Workplace and Board Diversity: Unconscious bias

Heather Price, CEO of Australian diversity consulting firm Symmetra, says there’s been a huge shift in the rules of business and the rules of expectation are changing with leaders recognising that diversity is productive.

Heather was a recent guest speaker at an Auckland breakfast seminar jointly hosted by the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust and the Auckland Chamber of Commerce.  “Women are becoming the engine room of the economy”.  She says women are starting to outnumber men in the workforce and more women than men are graduating from the tertiary sector.  Hence Heather questions why we are not seeing a corresponding rise of women in senior positions in New Zealand.

Since the Australian Stock exchange made it compulsory for companies to list the number of women on boards, or explain why there are no women on their boards the number of women in these roles has risen, from 8.5 percent to more than 12 over the last two years.  Heather says more than half of Australia’s large companies now have a diversity policy and strategy right across their talent pipe line.  She adds that it’s essential these policies report on more than gender – it needs to include age, ethnicity, religion and so on.  “But is it enough?  Is compulsory reporting enough?  Leading organisations globally have been questioning why their diversity policies haven’t really gained traction.

Heather explains the common perception is that we don’t have bias.  ‘But every single one of us has unconscious bias against something or someone.  And it’s not only men who are biased towards ethnic groups or baby boomers for example.  We pride ourselves on being rational and objective but some of it we are blind to.  Our brains are bombarded with stereotypes.”  Heather says unconscious bias is something we all internalise but these attitudes are activated without us being aware of it.  Our major challenge is unconscious bias that has gone underground.”

Recent research by Catalyst shows unconscious bias against women in the workplace places the female talent pipeline in peril.  It’s also apparent this is not confined to issues of gender but extends to ethnicity, race, religion, age, sexual orientation and other groups.

However it’s not all doom and gloom as the good news is that we can raise that bias to a conscious level.  When this happens attitudes and behaviours change to improve the quality of decision making processes; resulting in a far reaching impact on organisational performance.  But it’s no easy feat as a survey in Australian banks showed.  Heather says it showed that women are just as ambitious as their male peers, but it is deep seated managers’ attitudes about women looking after children and lack of ambition that results in more males getting promoted instead.  That Glass Ceiling mentality isn’t restricted to high achieving women – let’s take a look at ethnicities.

Heather says research was done with job applicants CVs.  If someone has a Chinese sounding name on their CV they need to send it to 68 percent more businesses than someone who has an Anglo-Saxon sounding name before getting an interview.

Some data from Catalyst on qt_women_on_boards

Further reading: high_potentials_in_the_pipeline_leaders_pay_it_forward


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Leaders as Strategists

Defining what an organization will be, and why and to whom that will matter, is at the heart of a leader’s role. Those who hope to sustain a strategic perspective must be ready to confront this basic challenge

Achieving and maintaining strategic momentum is a challenge that confronts an organization and its leader every day of their interlinked relationship. This is a challenge that involves multiple choices over time—and, from time to time, some big choices.  A leader, at some point in his or her career, is likely to have to overhaul a business’ strategy in perhaps dramatic ways. When facing this inevitability there can be moments of insight that ignite new thinking about an enterprise, its purpose, its potential.

It is the leader—the strategist as meaning maker—who must make the vital choices that determine a company’s very identity, who says, “This is our purpose, not thatThis is who we will be. This is why our customers and clients will prefer a world with us rather than without us.” Others, inside and outside a company, will contribute in meaningful ways, but in the end it is the leader who bears responsibility for the choices that are made and indeed for the fact that choices are made at all.

An overhaul of a business to realise its full potential can be wrenching, often the toughest action of a career, but at the same time reinvention is rewarding read on.

Other Resources:

Managing the strategy journey

Becoming more strategic: Three tips for any executive

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Engaging with the Planning Process

Strategic planning is the process by which an organization envisions its future and develops actions to achieve that future.  This is a process that has the potential to focus an organization, but strategic planning is one of the most misunderstood and poorly used tools in many organizations. Why is the process around planning considered so onerous that many organizations delay it, avoid it, or grudging undertake?  Often it is because the process itself can be dull, time consuming, linear, with delayed outcomes, and then only to gather dust and languish.  Graphic facilitation is a process that can effectively engage participants in the planning process in real time, captures input graphically, producing an immediate outcome at the end of the session.

Graphic Facilitation is a facilitation technique that utilizes the power of visuals to help groups of people clarify their thinking and reach consensus. Graphic facilitation creates “rich pictures” to capture and organize group thinking and ideas in real time, and leads them towards achieving a goal.  It is a powerful tool in planning and decision‐making that requires team engagement, participation and ownership. People focus better when hearing and seeing at the same time.

Group discussion is recorded on charts, enabling both the contributor and the participants to receive visual feedback. Through co‐creation, ideas are added to the chart and, the big picture emerges.

The graphic facilitation technique used by JBCTM is called PATH.  PATH is an interactive creative graphic planning and mapping tool that supports the building of highly effective and cohesive teams. PATH was originally developed by US change facilitators Jack Pearpoint and Marsha Forest.  A PATH has an eight-step framework:

1. Explore values

2. Set long‐term goals

3. Explore the Now

4. Where do we enroll support?

5. Explore possible blocks

6. Keeping strong towards achieving the goal

7. Set shorter-term goals, eg. milestones

8. The first steps towards the goal

Jan Bierman Consultant to Management Ltd (JBCTM)  delivers strategic planning workshops, utilizing graphic facilitation, via the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s Capability Development Voucher Scheme.  Check out our offerings on our website or at the Accelerate Success Marketplace.

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Contractors Replacing Employees

Twenty years ago the contracting field was dominated by accounting contractors but today contractors are across all business and corporate roles, and the use of them is increasing. By Val Leveson. The New Zealand Herald, The Business, May 25 2012.

“Today’s contractors provide skills and expertise that’s often missing as companies are running leaner in tight economic times,” says Carmen Bailey, consultant director of Emergent.

Emergent was started specifically to meet the contracting demand. “We are the only recruitment firm here totally dedicated to contracting. There are different skills around interviewing and the technical ability to deliver,” she says.

So why would companies go for contractors rather than full time employees?

Jane Wimsett, senior consultant at Emergent, says it’s an opportunity to buy in expert skills when you need them – rather than having to incur the cost of training existing staff.

There is a speed of execution – you can get the skills in immediately. She says it’s also about cash flow – not carrying staff in times you don’t need them, there are no long-term commitments if the business is facing challenging times.

Bailey says: “it’s better to get a star for 12 months than an ordinary performer for 12 years.” Sometimes, she says, it’s about trying before you buy. Forty per cent of Emergent’s contractors go permanent. “It happens that companies decide to make their position a permanent role – and it’s the contractors choice whether they want to do this or not.”

Contractors can trial different organisations and take the best from companies they work for into helping others. She says contractors have to be responsible for their career growth, have to be confident in their area of expertise and be able to get in and do the job. “It’s also about what they want. Most contractors are very project orientated. Some want work/life balance where they work nine months a year, and travel for three ….”

Bailey points out that years ago contractors could expect premium salaries, but that’s not the case now. “This could happen with really specialist skills, but goes not generally.”

She says she knows people who have been contracting for 14 years and have not been out of work. Bailey says it’s difficult to know how many people in New Zealand are contracting as there is no data collected.

The character traits a contractor should have are: confidence, adaptability, independence, be project orientated, achievement focused, not risk averse, have some leadership qualities, have expertise, Bailey says. “In fact contractors are brains for hire.”

Mark Milbourn has worked as a contractor at times throughout his career in both Britan and New Zealand for nine years and contracting for about five of them. His background is in architecture, which has developed into project management of development construction and engineering projects. He says there are many advantages in being a contractor for “someone like me who likes the challenge of projects”. He says if possible he goes in at the start of a project, finishes it and can then move on. “It’s solid – something real to look back on and I can say that I built that. It brings a good sense of self-worth”.

He says he also likes the fact that he can avoid internal company politics but it can be a disadvantage that when going in to an organisation it takes a while to understand relationships and how the company works. “However, I’ve been doing this a long time now and I can usually pick up on the essentials quickly. One of the things a contractor needs is good communication skills and people skills.”

“It’s about being able to grab a complex brief, negotiate relationships and pick out the strategically important ones.

The contracts Milbourn does are usually a year to 18 months. He suggests the following for contracting project managers to consider: People matter – utilise the talent around you, don’t panic – there is always a solution somewhere; communication skills are critical; and have tenacity.

Hiring contractors is particularly good for small to medium sized businesses, says Odette Shearer of Pohlen Kean. “It’s a way of bringing in specialist skills that you don’t have in your organisation usually. This could be when you’re looking at a new strategy, implementing change or new projects.”

She says when there’s a high degree of change in an organisation, it’s good to bring in an outsider rather than someone who is embedded in the culture. Companies may also need a contractor to cover for parental or extended sick leave. “There are also peaks and troughs in a company – key sales periods or the end of the financial year may require more people to be on board.”

She says when a company is for sale, or a merger or acquisition is happening, contractors can be vital. She says in New Zealand there is always going to be a demand for contractors in certain areas: Human resources, change management and the manufacturing sector and more. “The market is getting less reactive as far as contracting is concerned and are more thorough in the selection of contractors.”

Bailey says checks and interview processes are done as thoroughly for contractors as for fulltime employees. “It’s just done a lot quicker.”

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Why e-books will soon be obsolete

E-books will be obsolete within five years.  Crippled by territorial license restrictions, digital rights management, and single-purpose devices and file formats that are simultaneously immature and already obsolescent, they are at a hopeless competitive disadvantage compared to full-fledged websites and even the humble PDF.

When e-books rolled along with the promise to obliterate barriers to distribution, the publishing industry was faced with either changing everything they do, or sticking to what they’ve always done.  Naturally, they opted to circle wagons, stick their fingers in their ears and pretend digital is print.

  • Digital makes copying free. Reaction: Try to block digital copying by imposing DRM.
  • Digital eliminates the constraints of geography from distribution. Reaction: Try to preserve regional publishing monopolies by imposing artificial geographical limits on digital distribution.
  • General-purpose Web browsers change rapidly and allow the user full control. Reaction: Build single-purpose “e-readers” that only allow reading e-books, preferably tightly locked into a monopoly vendor’s authorized distribution channel.
  • Digital formats on the Web are wild, woolly and evolve unpredictably. Reaction: Try to make e-books resemble physical books by kneecapping them with incompatible “standards” like ePub, to serve its own interests.

Customers today are expected to buy into a format that locks down their content into a silo, limits their purchasing choices based on where their credit card happens to have been registered, is designed to work best on devices that are rapidly becoming obsolete, and support only a tiny subset of the functionality available on any modern website.  Nonetheless, publishers are seeing their e-book sales skyrocket and congratulate themselves on a job well done.  How come?

Because right now, they have no choice.  But once publishers start breaking ranks (as they are already doing) and major authors start to self-publish (as they are already doing) , the illusion of e-books being a necessary simulacrum of printed books will start to dissipate.

What will replace them?  The same medium that already killed off the encyclopedia, the telephone directory and the atlas: the Web.  For your regular linear fiction novel, or even readable tomes of non-fiction, a no-frills PDF does the job just fine and Lonely Planet has been selling its travel guidebooks and phrasebooks a chapter at a time, no DRM or other silliness, as PDFs for years now. For more complicated, interactive, Web-like stuff, throw away the artificial shackles of ePub and embrace the full scope of HTML5, already supported by all major browsers and usable right now by several billion people.   (Check out the Financial Times web app) for a sneak preview of what’s already possible.)  Chuck in offline support, an embryonic but increasingly usable core part of HTML5, and you can even read the “book” (website) offline.

The shift will not be instant, and there’s still a good couple of years of life left in the e-book market before the alternatives work out the kinks of presentation, distribution and retailing.   Any publisher banking on e-books being around 5 years from now is in for a rude surprise.

Summary of opinion piece by Jani Patokallio

Read the full article here.

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Branding Place

The branding of cities, towns and neighbourhoods to encourage tourism, and diversify local economies, has become big business.   In the current economic environment where people often struggle to stay in business, branding a location positively impacts on everyone, from the smallest to the largest business.

Community and destination branding efforts are centred on economic development – creating new jobs, better incomes, new investment, a better environment and more opportunities.
 You need a plan to grow. Most communities that have a great identity, pride and consensus of direction, are economically successful.

Loyal locals know how much their community has to offer visitors, but how do they convince  people to stay awhile?

People for Public Spaces promotes the Power of 10; the idea that any great place needs to offer at least 10 things to do or 10 reasons to be there.  Rural Tourism Marketing talks about focussing on one thing your town does well; a commitment to a primary vision.

The ethos is to attract visitors with one big event but also to keep them longer by providing an array of  other attractions and activities.  The branding of your place is very much about discerning a primary vision.

A primary vision is the thing you want to be known for, the thing that makes your city, town or neighbourhood stand out from all the other localities in your region. The thing that makes you different.

What is your city, town or neighbourhood’s primary vision:

Do you have a unique festival or local event?

Do you have a historically interesting event in your past, or birthplace, buildings, museum etc?

Do you have nearby open spaces that could be utilised for a range of outdoor activities, such as marathons, shooting, hunting and fishing, cross-country racing etc?

Does your location have an unusual name or a unique local feature?

It is not enough to identify and market yourself as a destination.   You have to be the BEST to attract visitors, and you have to have the exclusive factor, otherwise why would anyone bother to leave home to come visit.  Generally forget “historic”, forget “outdoor recreation”, forget anything that doesn’t set your location off as unique and different.

Whilst you can be known for more that one primary asset it is much easier and cost effective to concentrate your marketing effort and budget on a key focus.

Once you have identified your unique primary vision, and researched the size and potential of the market, it is time to develop your strategy to build and sustain a strong, successful locally owned tourism business, and turn it into a brand.

The essence of your strategy is to improve and market existing business assets, or undertake redevelopment projects aligned to the strategy.  The best practice is to experiment with short term improvements that can be tested and refined over time.

The successful branding of place has as its principal driver a vision, and community ownership of that vision, and then and only then can you set about building an overarching sustainable brand and concentrate your marketing effort.


Grand Hotels of Northern New Hampshire

Winthrop, Washington

Daylesford, Victoria

St Edmundsbury, West Suffolk

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Is Your City Design-Centered or Place-Centered?

When an opportunity to develop a site in your city comes up, what kind of approach do the people leading the process take? Do they treat the site as an independent piece of real estate, to be interpreted by architects and planners first before involving any of the local residents? Or do they reach out to people to find out what needs already exist in the area around that site, and then begin devising a plan with the community?

Posted by Project for Public Spaces 28 March 2012

Read on…

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