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.

Diversity is missing in digital

Why designers and copy creators need to be thinking about inclusion.

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

In the last week, digital, content and designing for inclusion have intersected in my lounge. I was offered a place in the Summit of Content Marketing where 100 leading thinkers in social media, digital and communications from across the world shared their insights into navigating the paradigm of online presence and brand. And I didn’t need to leave my home-office desk to attend this conference, scoring an ‘A+’ for Accessibility!

While the content and speakers were absolutely fabulous in the Summit, the lack of designing for inclusion as a topic again reinforced how much work there is to do in this space. What’s the point of creating content if people can’t read it? What impact is imagery going to have if it’s not representative of the audience? And you’ll alienate many current or future customers by not paying attention to language – particularly when it reinforces stereotypes (e.g. ‘Chairman’) or makes certain people feel excluded (by using terms such as ‘the blind leading the blind’). Designing for inclusion is about making a connection with a wide audience.

With my background in public relations, reputation management and internal communications, inclusive communication design is high on my radar. The volume of channels and content now being developed (with low cost and ease) is creating what I refer to as ‘the democratisation of opportunity’, particularly for smaller businesses. Being mindful around inclusive marketing is what will set those that get it apart from those who assume their audience is heterogeneous (specifically white, heterosexual males without any disability).

We’re only now at the cusp of the content and customer-choice revolution that digital promises. Everyone is getting excited (or perhaps a little scared) about the possibilities. Imagine what could happen if you amplify the benefits when a Google search puts your web site at the top of the search list through SEO smarts, but when customers access it, they feel you really get them. You speak to them, in all of their magnificently diverse forms because you’ve build your content to be inclusive. Images are tagged and captioned, your marketing imagery is representative, fonts and colours are accessible, and your blogs avoid language that perpetuates negative stereotypes.

No matter what size your company is, if your brand is about being diverse and inclusive, and you’re investing in a diversity program, then your marketing and communications teams need to tune in. They need to know what inclusive design is and apply it consistently. They need to upskill themselves as well as their ecosystem partners – the designers, IT team, advertising and PR agencies, and the copy writers. As Thomas Carlyle said: ‘Nothing is more terrible than activity without insight’.

How to get started? Get in touch with me. Even think about your existing tools. Microsoft has an inbuilt accessibility tracker to check your documents – use it! Vision Australia has a whole lot of inclusive design resources available as well. Also, companies such as Intopia can do accessibility audits of web sites and are technical experts in accessibility compliance requirements.

I’d like to thank Kirryn Zerna, a former communications colleague from Westpac who has also started her own consultancy, specialising in social media marketing, for the opportunity to attend the Summit of Content Marketing. Perspective Hive is a diversity consulting hub for thinking differently about difference that is set up to connect with other like-minded companies to make real and meaningful change in business.

Perspective Hive diversity consulting offers a range of capabilities to help companies set up and steer an inclusion and diversity agenda that makes meaningful change, drives innovation and creates business value.

Red cups and blue cups

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

I hated nursery school. It was called Kiddies Kingdom and it felt less palace, more prison to me. It was also my first (but by no means my last) life experience at feeling like I didn’t fit in.

One particular memory has stuck in my mind. It involved teatime in the morning. While we had were playing, juice and food was set up on a table outside one of the rooms. This was a sunny morning, I remember the brightness of the light as I moved towards the table, the sun warming my arms. I was looking forward to a biscuit and some apple juice.

A few of the other children ran past me, getting to the table and grabbing their snacks. I walked over, picked up a cup and a cookie and went and sat down on the step between the verandah and the playground. I closed my eyes and sipped my juice slowly. I can still now feel the warm sunlight tingling on my arms.

A boy came and sat down heavily to me, blocking out the sun and shaking me from my reverie. He was older, bigger. He squinted at me, turned down his mouth and declared confidently: “you’re a boy, you’re a boy”. I was astounded at this and retorted “absolutely not”.

“You have a blue cup, you’re a boy,” he said disdainfully, pointing a finger at me. “Boy. Boy. Boy. Only boys take the blue cups. Girls take the red cups.” Quickly others picked up the scent of fear in the herd, and a singsong chant started up around: “You’re a boy-hoy, you’re a boy-hoy”, accompanied by mocking laughter.

My first taste of shame was confusing. There was a set of rules in life that until the age of five I had been blissfully unaware of.

I thought a cup was a vessel from which to drink liquid, but apparently there was far more to this practice than I had been taught. And if you got it wrong, you would be shamed, mocked and humiliated.

From that day on, morning tea, which had been my time for a bit of peace and quiet, became another episode of endurance at nursery school. I no longer walked, but ran to the morning tea table to make sure I grabbed a red cup. There weren’t enough red cups for all the girls and I only wanted to taste the juice, not the shame again.

I tell this story because I use it to reflect on how gender stereotypes are built from a very young age. Who had taught that little boy about red cups and blue cups and why? Both my parents worked and shared care responsibilities equally, while I loved helping my dad around the garden and had never been told that this was only for boys.

It matters. It matters because it impacts the self-worth of young girls. It impacts how they define themselves and then later the career choices they make. Even when they make a choice, high numbers opt out due to bias in the selection process. STEM and the myriad of programs now underway to tip the balance being a good example here.

It starts early and us adults are responsible. As Clementine Ford wrote in her article The small way I’m flipping gender stereotyping in the baby clothes aisle in the SMH on 3 April 2017: “I have a seven-month-old, and wandering the clothing aisles in high street shops or department stores is an exercise in anger management. The most noticeable thing is the distinction of gender according to colour. The girls’ section bursts with pinks, yellows, purples and glitter while the boys’ section wades through a more muted palette of dark blues, black, red, khaki and beige, beige, beige. But what the boys’ section lacks in vibrancy it more than makes up for in affirmations and positive reinforcement. T-shirts and jumpers scream words like “awesome”, “cool”, “future superhero” and “little but loud”. Conversely, girls’ clothes are emblazoned with things like “princess”, “cute”, “stay happy” and “gorgeous”. Because never forget that boys are defined by how impressive they are, while girls are defined by how impressive they look.”

If we want girls who are confident and don’t feel shame at their gender, and boys who are confident and don’t shame any other gender type (or feel they have the right to commit acts of violence on the extreme end) then we need to address this. Us, the adults in charge, right here right now.

If you see it, call it out. Watch for the blue cups and red cups. It matters.

My word: The business impacts of inclusive language

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

Anyone who has been on the receiving end of an insult knows the adage that words never hurt is a myth. For businesses wanting to get the most out of their communications and create a brand presence that attracts a wide range of customers, writing for inclusion is about more than just political correctness. Language matters as it’s how we define the world.

For businesses communicating in a world where an apparently innocuous tweet or post can be made into a 6.30pm news analysis piece because of offense that has been caused, writing for inclusion (or not!) can have real business ramifications.

Read more on Perspective Hive’s guest blog hosted by Angela Denly Communications.

A change of perspective

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

I believe that you get to choose in life. You can make each decision or interaction a positive experience, or one that perpetuates thinking and patterns that are hurtful or unhelpful.

This is why I’ve created Perspective Hive as a diversity consulting hub of expertise that helps companies value difference and where difference creates business value. I want to work with companies that want to think differently about difference.

After working for 10.5 years at Westpac in internal communications roles as well as leading several practices in the Inclusion & Diversity team, I was inspired to help more businesses benefit from creating impactful diversity, inclusion and flexibility outcomes like I have delivered in the banking sector.

I offer experience in creating company cultures where people don’t have to put their energy into masking their differences, but instead can think big and share their best ideas. Where they feel a sense of belonging and respect for the uniqueness they bring to work with them.

Because when done right, inclusion programs not only help individuals excel in their careers or have the potential to change society, but they are also good for business. And by this I mean increasing a whole range of outcomes from innovation and productivity, to wellbeing and engagement.

Why inclusion & diversity is my calling

I grew up in South Africa during the height of apartheid. It was an evil and shameful period in history, yet I was unaware of the privilege that I had been bestowed upon purely by being born into a family of ‘white’ parents (my dad being an Italian migrant was viewed with suspicion by some but was deemed to pass the colour credentials).

My enlightenment and change of perspective came during the second-last year of high school where 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.

PIcture of the Edutrain participants on Durban station.
On the Edutrain Youth Leadership Program in 1991.

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. 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, yet they did not hate me.

Going into adulthood and moving to Australia in 2000 after being a successful international transfer program applicant with PR firm Text 100, where I then became an outsider as an emigrant, only fuelled my quest to learn and understand more about difference. Whether that’s being from a different school. Or from a different culture. Having a disability. Identifying as LGBTI or an Indigenous Australian. Having a different gender or being a different age to everyone else.

I can’t right the wrongs of the past. But I believe that can choose to make a positive impact, even in the smallest of ways. And Perspective Hive is how I help others change they way they do business, so that difference becomes an asset.