2017 Diversity & Inclusion Lunch

8 November 2017

The Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce held its annual Diversity & Inclusion Lunch in Sydney on 8 November 2017 in conjunction with event partners EY Australia and Macquarie Capital. Sky News political commentator Peta Credlin moderated a panel discussion with Holly Kramer, non-executive director of AMP Limited, Australia Post, 2XU, and Woolworths; Ming Long, non-executive director of AMP Capital Funds Management and board member of Chartered Accountants and the Diversity Council of Australia; and Kevin McCann AM, chairman of Citadel Group, Telix Pharmaceuticals, and the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust and a member of the Male Champions of Change.

The panellists were asked initially for their views on what workplace diversity means and why it’s important. Kicking off with a quote from Maya Angelou – “people won’t remember what you said, but how you made them feel” – Ming Long’s view was that it is about employees not feeling judged according to their gender or the colour of their skin, thereby believing that they will be listened to and able to contribute more meaningfully. Kevin McCann emphasised the need for organisations to ensure that they have the most talented people. As a former chairman of Macquarie Group, he pointed to the organisation benefitting from diversity and inclusion because of its focus on employment of candidates on the basis of outstanding ability irrespective of gender or race.

Invited to the Party, and Invited to Dance

Holly Kramer memorably described diversity as “getting invited to the party”, and inclusion as “being invited to dance”. In her view, organisations do not get the full benefit of their staff unless everyone comes to work ready to offer their opinion and leaders actively seek that opinion.

Ming Long commented that leaders are most effective when the chief executive and leadership team are aware of their ‘leadership shadow’, and understand their impact on those around them. Business leaders need to examine their leadership styles, she said, and consider whether their style is, for example, very Anglo or alpha male, and should be adapted to be more inclusive for both women and men.

Asked for examples of diversity and inclusion initiatives that had failed, Kevin McCann nominated the example of a company where top-down gender targets had been frustrated because of lack of middle management buy-in. “No-one is better in the corporate world than middle management at making things not happen”, Holly Kramer noted wryly, arguing the need for ‘true believers’.

In response to data Peta Credlin cited showing that women are represented more effectively in political than in corporate life, Kevin McCann and Ming Long agreed on the need to focus on increasing the number of women in senior executive ranks and then in a position for chief executive and board roles.

On the thorny topic of quotas, Holly Kramer indicated that she was not a fan, arguing that organisations needed to work harder to overcome the ‘hourglass syndrome’ whereby women drop out of the workplace because of availability of childcare and wider cultural issues. In her view, it is important to focus on expanding the pipeline of available female candidates for senior positions, including the availability of mentors.

“You Have to Learn to Love the Ones Who Challenge You”

Does ‘merit’ in business stand for “mates elevated regardless of intellect or talent”, as Ming Long quoted from workplace author Catherine Fox? Appointment on ‘merit’ can often mean simply perpetuating the people who have been in the position before, Holly Kramer said, emphasising the importance for business leaders of understanding their unconscious biases, and noting the need to call this out, as she had done when presented by a recruiter with a male-only shortlist for a senior role.

Ming Long argued in favour of educating people to understand their unconscious biases rather than aggressive judgement, which puts up barriers. Being able to demonstrate successful leadership of a diverse workforce would increasingly be a pre-requisite for the most senior business roles, she said, and executives needed to understand the importance of this for their career, which would encourage them to champion it (“never underestimate the power of self-interest”, she noted).

In response to a question from the floor about how to avoid diversity being undermined by the tendency to hire on the basis of gut feel and instinctive liking, Holly Kramer commented that a catalyst for her came after the realisation that a colleague had a diametrically opposite Myers-Briggs personality profile. Business leaders had to feel “better about being uncomfortable, better about being challenged”, she said: “You have to learn to love the people who are most difficult, the ones who challenge you.”