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Sniffing out tokenism in Diversity and Inclusion programs

I was doing my usual flick through of twitter sporting articles the other day and came across a recent speech from the President from a nameless AFL club made during a business lunch. “We embrace authentic diversity and inclusion!” he enthusiastically boomed at the crowd. I held my breath and read on…. “We have introduced a Women’s league!” he added. “Here we go” I thought “…but keep going…” “We want to develop and retain good people.” He continued. “All fine” I thought. …. “but now tell us how you are embedding these values and behaviours.”

As it turns out, this particular AFL club, like many I should add, are making a real effort to change their culture and incorporate diversity and inclusion into an engaged workforce. They are doing this with many internal and community based initiatives, staff changes and expert external advice. Angela Pippos discusses this emerging change in perspective beautifully in her book “Breaking the Mould” (It’s a ripper read btw. I highly recommend it if you are interested in seeing how sexism in sport is slowly changing.)

It got me thinking though….

How can you tell if an organisation sporting or otherwise is the real deal when they espouse their commitment to diversity and inclusion?

There are, I believe, a few very obvious tell-tale signs that a diversity and inclusion (or any culture change) program is not the real deal. Some of these include:

  1. Implementing a program without establishing a baseline state of play

Leaders need to know what they don’t know. Initially surveying staff on how they feel about the many facets of their work life provides a direction to tailor a program to. For example employees may be happy with their working hours but unhappy with communication at work.

There are many advantages of utilising external survey provider to complete this activity and there are many validated well designed tools available. 1 Regardless, a baseline survey allows something concrete to measure success against post implementation of the program.

A program implemented that doesn’t include unconscious bias training

If I had a dollar for the number of organisations that tell me they have all in hand when it comes to implementing culture change but haven’t included training to identify and reduce unconscious bias, I would own my own football club! (Well nearly)

What is unconscious bias? It is defined by the American bar as: “….implicit social cognitions that guide our thinking about social categories” In normal speak this means it is the bias that we are unaware of and that which makes us automatically judge people and situations in a particular way, influenced by our background, environment and personal experiences. The good news is that training to minimise unconscious bias has been proven to teach people to recognise and mitigate this behaviour. There is no point implementing a D&I initiative without this component.

2. The program is not individualised to the particular organisation.

One size does not fit all, and although there are many overriding principals that drive employee motivation, each workplace is different and therefore assessment and an individual approach to creating and rolling out a diversity and inclusion program is essential. Avoid the glossy 5-step- with-steak-knives cookie cutter solution sold to you as the be all and end all. The process will take time and needs to focus on the needs, market and personalities of the company involved.

3. The organisation fails to evaluate the success of their initiatives in an ongoing fashion

I was speaking to a friend the other day who works for a very large healthcare organisation about employee engagement.

She said “We have been using xxxx group to conduct our employee engagement surveys for the last 8 years. Post the survey they suggest changes required to the organisation to improve culture. The trouble is, we analyse the survey but then never check in with staff post implementing some of the recommendations to see if there has been an improvement. We then just repeat the survey again the next year.” What a waste of money me thinks!

Diversity and inclusion, or any behaviour change programs, must have ongoing systematic evaluation.

Bandying the “diversity” and “inclusion” words around without substance behind them isn’t going to cut it in the long term with staff and your customers. It can also be costly. Aswell as an organisation’s biggest fans, both these groups can also be the biggest critics If a program isn’t thought out and established well it can therefore result in a counteractive effect.

Importantly, if you do think you have mastered the difficult transition to a positive culture with great business outcomes, keep talking loudly about the how why and what with your staff and customers until the fat lady sings, or in this instance, until the final siren sounds. Happy staff equals happy customers, clients or fans. You will definitely continue to kick goals in the future (and that is enough corny analogies I think!)


Morrel-Samuels Palmer: 2002: Getting the truth into Workplace surveys: Harvard Business Review.

Pippos, Angela: 2017: Breaking the Mould: Taking a hammer to sexism in sport. Affirm Press.

Kang, Jerry: 2009: American Bar Association: Section of litigation: “Implicit Bias: A primer for Courts”

Johnston, Robert: 2015: “5 Ways Corporate Culture affects your customer’s experience” Small biz daily.

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