It's time to throw your 'diversity' strategy in the trash!!!

You might think I've gone mad! Why on earth would Maureen Frank make such a ridiculous statement?!

Well listen up, because.....I'm 100% committed to this statement.

 Here's why:

1.      The 'Diversity Best Practice' checklist does not work!

I see so many organisations that have a laundry list of 'stuff' they are doing around 'diversity'. There is a myriad of 'busy work' actions - but no one is stopping to look at each part and ask some important questions:

  • Does this action have a ROI?

  • Does this action CHANGE anything?

  • Will someone go back to their desk or their truck tomorrow and do their job differently, more productively, with greater courage for innovation? What outcome does the company get from this investment?

For those of you who know me - my background was as head of Mergers and Acquisitions in the insurance industry. My clients were Private Equity and Investment Banks - clients who were completely ROI driven. So forgive me, it's part of my DNA - I'm ROI OBSESSED.

Do some of these items sound familiar?

  • 1 woman on the shortlist

  • once a year International Women's Day tea parties

  • cattle dipping one off unconscious bias workshops - ticking a box in the hope of a cure

  • sponsorship' programs - 'go sponsor a diverse person who you don't even know' - which is counter intuitive to what sponsorship actually is - it MUST be authentic

  • a special development program for 0.000001 % of women in the organisation

  • diversity councils that are full of well-meaning people who keep suggesting more initiatives to HR - because they really don't understand what their role is

  • awareness campaigns

  • morning tea for the women out on parental leave

The problem with this well meaning approach is that it keeps diversity implementers very busy - and diverts their focus from the main game, which is actually shifting the culture.


 2.      The D (diversity) subject has negative connotations- whether we like it or not. It breeds a defensive reaction. It has a legacy:

  • "special things for special people - nothing to do with me"

  • "people who don't 'get' diversity are bad"

Diversity is not just about counting numbers. It's actually a lag indicator of cultural change. By focussing on the numbers alone - we are missing the magic. We are missing the opportunity to leverage the best out of EACH AND EVERYONE of our employees.


3.      Recruitment driven diversity strategies miss the point. Well meaning leaders intent on 'fixing' the problem often order 'hire more women' as the solution. This type of strategy is like the rosie peach exterior looks delicious but it's riddled with worms:

  • women are hired but don't stay because they are not included

  • men are very defensive and resist, resist, resist!

  • women feel they are tokens - and it impacts their personal confidence and effectiveness.


4.      In our rush to 'do diversity' we have missed the secret ingredient that releases the diversity business case promise: INCLUSION.  If I'm a feminine leader and I can't bring those qualities to the table, if I have to adapt and be the same as everyone else - my organisation is never going to access the value of my difference.


5.      'Diversity' is treated as a special HR strategy and is given priority over other urgent people issues - like engagement.


6.      'But we have a policy!!!' - changes and funky policies and systems do nothing to change the culture. With the best policies and documents in the world - it won't change the practice.


Ok. So what's the solution?




That might sound like I've been smoking something I shouldn't have ....BUT ....there is a proven linkage between inclusive leadership and the achievement of this big hairy goal.

Inclusive leadership:

  • increases engagement because 'I feel like I belong and my uniqueness is valued'

  • increases innovation because the leader knows how to get ALL team members to be open and honest with their ideas without fear of being shunned

  • increases collaboration because hierarchical leadership crumbles - it's about the team getting the ball in the hoop - not the leader

  • increases diversity because leaders WANT difference in their teams and value it when they have it.

Progressive organisations are investigating how they can crash together INCLUSION with ENGAGEMENT, COLLABORATION AND INNOVATION.  But don't think that issuing a new statement tomorrow will fix it!  Telling people leaders they have to be INCLUSIVE LEADERS and demanding that they be INNOVATIVE, COLLABORATIVE and that they MUST increase engagement won't work either.

Why? Because they don't know how.


Whatever language you use (and I suggest simplicity works) - you have to get to a pragmatic 'how to'. This is about consistently and persistently communicating and educating people leaders on what they need to DO .......

And, if you want real cultural change's got to be leader led, you have to have a sense of urgency and it's got to get to critical mass FAST.

We need to stop assuming that people leaders know what we are talking about and get to the micro of what we mean. I have probably had 10,000 conversations with people leaders from every industry over the last 10 years - and I believe they want to do things differently, they understand that there are massive business benefits in doing so - but they still operate from habit and the way they've always done things - because that's all they know. You would be surprised at the very basic 'what do I do' questions I get ....and some from CEO's ....and I applaud these leaders for their courage to be honest that they don't know what to do.

There is a solution and it's not as complicated as you think. But the starting point is throwing your current strategy in the trash -  AND THINKING COMPLETELY DIFFERENTLY.



This article has been reproduced with the gracious permission of its author Maureen Frank

About the author: Maureen Frank is Australia’s pre-eminent expert on diversity and inclusion. As the Founder and Chief Disrupter of emberin, her disruptive and unconventional method of supporting businesses to achieve successful outcomes rather than just ticking a box, and to get real about inclusion and wider issues – has given her international recognition.