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Keeping diversity front and centre as organisations respond to the pandemic

You may be surprised to learn that many organisations have boosted their efforts on diversity and inclusion during the COVID-19 pandemic. For them, encouraging diversity of thinking approaches and inclusive leadership are considered more important than ever.

At Diversity Partners, the team has remained focused on creating a positive difference to workplaces at a time of huge uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CEO Dr Katie Spearritt talks about what their team has been working on, and some positive changes they’ve seen in workplaces during the past few months.

What happened for you and your team when Australia went into lockdown in March?

We quickly set about designing online workshops for clients to educate people leaders on ways to create connection and a sense of belonging for teams who all suddenly found themselves working from home.

This was a special opportunity for us because it felt like we were doing something practical to help make a positive difference at a time of huge uncertainty.

And the swift take-up of the digital workshops buoyed us during a time of upheaval for our business too.

The ‘Leading Remotely Effectively & Inclusively’ workshops we created gave us an opportunity to draw on our decades of work in flexibility, diversity and inclusive leadership in Australian organisations – helping organisations to set up flexible working arrangements and build more inclusive workplace cultures for everyone. We built in mindfulness and positive psychology principles to support individuals through the transition.

Did you have to re-design your existing programs for the online forums?

Yes, we did a complete re-design of our face-to-face workshops. We were fortunate to have previous experience in crafting e-learning programs (with e-learning specialists Learning Seat by Litmos) to provide a new engaging, interactive experience for participants.

Dr Katie Spearritt
Dr Katie Spearritt

After really positive feedback on our ‘Leading Remotely’ workshops, we extended our online offering to unconscious bias awareness, flexible working, inclusive leadership, as well as specialist topics such as building disability confidence in organisations.

Over the past two and half months, we’ve delivered 50 workshops online. We have a terrific team of specialists continually learning and innovating to find effective ways to educate leaders – so business leaders can approach everything they do and say with an inclusive and flexible mindset.

Can you share some positive experiences of the COVID-19 response from an organisational perspective?

What’s stood out for us in the current phase of COVID-19 responses is how many leaders are being thoughtful and sensitive to different employee preferences – respecting that some people are looking forward to returning to offices, while many others are keen to retain new productive work routines they’ve established while working from home. In our workshops, we’ve also lifted awareness among leaders that home may not be a safe place for those experiencing domestic violence.

The way in which these leaders are respecting different individual needs to find a mutually beneficial solution for the employee and business is a good example of inclusive leadership in itself.

We’ve also noticed the humility of leaders with whom we’ve been working – recognising they don’t have all the answers in what’s obviously an unprecedented time for everyone. That’s important because humility is one of the four leadership behaviours that predicate whether employees feel included, according to US-based think tank Catalyst.

And the COVID-19 response has shown that working from home can work well for many employees in professional roles. What’s more, initial surveys coming out from a range of organisations have shown productivity has mostly increased or stayed the same.

Any surprises during the pandemic response?

At first, we worried that organisations might halt diversity and inclusion efforts in what were (and continue to be) really challenging business conditions for many. Resources are often diverted from HR and Organisation Development areas during times of crisis.

But we’ve been pleasantly surprised to see several have actually boosted their efforts, recognising it’s times like these where diversity of thinking approaches and innovation are key.

And it’s times like these – where stress is high – when biases in decision-making are often exacerbated. Decision fatigue can set in if we’re having to make new routines and lots of decisions everyday. Learning to recognise and challenge unconscious biases, as many of our clients recognise, is therefore more important than ever.

For example, one client asked us to design and deliver a customised video on disrupting bias during their upcoming performance assessment process, recognising some of the unique challenges of the past few months where homes became workplaces and many of us juggled a range of caring responsibilities.

What sort of strategy work have you been doing in the past few months?

We were particularly buoyed to start D&I strategy consultation with a local government Council that serves one of the most diverse communities in Melbourne. At a time when it would have been easy to defer this type of work, the Council chose to elevate it. That, in itself, says a lot about their commitment.

The Council has markedly progressive plans on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment, accessible employment for People with Disability, and Gender Equity, as well as a council-wide Inclusive Communications charter and actions to embed equity in procurement practices. Their plans have an intersectional focus, at best practice standards.

But the Council also recognised it could do better on internal efforts – in lifting leader accountability and updating recruitment and promotion policies – and engaged us to advise on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ to achieve this.

This local government assignment has been particularly interesting because it’s the opposite of what we generally find in the private-sector – where external efforts (embedding diversity and inclusion in marketing, product and services design, and procurement) usually lag internal efforts.

To work with a Council that is so genuinely committed to best practice and cultural transformation has been inspirational for all of us.

We’re now looking forward to starting some new strategy assignments in sectors as diverse as construction, urban water and fashion over the next month.

Learn more about Diversity Partners’ services

To read more about our online leadership and employee workshops, please click here.

To learn more about our approach to developing diversity and inclusion strategies and action plans, please click here.

To see how we help organisations re-set their recruitment and promotion policies, flexible work and parental leave policies and practices to embed diversity and inclusion, please click here.

And if you’d like to have a general chat about ways to help you progress diversity and inclusion in your organisations, please email or call our office on 1800 571 999. We’d love to talk with you.

About Dr Katie Spearritt

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