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Gerry: Hello and welcome to another episode of this is HCD. My name is Gerry Scullion and I’m a human-centered design practitioner based in Sydney Australia. Before we jump in however as this podcast was recorded in the Sydney CBD, I’d like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as the traditional custodians of the land where we meet today and pay respect to their elders, both past, and present. So this episode breaks the usual format somewhat, as in this episode we have a panel of three people discussing diversity and culture. So we’ve Michelle Starr, Emma Jones, Anthony Quinn joining us.

Anthony, you might remember from the very first episode of this is HCD. We discussed the effects of poor organizational cultures on business outcomes and what businesses can do pragmatically to work towards creating a more diverse workplace, both from the top down at the bottom up. To give some additional context I was recently playing the role of convener for the Royal Society of Arts in New South Wales in Australia, and I held an event recently at Ford with the exact same panel. It was such a rewarding evening for everyone involved that I thought it might be something that this is HCD audience might enjoy. From my perspective, as the human-centered design consultant, I believe there is little point in engaging with design in isolation within organizations if you are not addressing the key points raised in this episode, so let’s jump straight in.

Hello guys. this morning we’ve got Michelle Starr from GenEq and we’ve also got Anthony Quinn today from Dynamic Four and we’ve got Emma Jones from Future of Work. So let’s kick off, Michelle tell us a little bit about yourself.

Michelle: Hi Gerry. I’m a strategic change consultant and I specialise in cultural change. So I do a lot of work around organizational culture and transforming those cultures.

Anthony: I’m a principal with Dynamic Four. What I do is I try to design social impact into business, and sometimes business into social impact which I them before, we work a lot with startups and people who are in the early phases of getting their business off the ground, so getting a diverse culture right for them is a really important thing.

Emma: Hi. I’m Emma Jones and I am a talent leader. So I am a consultant and I work with companies to help them to manage and deal with it, talent challenges and people challenges.

Gerry: Great guys. Welcome to the podcast. Emma, maybe you could tell us a little bit about the topic today.

Emma: The topic today is all about diversity in the workplace. We’re going to be talking about all the different challenges and try and hack some of those and figure out why it still exists and where these challenges actually come from, and what the outcome is if we can actually manage to deal with them and make some positive change.

Gerry: All right guys. So look, I’m really interested in why culture and diversity are so important in the workplace. I’ve heard it a lot over the last couple of years in Australia like the focus on culture is really important in enabling innovative thinking, but what I’m really interested is to hear your perspective on why you believe it’s so important and why it’s so prevalent today?

Michelle: Well, first of all, in terms of diversity in the workplace, it’s incredibly important with regards to people feeling that they can actually show up as their authentic selves within the workplace. It obviously has links into performing, how I’m actually performing in my role. If I’m spending less time concerned about how people are accepting me or interacting with me in the workplace, if I’m spending less time around that, I’ve actually got more headspace to focus on my activities and getting the work done. So you’ve got links into higher performance outcomes and essentially also greater outcomes in terms of teamwork.

Anthony: Yes. I think I’d pretty much say the same thing actually. I guess if you go back to This Is HCD right, so human-centered design, it starts with people and as Michelle said, if you’ve got a person, or if you’re that person, and you’re not really sure about where you fit in, then it’s really hard for you to be yourself. It’s really hard for you to figure out what you’re supposed to do. It’s really hard for you to make a contribution and that’s what everybody really wants to do. So I guess it starts there with people and that’s the whole purpose of it and it sort of goes beyond that and you get into having a more robust organisation, having a better business that, if you’re in a commercial space, is more successful, so you get better financial results. You’ve also got a business that will be around for longer and you’ve got a business that’s more reflective of the society that you’re in.

Gerry: But why is it important though when you look at it from a business perspective, many times I’ve spoken to CEOs and stuff and they say, “Hey, my culture is awesome. I walk into work and walk into the office and I’m high-fiving all the guys and they’re playing pool and they’re playing table tennis”. So why is it important?.

Emma: Because if you’re building products and services that are used by a multitude of different people, so whatever their backgrounds, sexual orientation gender etc. to build those products and services, to design them with a monoculture and a mono-demographic, that’s the perspective you’re going to get – mono. So you’re going to miss all the perspectives of all those other people and types of people and backgrounds of people that are using those products and services, so it’s quite limiting.

Gerry: But I guess from the perspective of the CEO who knows no different, they’re shipping products and they’re shipping value, and they believe that everything is going well, but inside when you speak to the people who are actually doing the work, they could be struggling. So how would you recommend those CEO’s connect those worlds to get a better outcome from a diverse approach?

Michelle: In terms of culture, I mean, culture is nearly always led by leadership. So if you’ve got a CEO, corporate CEO or Government CEO whomever, who is saying, “Our culture is great”, and yet the people are struggling, there’s a fundamental disconnect there. So that CEO needs to first of all, actually, touch base with employees, to go and actually have conversations with those employees and find out what’s actually happening? Where people’s pain points are? Where they’re struggling? And if that’s flowing down the line into product services and customer feedback, it’s really important that leader gets out there and actually finds out from the frontline staff, what’s actually their reality?

Emma: Engagement surveys will help with that, so most companies will run an engagement survey at some point probably every year, and it’s being able to read those and be open to what they’re reading. So if a CEO sees where there are levels of engagement that are below where they should be, they need to be open to the potential of what that actually means.

Michelle: I also find that engagement surveys are incredibly useful, and yet I still feel that for a leader to actually get out and speak to and have those more informal conversations with people, that’s where those golden pieces of information come back. People sometimes in organisations are still quite hesitant to actually really share what they’re feeling in engagement surveys. So if you have more of an informal relationship, getting out there and talking with staff, building that fundamental trust with staff, you’re going to get feedback that’s just not going to come through in an engagement survey.

Anthony: Yes, absolutely. And when you have those conversations, (and I suppose it’s probably worth saying as well when we say CEO we’re not necessarily talking about big company CEO; there could be a lot of people listening to this who probably work in design agencies and places like that, that aren’t necessarily “big” in inverted commas), you got to go back to why you’re doing it in the first place. So, as Michelle says, and it’s just like the design process, having conversations with people but being really upfront and open with them about why you’re having that conversation in the first place. So if you imagine you put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and you imagine well this is a person who, let’s go back to that statement about being judged. So if you imagine this is a person who might feel judged or they’re not really sure about where they fit in, well they’re going to be anxious. So then you’ve got to acknowledge that and say, “This is why I’m having this conversation”, and get right into that and not be afraid to go there because unless you do then they were probably not going to want to open up to you. And it’s a bit like, it sounds a little bit trite maybe but, it’s a bit like when you collect personal information or a phone number or an email on it on a web form. What are you going to do with that information? Why should I give it to you? Why would I give you my date of birth? I’ve been told not to give that to people. It’s the same thing. So the first thing you’ve got to do is establish some trust and tell people that you’re doing this for a reason and here’s what the reason is. And then go from there and I think Michelle is spot-on, you’ve got to be prepared to just listen and learn, and you’ll probably hear stuff that you don’t want to hear and that isn’t particularly nice, but that’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to start with that and go from there.

Michelle: Isn’t it interesting though Anthony because what I find is that many leaders, and regardless of whether they’re C-suite leaders or leaders within the organisation, oftentimes, and I hesitate to use the word “afraid” but that’s what I see, to actually have those genuine authentic conversations, where they open themselves to hearing feedback that is relatively scary to hear, in terms of this, it is a reality of what me as an individual employee is actually experiencing within the company. And so oftentimes leaders won’t reach out in that respect.

Emma: The other thing I think I’ve certainly witnessed is that the leaders are trying to rally the troops, they’re trying to get everybody to feel incredibly positive and to drive this a positive culture, and that’s where culture I think it’s perhaps used in the wrong way. And they think of it as “kool-aid”, the term of people “drinking the kool-aid”, and they want everybody to be feeling like they were all very cool and everything’s great, and this great culture and be very proud of where we work, but then the reality can be quite different from that. But nobody necessarily wants to stand up and go, “Actually this doesn’t feel good. I’m in this great place that’s got pool tables, that’s got lots of food and chefs, and everybody loves working here and I’ve got to tell all my friends how great it is working here. And social media makes us all look like the best company to work for in the world.” But the reality can feel very different.

Michelle: Absolutely!

Emma: Yes. And that’s I think quite a tough thing for a CEO to take a step back from. Any CEO would potentially struggle with fighting against that or going against that grain.

Michelle: And also for an employee to actually stand up and say, “Hello, something’s not quite right here”.

Emma: Exactly.

Michelle: It’s when you’re talking about surface level stuff, and what we’re really feeling is something entirely different.

Gerry: Some really great insights there coming from the CEO perspective, but just changing the conversation a little bit more towards the employee, and if they’re in that environment at the moment where they don’t feel that they’re being heard and they don’t feel that there’s a diverse culture actually around them. What can they do to actually enable that that type of conversation to happen at the C-level?

Emma: It’s a tough thing for an employee because again, they don’t want to put their hand up and call themselves out as not being on board, and they can actually, unfortunately, I hate to say but it is a fact, that they can receive quite a bit of a backlash from that. So it’s a tough thing, they’d have to have a somebody trusted. And if it’s not a forward-thinking company where they’re actually recognising that they need to have mentors and sponsors of people, and they’re not necessarily going to have that networking, that ability to manage it upwards, to take that message upwards and to discuss it.

Michelle: Particularly if it’s a heavily hierarchical organisation an employee is going to struggle getting those messages up the chain, as you say, unless they have actually got someone there who’s going to support them getting that message up the chain. I would say that possibly the best way to go about it if you are an employee is to maybe have, for example, maybe even a brown-bag session or lunchtime learning, where you can have a guest speaker in. It doesn’t require leadership approval to have someone or not often, to have someone actually coming in speaking, for example, on diversity at work, and have that set up. And you can do that at any level within the organisation.

Emma: Yes. So bringing outside influence into your organisation to help other people to feel a little bit more comfortable.

Michelle: Yes.

Anthony: Yes, it’s not– it’s definitely not an easy thing to do and it probably takes an awful lot of courage on the part of the individual, especially if you’re in fear in an organisation or any construct that just doesn’t feel right for you that’s a tough thing to be the bearer of bad news, because it can feel like it’s going to turn back on, “So maybe I’m the problem here, right?”. That’s the sort of sense that can be fostered but I guess maybe there are two things, one is how you approach it in a way that’s direct enough that it gets attention, but not necessarily confrontational so it scares people away and maybe it’s just asking for advice; “So, I know you’re interested in running the company and running it well, maybe you and I could have a chat about ways that we could do that better.” And then that gives you an ‘in’ to have more of a conversation and then you can site things. But I think the other thing as well as, you don’t necessarily have to make it about you, and about the other person directly because I can be tough. You could actually put together a business case but again that’s not an easy thing to do. So you can actually look at, “So, I’m going to have a conversation with another person here whether they’re the CEO or my boss or even a colleague, just to see if we can get something happening here”. I suppose you got to look at what are they interested in, and how do I get their advice on how to move that on and bring this into the conversation, and maybe also what might they be afraid of. So how do I make it safe for them to have this conversation with me as well? So they’re not necessarily easy things to do and it’s a pity that it’s something an employee should have to do, but I guess it’s also something that customers do, right? And they do it pretty differently, they will just walk away, they don’t always tell you that, “I’m leaving your business because I don’t feel like I fit in and I feel judged”. So maybe another way to do it is to actually put together a business case around customers and say, “Hey look, do we really know our customers here? Is our customer base actually reflective of the society in the community that we live in?”.

Gerry: Yes. So it might be a case of where the employee feels that they’re not actually being heard and they’re not in that culture that they so desire, but what can they do to– there’s going to be conflict whenever they say that to the board or to their manager whoever it is, because the manager might believe that it is a diverse culture. So, are there any tools or there anything that we can actually point people in the direction to that might actually help them bring that closer, so they actually say the reality is this, you think this, because that’s usually what I do in the design world where you’re actually like you ain’t you do your research, you’re bringing it back and this is our question, this is what the customers have said, what are you going to do about it and put it back to the people?

Emma: There’s a couple of things that you can do just very easily and one of them is to start to look at the actual diversity numbers in your business. It’s not too difficult to find. Every HRAs system will have those numbers, so your people in culture team will be able to give you those numbers, so you can look at the actual split of diversity. You can also then see if they’ve actually done any kind of a pay gap analysis that gives you more clues, so you can look at the mix, you can look at the pay gap, depending on the size of company some of those numbers are actually available on the WGA site, so they’re all up-to-date, they’ve done very regularly.

I was just looking last night at some of the companies in Australia and their diversity mixes, and there were companies that would probably suggest that they have a very diverse mix of people. Some of the big banks I was looking at and it’s quite shocking actually when you see it. And then you start to get a sense of actually, where is our perspective, how are we viewing this? So if a company thinks oh we’re a very diverse culture, the numbers will tell you different. And that gives you a little bit more of a concrete place to start from.

Michelle: And there would also be the question then of whether companies who may think they’re diverse or may understand that they’re not diverse…

Gerry: Exactly.

Michelle: ….not providing that data to any old person within the organisation, and there will be people also who won’t feel confident enough. So if you’re actually from a diverse background, if you’re not feeling accepted and included at work, I would assume that you probably won’t have the confidence to reach out and say, “Can I have your diversity stats from the HR department?”. So, for me, it comes back to starting a small ‘movement’ I guess, and that would be from conversations you would have with your immediate teammates. Starting that conversation suggesting, for example, that maybe someone comes in to speak or even have it bringing it up at a team meeting; can we talk about diversity and inclusion within the workplace?

Gerry: You could be in that situation where you’re an employee and you’re just frustrated in that you hate your job, and you think that like, “Oh, maybe it’s diversity. Maybe there’s not diversity in the company”. But what does a diverse culture look like? Sometimes it’s very hard to say to people what diverse culture looks like; one company could be different to another, is that fair to say?

Michelle: I would think so, and what does a diverse company culture look like – it’s a really great question, but I would see it as first of all coming back to what I originally said, people being able to show up authentically at work, regardless of their gender, religious background, sexual orientation etc. But also, how I would see the manifestation of that, would be teams working effectively together and not just within your team; across teams. I would say that it would also be people’s opinions openly accepted and embraced, and actually called for as well.

Emma: I think, you’ll find that some of the outcomes, some of the results, will be evident in the retention rates, so retention of high performance, retention of talent that’s been identified as top performing talent, and also their actual ability to hire great talent as well. There’s plenty of evidence that shows that where companies have higher levels of diversity, for example, at board level so if it’s over ten percent, the return is much better. If you’ve got 50% representation at board level, your ability to hire great talent is almost triple, and also the return, the actual revenues and financial performance of the company is up to something like 58% higher than others. So there are some leading and lagging indicators like that all should have.

Anthony: Yes, I think those indicators are really important and you can even take it down a level, and so again, let’s just say you’re a design practitioner listening to this, you can look at your team and you can look at your practice, and you can look at whether those indicators actually even exist in your practice. So let’s just say you’re a person who does a lot of research, right, customer research or something like that. Are you actually including in your research, are you consciously including a diverse range of people in research?

Gerry: Representation.

Anthony: –yes, representation, do you actually measure it for a start? So I guess there are really simple tactical things that you can do like that but you maybe have more control and influence over, where you can actually start saying, “Well, the first thing I want to do is learn about this topic, I want to learn what diversity actually means and I want to learn about inclusion, and I want to understand how I would actually even figure out whether that’s there not in the first place because it’ll probably be slightly different for every company”. But you can do things like that, you can actually look at your own practice and say, “Well, if I look around my team, is it a diverse team. I just unwittingly got one type of person here without realising it. Do I have any biases myself?” and maybe that’s a good place to start, is just go get some unconscious bias training and start learning, and you go from there. So there are probably really simple things you can do and there are really big things you can do.

Gerry: So guys, what’s the one thing that’s stopping people from moving forward? What are the hurdles and the obstacles that are in place in the workplace?

Michelle: I think this is going to possibly be a controversial put-forward, but I think it’s got to do with where power sits in the organisation, and how that plays out. So people will not intentionally do anything that could be seen as a threat to their status and power within an organisation. I can say – I’m being quite philosophical about this right now – but in terms of when you actually open up diversity, you’re opening up to an increased level of risk within not just the organization but also within your power base, with the status that you hold within an organisation. So, what I do see in a lot in organisations is a lot of risk adversity. So, having these authentic conversations, having these conversations where you’re saying, “I know something’s not quite right, let’s have some open authentic conversations around diversity, around our culture”, there is a sense of risk attached to that because you’re opening up to the unknown. And I think even on an individual level people are concerned about doing that themselves, opening up to the big “why” questions about you know why am I here etcetera, etcetera. So I think that also has a place within organisations, that there is this fear of if I open this up am I opening a can of worms?

Emma: Yes, you’re absolutely right.

Anthony: I think it’s spot-on like you’ve got to really get into what are people afraid of here, as much as what are the positives of doing this?

Michelle: Because if you don’t lance that boil, if you don’t put it on the table, I always say a lot of the work I do is trying to get the stuff that we keep under table onto the table, so that we can all see what we’re dealing with. But a lot of people are scared to actually bring that to the table, they want to keep it underneath. And to have a healthy, robust, fully functional culture it’s about addressing those things, bringing it to the table and saying, “Okay, I see that we’ve got some great things here in our culture and we’ve got some not-so-great, let’s talk about how we can move that”.

Anthony: I totally agree and I think that this is where design has a role to play. So, if you go back to the outside and think – which is a lot of what design is all about – you can have these conversations, you can start to air these things by saying, “Well, for example, one in every three customers last year walked away from a transaction because they felt judged”.

Gerry: Wow.

Michelle: Yes, big start. A lot of business there. So, what if you were to do something like map, so here’s a customer’s journey through an experience and here’s why that happened. Now, what happens outside is often reflective of our internal, that’s as much an expression of our culture as anything internal. So now let’s look at what’s happening internally to drive that – that’s what human-centered design is all about; the service design.

Emma: And one of the things that I do, and it’s one of the most satisfying I think, is to create a candidate and employee ‘journey map’, and using design thinking principles of actually mapping that out and seeing all the different touchpoints that the company has, the experiences that a candidate goes through from when they first become aware of a company, through to joining and then beyond joining, all the way through to performing and of course exiting. And when you start to look, at that granular level, it’s incredible what you uncover. And as you said Michelle, some of that stuff is quite uncomfortable for a company to look at.

Gerry: So what do you say to the board or the C-level or the managers, whoever it may be in the companies that look at a representation of their organisation in terms of quotas, they’re like, “Hey well, when I look at my spreadsheet here, I can see that I’ve actually got the right percentages in the business”. Is that the right thinking to have or is there an alternative approach that we’re maybe not aware of?

Anthony: It’s not a bad thing to do, I guess it doesn’t stop there, and the thing is that you’d probably, in all honesty, struggle to find a company that actually, no pun intended ‘across the board’ and just I mean the board C-level leadership roles, all that kind of stuff right across the organisation, and outside the organisation in terms of customers, that actually has got a fully representative base of people, employees and customers, that are reflective of the community that we live in.

Emma: And I would say that a lot of this is driven by all the unconscious biases that everybody has….

Michelle: And conscious.

Emma: [laughs] …and conscious, but most of them seriously are unconscious. So it’s things that people are, which is why they’re unconscious biases, are not aware of. Everybody has them, there’s no finger-pointing, no shame, we all have them, I have them. And unfortunately, unless you’re aware of them, you can’t change it. But if you’re aware of them you can change how you make decisions. And that’s it, I think it’s the decision making at those points of making decisions, that shape those outcomes for organisations. So if people start to become aware of those biases they can manage them.

Michelle: I think a lot of if it has gone into the study of unconscious bias, and as you were saying, not to point the finger, not to take on shame and blame, I think that we’re also dancing around conscious bias. And I think that, that’s because of the shame associated with saying actually, “Yes, I do have a bias, and I know that it’s not unconscious because I’m clear that yes, I do have a bias”. And so we tend to say, “Oh well, Gerry couldn’t possibly be biased, therefore he must have unconscious bias around this”. But the truth is to a greater or lesser degree, we all are biased around something. So it’s about owning that, and not just saying it’s something that’s unconscious, actually saying, “Yes, I do have biases and how am I actually, what kind of outcomes are coming from those biases both conscious and unconscious?”.

Emma: I went to a meetup the other day, a tech meetup, and the majority were male and there were only a handful of females in the room. One of the girls who accidentally walked in with me and she was sat next to me, and she said, “Oh, I feel really uncomfortable here, I feel like I shouldn’t be here”. and I said, “Don’t be ridiculous, this is for everybody”. Anyway and then as the meeting kicked off, the moderator had stood up and was doing the housekeeping stuff and directed people to where the toilets were, but what he didn’t realise was that he only directed to where the male toilets are. And someone else had to step in and say where actually the female toilets were which was at the other end of the corridor. So that was just an example of a typical unconscious bias….

Michelle: Absolutely.

Emma: …yes. And it all has an impact on the other side of the coin in the room. There were the people who are not of that typical expected stereotype.

Gerry: Right, so we’re coming to the end of this episode and I just want to, first of all, thank you guys for being here today. But before we do that maybe there’s one thing that you could leave the listener with that they can do to actually improve their culture in the organisation today. So what advice could you give to the people listening?

Emma: I would recommend making yourself aware of where you sit on this, specifically on biases will probably help you, just so that you can understand and you can be knowledgeable when you talk to others about it. So you can take something called the ‘Implicit Association Test’. It takes something like eight minutes to do, so it’s really easy, just type into Google ‘Implicit Bias Test’ and it’ll come up, and it literally will blow your mind when you see the stats.

Gerry: And I should add that all the topics today and all the links will be in the show notes for the podcast.

Anthony: Okay, so I’m going to talk to design practitioners and I’m going to say two things. One is, get your hands on a report called ‘Missing Out, The Business Case For Customer Diversity” because that will give you some useful stats to start building a business case that’s relevant within your organisation or your customer base because you might have to tweak it a little bit. And the second thing that I’m going to say to do is to look for the indicators within your own practice and start thinking about – just look to yourself and say, “Well, what am I doing and not doing consciously or otherwise about diversity and inclusion, and what’s the one thing that I actually could do that’s really small and just get started on it?”.

Michelle: And I would say start having those conversations with your fellow team members, and see if you can get diversity on your team agenda for your next team meeting, see how you can promote awareness of diversity within your organization, and it always comes back to you. So take the unconscious bias or implicit bias test, read up on diversity and find out what you can, but first of all look within and say, “How does any bias show up in my life?”, and get any unconscious bias conscious.

Gerry: So guys, thank you so much for being here. It was absolutely brilliant to have you on the podcast, especially the three of you together which is extra-special. If anyone wants to get in touch with you, I know all three of you are on the Slack channel for This Is HCD – I’m looking at Anthony because he’s lapsed–!

Anthony: I’m all over it, you’re, right.

Gerry: [laughs] he’s lapsed in the last couple of weeks but he’s usually back on there, but his partner Ben is always on there, which is fantastic. So if anyone wants to reach out to you and speak a little bit more, you’re all open to having conversations?

Michelle: Absolutely.

Emma: Yes absolutely.

Anthony: Definitely.

Gerry: Okay, great thanks, guys.

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Gerry: So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this episode and if you’d like to be part of the conversation or community hop on over to thisisHCD.com where you can request to join the Slack channel and help shape future episodes and connect with other designers around the world. Thanks for listening and see you next time.

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Posted by Gerry

Founder and Host of This is HCD