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Proven Strategies for Diversity and an Inclusive Culture with Maureen Frank CEO and Founder of emberin (Part 1 of 3)

Proven Strategies for Diversity and an Inclusive Culture with Maureen Frank CEO and Founder of emberin (Part 1 of 3)

Are you sick of implementing diversity initiatives that aren’t shifting the way things are always done? If you are having issues with setting up of strategies for diversity and an inclusive culture, this e-book is for you. Let’s talk about what strategies have you seen work and what not?

Firstly, here’s a little bit of background for those of you who don’t know us and myself, Maureen Frank. emberin has been around for the last 10 years. In terms of my background, I don’t come from a HR background. I was actually Head of Mergers and Acquisitions at AON Corporation, and I really just fell into the diversity space. I was very fortunate to win a Telstra Business Woman of the Year award over 10 years ago in the context of my role as Head of Mergers and Acquisitions.

You know what? I reluctantly went into those awards and I reluctantly participated. But it was the first time in my life that I’d experienced a female mentor and sponsor. This sponsor was in the form of the wonderful Elizabeth Broderick. She gave me a great big push to go into those awards, and in being one of the winners was when I realised that there were some issues in being a senior executive woman in a business. I was receiving emails from women at AON from all over the globe, asking me how I did it as a woman in a man’s world!

Since that time, what we’ve been well-known for in our business, in emberin, has been around gender diversity and inclusion more broadly.

But, we’ve also been very famous for our passion and for the engagement of men in the subject of gender diversity. We pioneer that concept. Fortunately, with Telstra they gave us a lot of permission to do some radical new things back in the early stages of the business, and now engaging men in the conversation has become more mainstream.

I’ve supported Elizabeth Broderick in setting up the Champions of Change, the CEO Champions of Change that some of you may have heard about. I’ve also convened the Queensland Male Champions of Change, and convened a number of internal groups.

What I want today is hopefully to give you a couple of strategies which will be really useful for you, and regardless of whether you do anything with us or not, I just hope that there are things that you can actually start to make happen in your organisation.

I guess my frustration with diversity and inclusion in Australia, and what I’ve seen in the hundreds of companies we work for, is that I see a lot of shining lights. The majority of organisations are doing lots of things, ticking lots of boxes, spending lots of money, but not really getting anywhere.

To me, I now have lots of conversations with CEOs where I really say, “If you’re not going to take this seriously, if you’re going to just do a couple of random things, you’re actually better off not doing anything at all.” I don’t mean that in a cheeky way, but I really mean that as any business, you shouldn’t be doing anything that doesn’t have a return on investment. A lot of the things that happen in the diversity inclusion space, do not have a return on investment.

To get started, I’m going to go through 10 proven strategies with success in diversity and inclusion. I hope some of these are helpful.


1:  Keep Your Strategy Simple With Push-Pull

What I see in a lot of organisations which I will go through with a big red pen, is the really complicated strategies, where people give me this laundry list of things that they’re doing in the diversity, inclusion space. You’re never going to be successful at all of those things. I’m a very big believer in doing a couple of things, but doing them really well.

If I look at gender diversity, but also other areas of diversity and inclusion, I like to keep it simple, and that’s with a “push-pull” strategy. If I’m looking at gender diversity specifically, what works? First, the only 2 elements you need in your diversity and inclusion strategy are around the issue of “push” and the issue of “pull”.

“Push”, by this I mean that you want women in the business banging on the door, saying, “Give me that job.” How do you do that? There is multiple ways that you can go about doing this, but fundamentally, my business has been involved with mentoring over 20,000 women around the world in the last 10 years. I can tell you, from India to America to South Africa, you name it, the issue of lack of confidence is still a global pandemic with women.

That’s regardless of level of seniority. Just with more senior women, they have less people to tell about whether they’ve made a mistake or whether they’re not confident in something that they’ve done. There are some strategic things that you can do to build self-confidence. The mistake that’s often made is that people stick women in a room, in a workshop and send them on a course for a day, and they think that that will fix the issue… but it won’t.

A lot of the lack of confidence issue in little girls comes from how we’ve been brought up. It’s deeply ingrained. Therefore, the change process is about behavioural change, and that takes time. We like to do that with empowering women… But it needs to be more than that. It’s the “how to” that they need. How to bring your feminine style to the table, and knock the lights out of it! It’s not saying you want to fix women. It’s about saying, “Well, what’s your way of going about doing that?” You need to do that over a period of time to get success. You also need to constantly embed that and require them to take action.

In terms of the “pull” strategy, what I mean in this regard is that leaders need to not just understand diversity and inclusion. In my experience right now, in Australia particularly, leaders and executives will verbally be very passionate about diversity and inclusion. They might even have their hearts completely won over, that it is something that they need to do; however, very, very few leaders understand how to make it happen.

There’s a big difference with regard to understanding and being passionate about diversity and inclusion to the “how to” of being an inclusive leader. The “pull” strategy is about not only getting leaders engaged in wanting to be a part of diversity and inclusion and actually understanding the “What’s in it for me?” factor for all of them, but then knowing how to go about doing that and showing them what accountability looks like. I like to do that through action and experimentation. Similar to the “push” strategy, again, you can’t stick people in a room and teach them different things and expect change to happen, it won’t.

We’re very, very strategic in the way that we do this, it’s about behavioural change. It’s got to be over a period of time. You’ve got to challenge people to take action. I like to challenge people to take small steps (baby steps), experiment, try something new, see if it will make a difference. You want then, to see in a short period of time that they could get some wins in their space. That’s what I’ve seen as being highly successful.


2:  Focus on Inclusion and not just Diversity

In some ways, the word diversity have some negative connotations, which is unfortunate. Diversity is a very broad word. It really means different, any difference. It could be a personality difference. It could be gender difference, colour difference, etc. Inclusion is a much more positive conversation, and I don’t think we’ve given inclusion enough focus in Australia. Inclusion is where every employee has a real voice.

To me, the definition of inclusion is when each and every employee feels like their uniqueness is valued and they had a real sense of belonging. That’s actually acknowledging that everybody is unique, but most of us cover this up when we come to work. Lots of organisations coin the phrase, bring yourself to work, but what does that actually mean? What do leaders need to do to enable people to really bring themselves to work?

Without inclusion, diversity is never going to get us anywhere. Without inclusion, we never get the promise of the diversity business case. At the end of the day, my good friend Elizabeth Broderick likes to coin the phrase, “pour in the women and stir, that’ll fix it”. Of course it won’t. If I can’t come to work and bring my unique perspective, views, and difference to the table because I feel safe and that my uniqueness is valued, then you’ll never going to get the benefit of my difference. I’m just going to adapt and be the same. Inclusion is absolutely critical.

Inclusion also starts to elevate the diversity and inclusion conversation to something beyond this thing on the side known as diversity and inclusion. Inclusion is way broader. Inclusion and inclusive leadership are the behaviours which lead to innovation, engagement, and collaboration. It has a connectivity to just about every single one of your people strategies. That’s what we try to get organisations to do, to see this more broadly and see the interconnectivity with inclusion in every HR strategy.


3: Focus on Executive Leadership Teams With Real Engagement

Again, most people will tell me that their CEO and their executive team are really supportive of this. I ask a lot of questions. For those of you who know me, you know I ask a lot of question. The questions are, “is that really true?” To me, real engagement is “can that executive team all sing from the same hymn sheet”. If you ask them all the same question, you’d be hearing fairly similar answers. Generally speaking, that’s not the case in leadership teams. Secondly, that they can give a very detailed account of the actions that they are taking. That’s what I mean by real engagement.

I’ll stop there and just say for a moment, if you don’t have real engagement in the executive leadership team, you may as well not do anything. It is the most critical piece. This is about cultural change. Creating a diverse inclusive culture is cultural change. If it’s not leader lead, it’s never going to work. I’m not trying to be a negative Nellie here, I’m really just trying to give you strategies that get you actual results.

A lot of organisations that have come to me and have a laundry list, I actually get them to stop and say, “You know what? To start with, you need to get your executive team, your CEO on the same page. They need to understand what it means to really champion this. They need to understand where accountability sits, and they need to understand what they need to do, the actions they need to take to be role models in this space, but also they need to have and the conversations, they need to not ignore, the conversations they need to grab the bull by the horns, so to speak, and challenge people on inclusion and diversity.”

In my experience with executive leaders, there’s a huge willingness to do that, but a lot of nervousness on the “how to”. I find that leaders are actually very grateful when they are empowered with the “how to”. It’s about giving them the information and the toolkit to be able to become truly inclusive leaders.

Click here to continue through to Part 2 of ‘Proven Strategies for Diversity and and Inclusive Culture.’

This article has been broken down into 3 parts, to jump ahead to the third and final part, click here.


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