Diversity chief names areas of improvement

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Organisations looking to improve their business results in 2017 should increase their focus on diversity and double down on inclusion initiatives – that’s the message from one advocate who says even the best employers can still improve.

“Many Kiwi businesses are doing excellent work in this arena and harnessing the benefits such as increased productivity, the opportunity to tap into new markets and greater access to top talent in their workforce,” says Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie is the CEO of Diversity Works NZ.

But there’s still work to be done, insists the Auckland-based exec. In fact, Cassidy-Mackenzie has pointed to five key areas which employers should be focussing on over the coming year.

Prepare for the aging workforce

Research by Diversity Works indicates that older workers want employers to recognise that their requirements around flexibility may differ from that of their younger colleagues.

It also shows they want access to ongoing training and professional development, to have their skills and experience acknowledged and respected, and the opportunity to mentor and interact with younger workers.

Retirement planning advice, health programmes and job design are other strategies organisations can put in place to support older workers,” says Cassidy-Mackenzie.

Tackling unconscious bias

Biases can impact every facet of a business, from recruiting staff, to leadership effectiveness, communication, decision making and workplace interactions, says Cassidy-Mackenzie.

The good news is that awareness of this issue is a mitigating strategy in itself, bringing changes in the way people think and act, so well-designed training sessions for staff that focus on processes organisations can put in place to support behavioural change are a great place to start.

Addressing gender imbalance

While many organisations are bolstering efforts to get more women into their senior teams, Cassidy-Mackenzie says it’s only a temporary fix if employers don’t take steps to create a gender-balanced pipeline within their own firm.

Strategies that allow organisations to address this issue at every level include reviewing gender representation across all levels and functions, and developing a plan to address disparities, developing key pay equity indicators and a plan to address inequities, reviewing and updating parental leave policies and procedures, and developing the talent pipeline through initiatives such as targeted mentoring and leadership programmes.,” says Cassidy-Mackenzie.

Embrace flexible working

The business benefits of flexible working are well-documented – research shows that organisations that offer these practices are perceived as more attractive employers, increasing their available talent pool, and report improved productivity and focus, and higher levels of staff loyalty and commitment, says Cassidy-Mackenzie.

Initiatives to consider include allowing employees to choose their start and finish times, reduced hours, work-from-home days or remote working, working longer days during busy periods and shorter days in off-peak times, or job sharing or job splitting.

Have courageous conversations

Diversity provides many business advantages such as bringing new ideas to the workplace, the opportunity to reach out to new markets and a workforce that is better able to connect with clients and customers, says Cassidy-Mackenzie.

But it can also provide challenges in the workplace, and training, delivered through a robust framework, can help people understand their own cultural norms and how these impact everyday interactions, specifically those in the workplace, she continues.

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