Comparing diversity at the top of an organisation with the bottom can highlight that an employer's culture is not an inclusive one, says the head of Deloitte's national diversity and inclusion practice.

Demographic diversity in the lower ranks of an organisation - in terms of gender, race, sexuality and so on - but not at the top can indicate that "while we recruit diversely, over time that gets narrowed down, and at the top of the organisation there's really only one kind of person who gets ahead", Juliet Bourke told HR Daily.

When HR professionals identify this they can take practical steps to address it, she says.

"The bottom line is, every human has unconscious biases. If they become conscious, we can do something about that, and therefore affect the way that each individual is able to reach their full potential in an organisation."

The first step is to promote understanding of unconscious bias, she says. Awareness of this concept has grown in recent months, but Bourke says there is a "gap" in understanding in cases where it is spoken about purely in terms of gender, racial, or other demographic bias.

A better way to think of bias, she says, "is the biases that we all have to connect with people who look and feel like us. This is called 'similarity attraction bias'. There is also a bias to favour members of our in-group and to neglect those in our out-group". Awareness programs, she says, give people a "shared language" to talk about bias.

"It's a different, or more sophisticated, understanding of the word 'bias' and its implications."

Next, an unconscious bias - or inclusive leadership - program can accelerate that understanding, Bourke says. But importantly, the program should be based on experiential learning.

"So it's not just sitting in a classroom; it is actually giving people the tools and the framework to go and explore the workplace themselves, and then bringing them back together for a point of accountability and reflection.

"You're treating people really as adults... They've probably got some awareness of the concepts - this is just deepening them. It's giving them some language to talk about it and deepening their understanding, and more than that, motivating them to change.

"You get to that point of motivation because particularly in Australian society, we have a deep-seated value around giving people a fair go. And when people start to see that we are subtly privileging some people, and subtly excluding others, then you start to get alignment around 'fair go', respect, integrity, and the way that their own behaviours and their organisation's practices are coming together."

Notice, nurture and use diverse talent
Deloitte's current business strategy - to not just provide services to clients but to provide "different" services - helped it to recognise that, "you have to have diversity of thinking to think differently about clients' problems", Bourke says.

"So that has led us down a cutting-edge path - how do you think differently? Well, you've got to have diversity of talent. How do you get and keep that diversity of talent? You have to create an inclusive workplace, in which people with diverse talents are noticed, nurtured and used."

Noticing talent "is about getting to know people individually, and the unique perspective that they bring to the workplace", she says. "This is about a leader really spending time to get to know a person as an individual."

The nurturing element involves "really keeping on board with their growth experience. But also it's about nurturing that talent by bringing people together in diverse teams. So it's not just this individualistic approach, but really working together with people so that they can grow from each other".

"Then, getting the most out of people is about ensuring that they're engaged and motivated. But also, so that when you do put in place a diverse team, you've noticed the person's unique perspective; you bring different unique perspectives together into a team environment. That helps you solve client problems differently - in fact, in a much more complex and robust way than if everyone brought together was basically cut from same cloth.

"It's being much more intentional about what creates diversity of thinking, and then putting in place the conditions to allow that to flourish.

"The theory behind it is that if you have an homogenous group of people together, their ability to resolve everyday business issues, even if they're really smart, will be limited at some point. You can only go as far as your intelligence takes you.

"But if you have diverse thinkers at that table, the business outcomes will be better risk management, better product creation, better market insight. And that all leads to better bottom-line performance."

Best-practice KPIs
KPIs need to be customised specifically for workplaces, but Bourke says an Australian/New Zealand study of 89 organisations found they are most successful when they don't just include traditional employee-related measures - satisfaction, engagement, turnover, and so on - but also measures around customer satisfaction and productivity.

"The best KPIs are ones that have multiple elements to them to demonstrate the effect of diversity on bottom-line business outcomes, not only through the HR stream. And that makes diversity then part of the business."

KPIs keep people focused on the issues, Bourke says, "but research with clients shows us that when there's a diverse group of people, and those people feel included, they are more likely to be collaborative".

"Then when you look at standard business performance measures - revenue, for example - you are more likely to see that that group is hitting its financial targets. Basically, [the business is] leveraging the insights of those people. It's noticed them, it's nurturing them and it's using them. And that translates directly."

When an organisation has different groups of people, and some would say "I don't think we're that diverse, and we're not necessarily that inclusive", while another says "Yes, we are diverse, we think about problems differently and we've all got a voice at that table", the second group will outperform on key business measures, she says.

"If you keep your eye on those key business measures, you will see the impact."

Bourke is speaking on the topic 'Workplace diversity: uncovering unconscious bias' at Macquarie University's Women, Management and Work Conference on 12-13 July.