Share this page

Leveraging Difference for Business Advantage

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Interview with Mannaz’ subject matter expert, Client Director, Trish Meecham.

Hi Trish. Can you please set the scene for us – in which context are we talking diversity and inclusion?

Yes, the context is hugely important when we want to talk about this topic – let alone want to engage with it! I see workplaces around the world today rapidly changing - growing increasingly multi-cultural, younger, and overall more diverse. People are located globally, are more remotely connected and networked with peers, thought leaders and other stakeholders around the world.  From my perspective, to lead in this changing context today requires an ability to develop individualised, meaningful relationships; to encourage employees to feel valued for their uniqueness, to feel included, and connected to one another despite their differences.  Moreover, in an organisational setting - to leverage this uniqueness for competitive advantage.

How do you define it?

To quote a recent profile in Diversity Journal, diversity is ‘…all the ways we differ. Some differences we are born with and cannot change. Anything that makes us unique is part of this definition of diversity. Inclusion involves bringing together and harnessing these diverse forces and resources, in a way that is beneficial. Inclusion puts the concept and practice of diversity into action by creating an environment of involvement, respect, and connection—where the richness of ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives are harnessed to create business value. Organizations need both diversity and inclusion to be successful…

What is the status of diversity and inclusion-initiatives generally in an organisational context?

Whilst D & I appear to be slowly shifting from compliance driven to more strategically aligned, we are still seeing initiatives that focus on ‘empowering’ minority ‘out-groups’, as well as training the majority ‘in-groups’ in topics like unconscious bias.

To give you a bit of background, In and Outgroups are principles in sociology and social psychology whereby people define themselves in terms of social groupings - and are quick to judge others who don't fit into those groups. Those who we identify with, who share our particular qualities are our ‘in-group’ and those who do not are our ‘out-group’. Sometimes these groupings are intrinsic to us (for example, our gender, age, race, or ethnicity) but in other cases, they are more randomly determined. From my perspective, we need to do a lot more than focus on ‘in’- or ‘out’-groups. We need to deal with this much more broadly and yes – inclusively.

You mentioned competitive advantage in relation to this agenda. Can you elaborate a bit on that?

Yes, besides being the right thing to be – diverse and inclusive - the benefits of diversity are enormous for our businesses, as statistics highlight. For example:

Diverse companies outperform non-diverse companies by 35% (According to McKinsey - Why Diversity Matters)

  • Companies with the highest levels of racial diversity had, on average, 15 times more sales revenue than those with the lowest levels of racial diversity (From a study by Cedric Herring, Science Daily)
  • A study at the Kellogg School of Management found that diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones because the presence of group members unlike yourself causes you to think differently (According to Kellogg - Better decisions through diversity)
  • Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women board directors performed better financially than those with the lowest representation of women on their board of directors (Thanks to a Catalyst report, The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation on Board)
  • Leaders of global teams who behave inclusively spur collaboration and better performance (Research from The Centre for Talent Innovation in the recent study “What it takes to be a Global Leader’)

How are organisations today addressing the challenge?

In what we might call ‘enlightened’ organisations’, efforts to build diverse and inclusive workforces and workplaces have expanded to include other stakeholder groups such as customers, regulators, as well as employees. These stakeholder groups are much more diverse, not just in terms of race, sexual orientation or gender but also in terms of cognitive thinking styles, cultural identity and perspectives.

Whilst we are seeing progression, as I said, there can be a tendency to oversimplify D & I efforts by producing well-meaning policies and/or rolling out training programs that focus only on ‘empowering’ specific ‘out’ groups (generally the minority, for example women, LGBT, or certain racial groups) or by training ‘in’ groups (predominantly white male leaders) in unconscious bias.

Organisations that focus on the everyday reality of a globalised leadership context, the everyday conversations between real people who are different in one way or another, will produce leaders far more equipped to deal with the challenges that diversity brings. In turn, they will lead by understanding, embracing and successfully leveraging these differences for competitive advantage.

Can you give us a few examples of companies that are doing great work on these fronts?

Absolutely, a few examples include:

Telstra: “All Roles Flex” - the purpose with “All Roles Flex” was to adopt a new and disruptive position around mainstreaming flexibility that would amplify productivity benefits, lift engagement, establish a clear market proposition and enable a new way of working, with technology linked very strongly to this. This has been hugely successful, and is a great talent attraction and retention tool.

Google: In 2013, Google began educating employees and leaders en masse - creating Unconscious Bias @ Work and other tools - to start a conversation about unbiasing. This helped ensure that employees had a common understanding and language to talk about unconscious bias, and the platform to do so. (re:Work with Google)

Credit Suisse: The Real Returns™ Program offers talented senior professionals who have taken an extended career break, a smooth transition back into the workforce. These types of returns programmes are generally targeting women returning to the workforce after a career break. There’s a huge market of untapped talent right there! See

How can we help develop this agenda in Mannaz?

Being a leader can be a daunting task. In most of our current leadership development work, we already seek to enable leaders to be conscious about their context and abilities, competent to navigate their business realities, and confident to lead across the dimensions of difference in which they operate. The same will hold true for organisations wanting to tackle D & I intelligently – they must become conscious, competent, and confident. Part of how I - and we - deal with this is by helping our clients to develop ‘global leadership mindsets’ - enabling their leaders to create organisations where people feel involved, respected, connected - where the richness of ideas, backgrounds and unique perspectives that people bring to the table are harnessed to create business value.

Our general approach with clients is to develop the culture, leadership capabilities and metrics that facilitate their success, and to ensure that diversity and inclusion fully integrates into the very fabric of their learning culture. We need to move beyond compliance-driven initiatives and make it a key part of organisational competitiveness. This is the Mannaz way.

Thank you so much Trish!

 You’re welcome.


Trish Meecham

Client Director at Mannaz