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Articles published 'December 2015'

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Australia, Being Lucky Is No Longer Enough

By Tania de Jong AM | December 22nd, 2015

Australia has traditionally been a highly successful and prosperous nation. On almost every important business index, we are accelerating. The stakes — the financial, social, environmental and political consequences — similarly are rising.

Being lucky is no longer enough.

We lag well behind many other nations on innovation. We have to nurture our entrepreneurs and innovate faster in order keep up with the pace of growth. To compete globally we must welcome, include and empower the many diverse voices of our citizens, migrants and the refugees who are seeking a haven here.

Over the next five to 10 years it is estimated that up to 40 percent of companies on the Standard and Poor’s index will be disrupted by rapidly advancing technologies and the entrepreneurs adapting quickly to this new environment. According to international research, 47 percent of middle-class jobs will become redundant due to robotics and new technologies. And some jobs will continue to exist but will be performed in cheaper labour markets overseas.

Australia doubles the research outputs of the United States per capita but produces half the amount of patents. We generate plenty of ideas and research but we don’t commercialise them enough. We urgently need to train our young people to be entrepreneurs: makers and creators of the jobs of the future. We need to build a culture of innovation to sufficiently develop our capabilities to turn ideas into enterprises.

Willingness to experiment and fail leads to innovations creating opportunities and prosperity for millions. FAIL, after all, stands for First Attempt In Learning.

Turning ideas into enterprise also benefits from diversity. With skilled migrants and refugees seeking a home here, we have real opportunities to foster a new wave of entrepreneurship and innovation.

We surround ourselves with people who make us feel safe, who come from similar backgrounds and educations, who think, feel and dress like we do — and who agree with and endorse us. Yet our biggest gains as humans come from “creative abrasion”, where we rub up against people who make us feel uncomfortable and challenge our notions of ourselves and the world we live in. This is where creativity and innovation truly spark.

Inclusive leadership must be paramount. Instead of fearing people from different backgrounds and cultures, there is an opportunity for all of us to choose to create a happy, healthy, inclusive and innovative Australia. This is about removing the ‘us and them’ mentality and acknowledging our common humanity. Ultimately we are more similar than different, yet our negative focus on the differences between us creates a lot of our problems.

Let’s remove the walls between us and build bridges of understanding. As a community we need to empower all voices, no matter what their faith, background, disadvantage, disability or age. People need to feel like they have a place here, a true home, a sense of belonging, a sense of self and respect from others. Then they will truly be able to contribute to our future.

And does size matter? No.

Look at Israel, a nation founded by refugees that faces permanent geographical, political and social challenges. It thrives because it has a risk-tolerant culture producing massive innovation. Imaginations are allowed to run free, ideas are nurtured and entrepreneurs celebrated: Israel is home to over 5,000 tech start-ups and lists more companies on NASDAQ than all of Europe combined. Israel proves that small countries can be engines of entrepreneurship and innovation.

When refugees and migrants come to a new country they want to restart their lives. They work incredibly hard and bring a diverse and rich cultural background that contributes economically, politically and socially. They just need to be given a voice.

We do accept people from diverse backgrounds into Australia. Now we need to put out the welcome mat and provide everyone with the education, skills, engagement and opportunities to participate in this accelerating environment and contribute fully to their new homeland. Then they can truly call Australia home, and together we can co-create a productive, innovative and prosperous future.

Don’t blame “merit” for lack of executive diversity

By Ann Sherry AO | December 13th, 2015

If merit is the solution to building diversity in the workplace then something is wrong. As we end the year it is time to reflect on whether the “merit” selection process in our organisations is delivering.

A commonly used defence when questions are asked about diversity in companies is that “we select on merit”. It is a defence that assumes that “merit” ensures all candidates are assessed equally, that no bias exists in the selection process, and that the jobs are described in a way that attracts a diverse candidate pool.

As Diane Smith-Gander said recently, women are being held back by preconceived ideas of female skills and leadership style as well as gender-based interpretations of how they should behave. While in that example Diane was speaking specifically about the advancement of women, the truth is that preconceived attitudes can stymie broad diversity in a workplace.

What is “merit” really? It is the idea of selecting somebody who is considered worthy of a position. Inside organisations it is a process that describes best endeavours to make selection processes fair. In reality it is a blind spot, a word to make the process feel fair even when the outcomes of selection processes clearly result in something else.

Merit-based processes should have outcome measures, which are the real test of the application of a fair process. Outcomes such as the diversity of the candidate pool, the diversity of a short list of potential candidates, and ultimately the diversity of the employee mix by level that is the result of the application of real “merit”.

Look around us. The lack of a pipeline of graduates from universities and career options were once put forward as the reason for there being so few senior women in senior positions. That excuse, however, disappeared many years ago as women filled the ranks, not just of university enrolments, but also attained superior results from universities.

The same can now be said of the pipeline within organisations where a significant number of middle management roles are filled by women.  In Australia, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency data shows that across all industries and companies, women hold 15 per cent of CEO positions and 27 per cent of general management.  In the ASX 200 companies, 5.75 per cent of CEOs are women. More men named Peter are CEOs than women. So what has happened? It appears the barrier to entry hasn’t disappeared. It has merely shifted. It is no longer a pipeline problem but is more an experience/style/commitment/suitability problem. And that is where the “myth of merit” is exposed.

None of those statements or convenient rationales is actually about a person’s competence, capability or effectiveness in a role. They are simply subjective views and a form of screening.

It means we are not as successful as we could be, given our collective investment in people development and our shared challenge to drive national productivity and organisational capacity.

The nation’s prosperity requires all of us who run businesses, select people or sit on boards to ask hard questions when we see candidate pools that are all of one gender, reflect a monoculture, are age specific or just happen to look like the recruiter or recruiting manager. That is when it is time to ask, where is the talent? Why are we choosing from such a narrow group? Is this the future of the business? Does this match our customer profile?

The world around us is changing fast. Customer habits and preferences are shifting. Technology has created whole classes of business types that were once unimaginable and new ways of doing business that only a decade ago were not considered possible.

How do we face these challenges with the same mindset, talent base and prevailing attitudes? We can’t. We need to open our business and processes to new ways of thinking, new talent pools and new ways of measuring outcomes in our businesses.

It must also be remembered that the community and our workplace teams are watching very closely. Australians have become accustomed to living in a wonderfully multicultural society. For the most part they understand and embrace diversity.

Given that life experience, employees will be the first to notice if their workplace fails to reflect the interestingly diverse community in which they live. Organisations that fail the diversity test might not just get probing questions from their boards. The questions might be posed in a different way from the shop floor but employees will increasingly want to know why their workplace appears to be a cultural island — or a throwback to another era.

The “myth of merit” needs to be challenged and thinking shifted so we are measuring what we do in our people management as we already do in all other parts of our business operation. Then we will be able to capitalise on the talent pools we have at our fingertips and currently not using as well as we could.  We will be able to drive innovation and prosperity for another generation.

This article was published at the AFR.

Sectors: Business