Diversity is good for business, corporate panel says

28/06/2017
Diverse boards, management teams and workforces outperform their homogenous counterparts, yet many organisations remain slow to adapt and benefit from what Melbourne Business School Professor Jody Evans describes as a “tidal wave of evidence” supporting the benefits of diversity.
 
Aware that the moral and legal imperatives are not always enough to drive change in organisations, Jody used the recent World Business Forum in Sydney to bring together a panel of business leaders driving the diversity agenda at NAB, Australia Post and Holden to discuss the business case for diversity.
 
According to Christine Corbett, Chief Customer Officer at Australia Post, leadership and values are the critical enablers of diversity.
 
“It has to start from the top. One of the important things we did was try to work through the shared values we wanted to live by as a company. The most important one was respect – treating others as you want to be treated yourself,” Christine said.

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Diversity panelists (L–R) Ashley Winnett, Christine Corbett, Angela Mentis and Jody Evans

Angela Mentis focuses her passion for diversity on the financial services sector. As Chief Customer Officer of NAB’s Business and Private Banking, she too sees the importance of leadership and organisational values in driving change.
 
“It starts and ends with leaders. You have to be ambitious and care deeply about what is important. You have to ask, what are the moments that really matter to employees? When they bring their best to work, it’s good for customers, the company and communities,” Angela said.
 
At GM Holden, the leadership group is still predominantly male, but Executive Director People, Performance and Culture, Ashley Winnett, told the panel that diversity matters to the company’s people and customers.
 
“Diversity is easier if it makes business sense. When we sponsored the Mardi Gras, our social media stats went up 480%. We sold more Colorados in that week than any other. The ratio of those who didn’t like us any more vs those who did was 1:8,” Ashley said.
 
Angela says driving the diversity agenda is still challenging, but she has several strategies to tackle the issue.
 
“You have to deal with the unconscious biases and behaviours people bring to work – and their limiting beliefs – and create an environment where people can flourish.
 
“The use of data is important. McKinsey recently came in and did a health check on our culture –showing ways of working, norms and behaviours, and what we needed to change,” Angela explains.
 
In Ashley’s case, he focuses on the benefits to overcome the challenges in creating diversity.
 
“Many times, when we have inched forward, it has been opportunistic. It is about seizing the moment. We did a rainbow V8 racing car, and there was a lot of fear about that, but the reaction was positive. Businesses can be amazingly conservative, but I’m yet to understand the downside of diversity. The upside, from a commercial perspective, is untapped.”
 
The panel recognised that taking the first step to enacting change can often be the hardest but encouraged organisations to start anywhere they can.
 
“Don’t wait for a big plan. Decide what you really care about and start with that,” advises Christine.
 
“Talk to your people and see what matters to them, and be prepared to shift and change your perspective.”
 
As the academic partner of the World Business Forum, Melbourne Business School was proud to convene this important panel discussion. Find out more about our transformative business education programs.