Monthly Archives

March 2020

Coronavirus Pandemic! Inclusion to the Rescue?

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The outbreak of Coronavirus is now officially a pandemic; it has spread across the globe. Italy is in total lockdown; in Iran political leaders have died; and the United States has banned all travel to and from Europe.  Virtually no business is immune and therefore almost all employees are potentially affected.

Unprecedented Impact

In Australia, the Federal Government has called upon employers and business leaders to take whatever steps are possible to protect the interests of employees and to ensure that they are retained on the payroll. This is  a worthy exhortation. But more than this, now is the time for leaders of organisations and businesses to show inclusive leadership.

Dramatic and far-reaching changes are happening literally overnight to the way work is and will be conducted. Businesses are already cutting services and in some cases, central locations of employment have been shut down or deserted. Group gatherings are banned. Executives, managers and employees are scrambling to adapt.

People are in a state of significant anxiety regarding their and their family’s health; the prospect of quarantine; that they may lose their jobs; that their savings and superannuation will be depleted and that their lives may generally be disrupted.

How will inclusion help?

In times of crisis such as this, we believe inclusive leadership and behaviours will be invaluable to both the organisation and its employees:

  • Inclusive organisations are adept at leveraging diversity of perspective – which means they can identify risks more quickly, adapt more responsively, and identify innovative solutions more effectively in a rapidly changing and ambiguous context.
  • If the great toilet paper crisis teaches us anything, its that people are desperate for a sense of control and self-determination. Inclusive organisations excel at giving people a voice, a sense of ownership and creating a sense of trust between employer and employee that is desperately needed now.

What can you do?

For several years Symmetra has been exploring with its Australian and global clients the features of inclusive leadership and the methods which inclusive leaders adopt to deal with small as well as major challenges.

And here are some of the ways that inclusive leaders might respond:-

  • Be open and transparent: give your employees all the relevant information about the state of the business and the challenges it faces
  • Show employees that they remain valued and in fact their contributions will be essential to help the business remain on course or indeed survive. Invite employees to express themselves openly and forcefully about ways to address the crisis
  • Empathise with employees and acknowledge their fears and apprehensions. Ask them what is important to them during this time.
  • Treat this as an opportunity to experiment with flexible working practices! Where team members are dispersed, keep regular contact with them and encourage them to have regular contact with each other.
  • Ensure that information between teams, divisions and geographies continue to flow – champion diversity of thinking across all boundaries to counteract the tendency to ‘bunker down’ in silos.
  • Provide reassurance, in a way that is realistic to the effect that the business and its employees will emerge on the other side ready to go on
  • Continue training and education remotely as a way of assuring employees that operations will continue and that their future with the business remains intact.

Keeping People Engaged

Showing people you continue to invest in their development is a strong signal right now that you are confident in the resilience of the organisation. Virtual learning experiences have come a long way in recent times. Symmetra for example offers many programs in a highly interactive and engaging virtual format:

  1. Virtual Instruction Led Training (VILT): Today’s VILT is a highly effective substitute for classroom style and learning and can be attended by anyone from anywhere with an internet connection, webcam and headphones. We leverage best practices and proven research in VILT design to ensure maximum participant activity and engagement. We structure our programs so participants are actively “doing” something at least every few minutes. Activities might include small group breakout rooms and discussions, online whiteboarding, polls and tests and chat rooms.
  2. Online Learning: E-Challenge is our online learning platform that delivers 10-15 minute bite-size learning combined with discussion guides, toolkits and action plans. Together these enable team leaders to translate the learning into practical behaviour change in teams.
  3. Fearless Teams: Fearless Teams is a revolutionary new program from Symmetra which builds psychological safety at scale. It combines digital delivery with leader-led, team based activities in the real workplace (which can of course be done in a virtual environment as well), supported by a group of internal Mentors coached by Symmetra.
  4. Video Coaching and Nudge Coaching: Symmetra has a highly experienced and diverse team of inclusion coaches who can support your leaders to lift their inclusion game – especially now when the pressure is on and it is needed most.


The Symmetra Team wishes everyone good health over the coming months as we collectively tackle this new global challenge.

Each for Equal – International Women’s Day 2020

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It Is generally accepted that we have underestimated the challenges associated with achieving equality in the corporate world when it comes to attributes of gender, race ethnicity and sexual orientation amongst others. This is despite significant investments of time and money and the lure of substantial rewards from robust financial and human “dividends”.

Whilst we’ll never know the exact cost of inequality, we do know without doubt that a culture of equality can make or break the financial success of your organisation.


The value of equality

At Symmetra we believe, equality:

  1. is a social justice issue, and the right thing to do
  2. is a business issue, with significant financial impacts
  3. impacts human emotions, and an individual’s life experiences matter.

Some useful attempts have been made to place a financial value on reaching the goal of equality in our workplaces and societies. For example, McKinsey calculated the financial value of achieving gender equality in Australia would add 12% to GDP.

  • Given the IMF is forecasting economic growth of 1-3% in mature economies such as Australia – this is a dividend well worth making a focussed commitment to.
  • In Asia Pacific, a similar growth rate would add approx. $4.5 Trillion and China $2.6 Trillion and globally $12 Trillion!

More complex is valuing the “human” dividends associated with achieving equal positive emotion in your workforce.

  • Employee surveys commonly identify the emotional experiences of “diverse” groups in organisations, is significantly different to the “dominant” group.
  • There are a few progressive companies which have financially valued the impact of this unequal human experience: For example, the German software organisation, SAP, knows for every 1% improvement in their corporate culture index, they realise EU75-85M per annum additional (SAP integrated report 2019).

It’s worth calculating the dividend associated with achieving equal positive emotion across your workforce. It could be a material sum!


So, why hasn’t the pace of change been more pronounced?

And more importantly – what can we do about it?

Of the 5 areas the above McKinsey study highlights as critical to achieving extraordinary financial growth, the two within an organisation’s remit are about attitudes and values. In our 24/7 switched on world, we may have little time to stop and give their impact appropriate consideration – i.e. our true attitudes about women’s roles and work in society and why they are underrepresented in leadership positions.

Wicked problems rarely have simple answers – and changing a millenia-old social structure that leads to inequality is the perfect definition of a “wicked problem”.

So what then IS the “solution” to creating equality? Our experiences at Symmetra tells us, the answer is:

There is nothing more powerful than Culture to either ENABLE or DISABLE any change initiative.

The recent Hayne Royal Commission, referenced the critical role of CULTURE as key to achieving deep and consistent change in the banking and finance industries, rather than more legislation & governance. But this principle can be applied more broadly to any organisation: equality comes about when the culture of an organisation is free of bias, values diversity and manifests a high degree of inclusivity.

Sexual Harassment: Progress at Last!

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The long-awaited report of the Australian Human Rights Commission into workplace sexual harassment has just been released. It marks a paradigm shift in the way combatting sexual harassment should be addressed and in many ways is a world first.

In essence, it posits that employers should owe a legal duty of care to all employees to ensure as far as possible that the workplace is free of sexist behaviour, harassment and physical assaults.

Highlights amongst the recommendations include: amending the Sex Discrimination Act to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sex discrimination, harassment and victimisation; granting unions and other representative bodies the right to bring representative sexual harassment cases; giving the  AHRC investigative powers; creating a “stop sexual harassment order” similar to the “stop bullying order” under the Fair Work Act .

This approach is consistent with the one Symmetra has been advocating for workplace harassment prevention some time and is aligned with Symmetra’s harassment and bullying training program that emphasises improving workplace inclusion, promoting a speak-up culture and motivating and empowering bystanders as the best way to address this blight on our workplaces.