Diversity in business

Research into diversity has shown how it benefits businesses nationwide, although specific initiatives are not always successful

Diversity in business

New research into small businesses has found that self-discipline; people and communication skills; and personal passion and drive are the top three characteristics for running a successful business.

According to the Salesforce Small and Medium Business Trends Report, these soft skills rank higher than hard skills like market management and money management competency. However, what’s interesting is that this research also demonstrates that male and female business leaders place a higher emphasis on different skills.

Women are more likely to cite people and communication skills as well as money management skills as the most important characteristics, while men are more likely to include market knowledge.

Men are 45% more likely to say willingness to take risks is most important to running a successful business, while women are 42% more likely to cite an innovative mindset.

Research like this demonstrates the importance of having a diverse leadership team so that leaders can look out for different traits and make the right decisions.

As Kate Luft, head of retail banking at Citi, said in a recent interview with MPA, recruitment is not about ticking a box or filling a quota. The right person should always get the job, and with a diverse slate of leaders it ensures everyone gets the same opportunities.

Agreeing on the importance of having a diverse leadership team, AMP Bank’s chief executive, Sally Bruce, says “strength lies in our differences, especially when supported by an inclusive environment”.

Bruce says it’s not just about gender, however. “I firmly believe that a focus on diversity, including but not limited to gender, is important, especially across leadership teams, because the different perspectives that diversity brings lead to higher-quality discussions and decisions. This ultimately means better outcomes for customers and our broader community,” she says.

“Importantly, it ensures our workforce represents the diversity of our population. But a focus on diversity must be coupled with a commitment to inclusion, because together they create an environment where diverse voices are heard, which benefits everyone.”

Research from the UK has also shown the benefit that having a diverse workforce can bring to a business. According to Morgan Stanley, the stock price of more genderdiverse companies tends to do better than that of their less-diverse rivals.

The investment bank has developed a new ranking to evaluate gender diversity in businesses and its impact on performance. Gender diversity is determined by looking at the percentage of women on boards, executive and management teams, and in the workforce.

As a lender that works incredibly closely with small businesses, Prospa sees the benefits of diversity. 

Executive general manager of people and culture Elise Ward says the group is dedicaed to building a diverse community of gender, ethnicity, cultural background, age, sexuality or experiences.

“Having this diversity at the leadership level is vital, not just for promoting an inclusive workplace but for building the strongest, most innovative business we can. Different problem-solving styles and perspectives amongst leaders get us to the best decisions, and we know that diversity of teams delivers better performance results,” Ward says.

Prospa’s leadership team recently completed an online assessment to uncover their personal strengths and talents. Ward says it was great to see and discuss how different they each were as individuals, regardless of gender.

“It was an opportunity to understand how we can work together and use our unique strengths and perspectives to develop solutions and achieve a common goal,” Ward says. 

Further research into diversity in businesses has shown that almost a third of programs designed to create a more balanced workplace are either never or rarely effective. 

The survey by the Diversity Council Australia demonstrates that millions of dollars have been wasted on failed diversity and inclusion programs. In fact, it says that only 25% of diversity initiatives, which can include flexible work arrangements or mentoring schemes, often or always work.

However, Prospa has seen a 17% increase in females in leadership roles since January 2018. It has been working closely with The Dream Collective to increase the number of female leaders and empower women.

Prospa has worked towards greater gender balance because it understands the positive impact this has on both its culture and the business.

The initiative has included the rollout of a flexible work policy, unconscious bias training, The Dream Collective’s Emerging Leader Program, and an employee ambassador program to develop and drive initiatives.

The Diversity Council has also found that employees with the flexibility they need have 55% higher engagement, 55% less stress and 45% lower turnover intention than employees who do not.

Prospa’s flexible work policy was introduced with the full support of the Prospa leadership team, says Ward. It has had high employee engagement, with initiatives like multiple training sessions for employees and managers, team surveys, social events and guest speakers. 

“Flexible work enhances team performance, employee engagement and productivity, and promotes diversity at the leadership level, which drives the best decisions across the business,” Ward says.

“Inclusive leadership practices are key to overcoming things like unconscious bias that impact women in the workplace, and they also encourage more women to stretch themselves into exciting new opportunities.”