There’s no doubt that diversity of thought is the new way forward for business innovation. But according to Troy Roderick, Telstra’s Global Head of Diversity, organisations must place an equal focus on inclusion.

Anyone who’s familiar with creating diversity in the workplace will understand that it’s not a set-and-forget solution. Businesses can’t simply write it into policy and be done with it – it takes hard work and it takes commitment.

Undoubtedly, the benefits on offer are extremely attractive to organisations: boosted productivity, increased employee well being, and stronger financial returns to name a few. But findings from a 2014 Catalyst study suggest that attempts to capitalise on these benefits without first nurturing an open and inclusive environment will fail.

“You can employ all the diversity of thought you want,” says Troy. “But if you don’t create a culture of inclusion – or you don’t allow one to grow – the true value of your team’s diversity won’t be fully realised.”

Based on the research and Troy’s own experience, here are three key strategies to help you get started.

1. Nurture a culture that makes room for everyone

For Troy, one of the major stumbling blocks to fostering workplace inclusion is the concept of ‘otherness’ – or the state of not feeling a sense of belonging.

“If an employee doesn’t believe they fit in, they’re much more likely to hold back on their contributions and diminish their aspirations,” he says.

“Leaders need to make it clear to their teams that they’ll be valued and supported because of their differences, not in spite of them.”

“If you don’t create a culture of inclusion – or you don’t allow one to grow – the true value of your team’s diversity won’t be fully realised.” Troy Roderick, Telstra

With this in mind, Telstra has invested a great deal of capital into training programs and supportive networks that help individuals feel included in their workplace culture.

“We actively support our leaders to do whatever they can to create an inclusive environment,” he says.

“Whether that’s helping them understand minority groups or interacting with teams on a more personal level, we’re here to help.”

Furthermore, Telstra has created a range of affinity groups that enable employees to connect with like-minded colleagues in a safe and meaningful way.

“For smaller wholesale partners, this might not be possible or even realistic,” says Troy. “But whatever your size, the rules remain the same: help your employees feel like they belong, and you’ll absolutely get the best out of them.

2. Enable flexible ways of working

As telco companies and wholesale partners, we’ve long understood the benefits of flexible working. Advances in technology and cloud infrastructure have transformed the mobile workforce, enabling teams to collaborate and increase productivity wherever they are.

But in addition to these benefits, flexible working also contributes to a culture of inclusion, whereby those whose lives don’t necessarily fit into the traditional, nine-to-five office-routine, are better able to contribute positively to their organisation.

“Just a few years ago, we rolled out the Telstra All-Roles-Flex initiative, enabling teams to balance their work with the other important aspects of their lives,” says Troy.

The obvious example is a working parent who needs to fit their family duties around their job. But according to Troy, there are many types of employees – from people living with disabilities to those who have individual cultural needs and responsibilities – that could benefit from this type of set-up.

“If we really examine what flexible working means, we see that it’s about creating a personalised employment experience for everyone,” he adds.

“And as technology experts, with the ability to execute this easily, we have a responsibility to deliver.”

3. Challenge your biases and evolve your leadership

According to a 2015 Diversity Council of Australia study, 43 per cent of participants felt their current leader’s ability to foster workplace inclusivity wasn’t up to par.

In addition, research from CDO Insights states that “unconscious or hidden beliefs – attitudes and biases beyond our regular perceptions of ourselves and others – underlie a great deal of our patterns of behaviour about diversity.”

“This is true for every human being,” says Troy.

“All leaders have their individual biases to contend with. But the solution lies in their ability to interrupt their preconceptions, set them aside and open themselves up to new ways of thinking.”

This is particularly pertinent when it comes to employing new workers.

At Telstra Wholesale, leaders are encouraged to recruit staff based on a range of indicators that go beyond the norms of telco engineering. These days, the team includes business graduates, finance professionals and even leaders with a background in geography.

Furthermore, Troy believes the responsibility to challenge these biases doesn’t necessarily end with the employer. As a US Deloitte study from 2013 confirms, 61 per cent of surveyed employees admitted to hiding an important aspect of who they are – whether that’s their sexual orientation, religion or gender identity – to avoid stigmatisation in the workplace.

“This is such a wasted opportunity,” says Troy.

“If these employees were truly encouraged to share their uniqueness, organisations and their leaders wouldn’t have a choice but to wake up, expand their horizons and limit their preconceptions.”

In fact, knowing what we know about inclusion and its relationship to diversity (and therefore success), it seems that wholesale partners don’t actually have a choice but to embrace the full spectrum of their employees’ differences.

What you need to know:

  • Diversity of thought is the way forward for business innovation, but without an inclusive workplace, it’s unlikely that businesses will achieve the success they’re looking for
  • According to research by Catalyst, inclusion requires three key ingredients: belongingness, uniqueness and psychological safety.
  • The stakes are too high for wholesale partners to ignore the facts about diversity and inclusion, and the way they directly relate to business success.
  • Follow Telstra Wholesale on LinkedIn.