The Future of Diversity and Inclusion
Every so often, you have the opportunity to work with a client who genuinely wants to change the game. Our recent work with Domain was one of those times. Newly listed and with an appetite for innovation, they didn’t just want to tick the compliance box on diversity and inclusion. Instead they wanted to fundamentally shift culture to a place where zero tolerance for bullying and harassment was the norm, not just the expectation. Domain set its aim on having its leaders unabashedly setting the example: where every single person on the team felt they belonged and could bring their best. On the path to achieving that ambition, together we found a whole new way to bring diversity and inclusion to life.
We’re often asked to work on diversity and inclusion. It is more than an area of deep expertise – it’s foundational to everything we do. We fundamentally think great culture and leadership starts with inclusion and an openness to diversity across all its dimensions. As we work with diversity and inclusion, one of our partners is Equal Reality, who are a specialist virtual reality company, using this technology to work solely on improving how we understand diversity and inclusion. Together we’ve been designing a totally new approach to diversity and inclusion that starts with the virtual reality technology, and then moves quickly into a very different approach to learning. Together mwah. and Equal Reality agree on creating workplaces where every employee plays a role in (and personal responsibility for) bringing ‘belonging’ to life.
When Domain approached us, it was a gift! We loved their ambition, and they had exactly the right levels of courage, determination and imagination to create something special. For the last six months, we have partnered (or is it a ‘troika’) in designing, developing and delivering workshops across all 800 Domain employees. The approach we’ve taken, from the Executive Leadership Team to every single employee in every location and in every role, is the same. This was a key design principle if we were to meet the lofty ambition of bringing Diversity and Inclusion into the DNA of Domain. We measured every aspect within an inch of its life, and it has shown us there is a very different way to achieve step change in diversity and inclusion. Here’s the story of the work, the lessons we learned, and perhaps the secret to rethinking the future of work, so it works for more of us.
Domain has a clear ambition – to move diversity and inclusion way beyond ticking compliance boxes and to a workplace where every individual feels empowered to be accountable for inclusion, and where every leader is confidently leading that agenda.
As a freshly ASX-listed company, with a new CEO and a new Employee Experience Director, Domain has a unique context. It is behind their big ambition. This is their context:
Officially separated from Fairfax in late 2017
The right time for a ‘pattern interrupt’ given a range of transitionary work (e.g. IT systems, set-up of core functions) already in train
Diversity and Inclusion identified as as the desired foundation of that culture
An ambition to influence the whole industry on the D&I agenda (across tech, property and media) so that others can share ideas and follow
Bottom line to Domain’s context is that it is a good organisation, that respects and values its history, and wants to build a very special organisation for the future
The Program of Work
Against this big ambition, and with this context in mind, we proposed a unique program of work with three components:
1. An Executive Team Workshop that lifted expertise around this agenda, and enabled the senior team so they could share responsibility to lead diversity and inclusion, and broader cultural agendas, into a new place, and support each other to do so.
2. Two Virtual Reality Experiences, one on bullying and one on exclusion, that re-baselined the whole topic by allowing every person to experience a ‘walk in the shoes’ of someone being bullied or excluded.
3. An All Employee Workshop, titled “Working in Tomorrow’s Workforce Today” which debriefed the VR experiences, and then facilitated a very different approach to learning and understanding to inspire a deeper personal connection to the topic, and set new expectations around personal accountability and opportunity.
The components in a little more detail
Component 1 – Executive Workshop
The Exec Workshop was about mindset. Sure, it had the usual ‘this is the law and the rules’ and a touch on best practice, but it also challenged the team to understand the societal shift around diversity and inclusion, the actual scores for how we’re doing across the plethora of diversity agendas, and it took the discussion to ‘how do you lead and role model diversity and inclusion’ – with genuine honesty and a care to constantly improve.
Component 2 – Virtual Reality
The Virtual Reality experiences were scripted and then built to look and feel exactly like Domain. There were no clichés or exaggerations, but rather deeply ‘real’ experiences that some people might experience every day. The first one was ‘Power’ and talked to the subtitles of intimidation and even bullying. Some people don’t fully appreciate their impact on others.
The second VR scenario was ‘Exclusion’, and stripped of gender or race as the central point, it was all about the feeling that goes with being excluded. It included the opportunity to ‘ask to be included’, which everyone took.
For some people, the VR experiences were a mirror to their everyday lived experience, while for others it was a stark contrast to ‘feel’ like the outsider when they were so used to feeling like they were part of the ‘in’ group.
Component 3 – All Employee Workshop
We incorporated three tools into the All Employee Workshop. In preparation, every attendee had completed the two VR experiences (Power and Exclusion), a ‘Power and Privilege Index’* aligned to the privilege at play in Australian ASX companies today, and an understanding of their own ‘Belonging Score’** – did they feel like they ‘belonged’ and if so, why, and if not, why not. We used a sophisticated facilitation technique to move from small group (intimate and introspective) conversations, to small group ideations, to full room debates (public and exposed) and back again.
This wasn’t a workshop of slide mastery, but rather a series of very engaging conversations that people wanted to join. We didn’t diss the privileged or admire the ‘against the odds’ efforts of those with less privilege but observed the variation of scores to show the differences. We used this as a distinct opportunity to show how understanding our power and privilege wherever it sits can be harnessed to play a bigger role in creating opportunity for others.
We didn’t aim for ‘the right answers’ but rather greater self-awareness, an appreciation of different lived experiences in the same organisation (often sitting right next each other), an appreciation of how hard it is to get this agenda ‘right’ (without making excuses), and a better understanding of possibilities and opportunities to take personal actions to improve your own and other people’s feelings of inclusion and ultimately belonging.
Because we love measurement, we’re transparently including these scores:
41 workshops across 663 participants
Quantitative Learning Scores
- Average facilitation score 93%
- Average content score 91%
- Net Promoter Scores (NPS range is from -100 and +100)
- Mwah. led facilitated workshops +67
(world class NPS for facilitated learning is +30).
- VR experience +45
(there is not yet a world class NPS specifically for Virtual Reality, so using the facilitated learning world class NPS score of +30 as a guide)
- Mwah. led facilitated workshops +67
Quantitative Outcome Scores
- A whopping 98% understanding their personal role to play in D&I
- Participants on average increased their understanding of the content by 40% (pre-workshop 62%; post workshop 87%), 97% of participants came out knowing their personal role in D&I. Scores were overwhelmingly positive:
- Confident to play a role in ensuring an inclusive culture 89%
- See Domain’s ELT as fully committed to D&I 93%
- Understand the D&I agenda in Australia 85%
- Know Domain’s ambition on D&I 83%
The program has been designed as ongoing. That means, we will keep measuring changes in thinking and changes in action, longitudinally, both at the individual and the aggregate (organisational) level.
Longitudinally, we’re also measuring the diversity and inclusion outcomes. Is Domain more diverse? Is Domain more inclusive?
There are so many good lessons from the Domain experience. We think these are the top five.
Change starts with a big ambition.
The role of leaders with a big ambition in starting systemic organisational culture change around diversity and inclusion cannot be underestimated. Diversity laws changed in the 1970s, and yet we still struggle to make even the most minuscule of changes. The reality is that whether we’re talking about gender, culture/race, disability, LGBTI, pregnancy, marital status, or any other ‘difference’, we need a step change in appreciating that work is biased in favour of particular groups, and the only way to rethink that bias, and ultimately change it, is to completely rethink how we approach diversity and inclusion. We need leaders and organisations that truly believe that we can have more diverse workplaces and we can create much more inclusive cultures. THAT is a very big ambition, and that is exactly where changing the rules, and the approaches to this topic, starts. Not that our old ways of training in diversity and inclusion weren’t a helpful part of the journey – indeed, they were good foundations. Now, we need to think further. Think bigger. Think possible. We need to fundamentally believe we can build a better and more inclusive future.
Inclusion is everyone’s job – involving ALL Employees.
Leadership may well be where it starts, but inclusion quickly becomes an ‘everyone’ concept. Over time, we’ve progressively ‘sheep dipped’ thousands of leaders through diversity training so they knew the new rules, and then unconscious bias training so they knew they were flawed, but the reality is, we don’t just need more awareness, we need more action, different behaviours, an acute ownership of the opportunity every one of us has towards diversity and inclusion. The Power and Privilege Index gave us a step change in thinking about personal privilege, at scale, and that matters. However we got here is part of our own experience, and we need to appreciate that may well not be the experience of the person next to us. We have to know and acknowledge our own experience, so we can be open to listening to the experience of others. We ran the Domain workshops without hierarchy or ‘silos’. In fact, the CEO sat comfortably on a table with other employees from all over the organisation. He had exactly the same experience, and conversations as everyone else. The conversations were shared across all layers and roles. It was an ‘everyone’ responsibility to step up and be involved. For us, this is central to the whole concept of ‘employee experience’ – and that is, unwavering employee-centricity.
Virtual Reality is a pattern interrupt!
When we want to talk about different lived experiences, and not waste time on someone preaching ‘the answers to technical D&I questions’, then virtual reality is an absolute game changer. In one minute, people lose their sense of how they know the world to be, and get to walk in someone else’s shoes. There’s no theoretical “if that happened, I’d feel like this and behave like that’, but rather there is an actual feeling, an actual behaviour, a real response, an in-the-moment realisation that we all want to belong, we all want to be included, and we all feel crappy when we’re not.
It helps that we deal with the best in the business, in Equal Reality, so that we can all roll up our sleeves, and challenge every detail of a scenario and a script. We can avoid gross generalisations (“women aren’t confident” or “Asian people are quiet”) and get right down to the emotion of being excluded, being intimidated, being bullied, and desperately wanting to cry out to be included. VR technology is a pattern interrupt to open up really human interactions about our similarities and our differences, from which we can then build some really great conversations around why inclusion matters to every single one of us.
Human Beings Matter.
We’ve long thought that somewhere between the best of technology and deep humanity, is a really cool future of work. This work with Domain showed exactly that. No doubt VR will continue to develop, but just as fast as it does, we’ll improve our understanding of how to work with it. When people want to scream out that they deserve to genuinely belong, it’s because you’ve created a safe place to have that conversation. It’s because you’ve crafted a safe and thoughtful debrief, and facilitated the conversation to be inclusive and allowed the time and expectation that people listen to each other. It’s because you’ve listened to pilot feedback, and tweaked both the virtual reality, and the actual facilitated workshops, to genuinely connect to the experience of the learning. It’s because you’ve spotted different levels of curiosity, and facilitated to leverage them. It’s because when the trickiest of topics, with the most eggshells, was starting to impact individuals personally, you’ve stepped in with exactly the right understanding, and made the space safe again.
It’s clear that people like to learn from others, not just by themselves. Our challenge will be to continually and purposefully improve learning at the same time and pace as we improve technology. No more sheep-dipping, and lots more consideration around how people learn and grow.
Measure the previously immeasurable.
Redesigning learning takes an open mind, not only about what to do, but what not to do. What works and what doesn’t. We started the Domain work with clearly agreed objectives. We measured against those objectives at various points – pre-VR, post-VR, Pre-Workshop, Post-Workshop, and then over time long after the workshop has finished. Measurement is not about ‘pats on the back’ but about genuine impact. Are people growing and learning? Do people know more? Do people know what role they have in diversity and inclusion? Are they confident to play that role?
We think we’re just at the beginning of changing learning around diversity and inclusion, and indeed around the broader agenda of culture and cultural change.
Measurement will be our friend. Not doing things because we think they might work, or hope they work, but doing things because we know they shift the dial.
For those of us who believe that work would be better if it was more diverse and more inclusive, we can quote a plethora of correlations between great organisations and diversity. We can add another bunch of great research to demonstrate the correlations between innovation, creativity, and new ideas, and basic human confidence. In short, we feel confident knowing that we’re included, and welcome, and that we belong. That people we work with, want – and appreciate – our best contribution every day.
So, from that foundation, with an absolute commitment to diversity and inclusion being good for business and good for people, we now have to stretch out beyond the old ways of learning and developing a better understanding of the topic. We have to move beyond leadership and into a space where every one of us plays an important role.
The Domain project had great internal leadership at Domain (and we sincerely thank Ros Tregurtha, Jason Pellegrino, and Nic Barry for their sponsorship, their courage and their role in co-creation), great technology applied with humanity (and we sincerely value our partnership with Equal Reality in getting this right), and a serious challenge, rethink and reinvention of the old ways of unconscious bias training. If we want to make a step change in diversity and inclusion, we need to take a step change in how we make it relevant and real to every single person.
Are we there yet? No. But we’re another step down the path.
The Domain statistics to date, are astonishingly good.
Can they be even better? Always.
Can we design a better future – at the pointy end of great technology, deep humanity, and brave forward-facing organisations?
Well, that’s why we get up in the morning.
#Inclusion #Diversity #Belonging #VirtualReality #FutureOfWork
@Domain @EqualReality @mwah.live
*Power and Privilege Index – A set of ten questions that correlate to the areas of privilege that correlate with leadership in the ASX100
** Belonging Index – An index aligning a workplace to individual preferences.
We have been using and building a database of these two indices for 18 months. They are part of measuring work, inclusion and belonging very differently.