOs.

And for those women who are steering boards and businesses, there’s a double standard in how their performance is measured as well as reported on in the media. In October 2016, Fortune published an article ‘The CEO Is to Blame for a Company in Crisis—But Only If She’s a Woman’. According to a study, by the Rockefeller Foundation and Global Strategy Group, 80% of press reports about female CEOs involved in a crisis cited the chief as the source of the problem. But when a man was at the helm, only 31% of stories blamed the CEO for the company’s issues. Really?  Yes, really. Which begs the question too in the AMP example that has been cited, what does collective board responsibility mean considering there are a number of men and women with deep commercial and insurance experience on it and what role did they cumulatively play in managing decisions and risks?

It’s not about blaming

There’s an increasing amount of good data out there, from various types of research (with sample sizes larger than one), that shows a strong link between diversity and business outcomes. KPMG Enterprises found that in 2016 female CEOs in the ASX 300+ delivered a 9% increase in revenue, compared to the group-wide average of 0.5%. Companies with women on their board achieved higher revenue growth, profitability and shareholder returns (‘ASX 300+ Report’, 2017). It’s not about the women only making a difference – it’s about the balance and diversity of opinions.  Forbes’ list of ‘The Worst CEO Screw-Ups of 2016’, provides a more balanced analysis of senior decision-making gone wrong, without the gender card being cited or made the scape-goat. It’s simply about people making bad calls and choices.

Diversity and inclusion as programs that drive deep attitudinal and cultural change is a complex interweaving of corporate structure, neuro-science, and vague, in many ways subjective concepts like ‘culture’ and ‘merit’. Moving forward is not about making males with a lot of experience wrong or blaming them. It’s about acknowledging there is a problem then taking a holistic view of what is expected of all leaders and the flow of information, not just the Chair or Directors. Deeply understanding the mechanics of decision-making and what happens when the status quo is challenged and not just giving information or answers the bosses want to hear.

The conversation should instead turn to understanding the machinations of diversity in thinking as evidenced through the quality of decision-making at all levels (who gets to have a say and what happens when they do). Integral to this is creating a workplace where psychological safety means people can speak up and challenge biases like group think and confirmation bias. Much easier said than done. While it’s not the only solution, it’s an important component in creating strong businesses where a myriad of complex interests can be fairly balanced and managed ethically and appropriately.