Monthly Archives

June 2021

The inequitable treatment of the LGBTQI community

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inequitable treatment of the LGBTQI community

A much-heralded decision of the US supreme Court last week has once again thrown the spotlight on LGBTQI rights.

The case, Fulton v Philadelphia involved the right of gay couples to foster children which a Catholic vetting agency refused to sanction. The Court upheld the agency’s limited right not to participate in a process contrary to scriptural beliefs. This decision unfortunately highlights the continued inequitable treatment of LGBTQI people which ranges from general acceptance to resentful toleration but also to outright persecution.

Oscar Wilde, the great man of letters in the 19th century was jailed for two years for sodomy. In 1952, Alan Turing whose code-breaking helped to win the war, was prosecuted for homosexual acts. Frederick Chopin, Polish hero has had his homosexual love-letters deliberately suppressed in his home country. In many African countries, homosexual acts may result in lengthy imprisonment and in Iran, the death penalty.

Symmetra urges all to remember the obligations to stand up and speak up for inalienable dignity of the LGBTQI community.

The inequitable treatment of the LGBTQI community

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

inequitable treatment of the LGBTQI community

A much-heralded decision of the US supreme Court last week has once again thrown the spotlight on LGBTQI rights.

The case, Fulton v Philadelphia involved the right of gay couples to foster children which a Catholic vetting agency refused to sanction. The Court upheld the agency’s limited right not to participate in a process contrary to scriptural beliefs. This decision unfortunately highlights the continued inequitable treatment of LGBTQI people which ranges from general acceptance to resentful toleration but also to outright persecution.

Oscar Wilde, the great man of letters in the 19th century was jailed for two years for sodomy. In 1952, Alan Turing whose code-breaking helped to win the war, was prosecuted for homosexual acts. Frederick Chopin, Polish hero has had his homosexual love-letters deliberately suppressed in his home country. In many African countries, homosexual acts may result in lengthy imprisonment and in Iran, the death penalty.

Symmetra urges all to remember the obligations to stand up and speak up for inalienable dignity of the LGBTQI community.

Gentlemen’s Clubs – a necessity in today’s world?

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gender equality

On Tuesday, this week, the Australian Club on Macquarie Street in Sydney steadfastly refused to enter the 21st century by not admitting women as members. A specially -called vote recorded a resounding 62 per cent against admission of women and 37 per cent in favour. ‘Gentlemen’s Clubs’ are relics of the 18th century where British aristocrats sought privacy, secure in the belief that women and men of colour were both intellectually inferior and socially unwelcome.

Members of the club come from the arts, law, medicine, science, military, entertainment and business. Undoubtedly, they make decisions, almost daily, affecting the wellbeing and prospects of women.

#Symmetra wonders how they can make such decisions fairly and in good conscience when they are determined to assert white male privilege in their private club.

How “noise” impacts decision-making at work

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decision-making at work

Humans are fallible. When making judgments or even when undertaking important decisions, we frequently haphazardly select information which suits our pre-dispositions. We easily rely on data which is inaccurate, inapposite or simply false. In the workplace, this deficiency leads to failures in business and talent management decisions.

One factor which negatively impacts our decision-making is bias. Authors Kahneman, Sibony and Sunstein show however that Noise is an equally pernicious element in judgment-making. In any area where a decision does not flow from strict and absolute rules, random variability occurs. Judges, doctors, loan assessors, managers and executives reach startlingly different conclusions when supplied with exactly the same data.

This result is both unfair and unacceptable when individuals at the receiving end expect decisions not to be arbitrary or capricious. Algorithms solve some of these issues but they are not perfect. Training and implementation of appropriate techniques can help to alleviate the ills of bias and noise See Symmetra Conscious Decision Making Workshops. Leaders need to orchestrate decision making processes that counteract noise and bias. This is something that every organisation needs to seriously consider when the alternative is recurring and leads to costly poor decisions.

Helping Leaders More Accurately Judge How Inclusive They Are

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Harvard Business Review has just published an article which highlights that those leaders who are not inclusive tend to overrate their inclusive capability and those who are inclusive tend to underrate themselves. Whilst this disconnect is not surprising, it poses huge risks to the realisation of an organisation’s D & I strategy because the very leaders who need to build their inclusion skills don’t believe they have developmental needs to address!

Symmetra’s research over the last two years using our two Inclusion Assessment Tools (the Inclusive Leadership Index and the Team Inclusion Pulse Survey) with hundreds of leaders in the Property, Financial and Legal services sectors (amongst others) demonstrates the very same disconnect.

What is heartening though, is the telling impact these Inclusion assessments have had on leaders. Faced with the granular results on just how inclusive their behaviour is experienced to be by those who work with them, spread across the eight competencies of Symmetra’s model that define inclusive behaviour, they obtain insight into exactly what changes in everyday behaviours are needed.

As an executive leader said to me at his inclusion coaching session after debriefing him on his results:

I have never really understood what it means to be inclusive other than showing respect towards and valuing those who are different. But these results explain exactly what I do well, where I fall short and precisely what I need to do differently – what behaviours will embed psychological safety in my team; what behaviours will position me to leverage diversity of thought; how to engage with and value difference; how to be flexible and agile; how to demonstrate a learning mindset and span boundaries and so on… this has been a real eye opener for me and is an inspiration for action.”

In addition and of note, work with our clients over six to twelve month periods has shown that because the ILI enables leaders to benchmark their results against others; to retest a year later so they can monitor their personal progress; and provides an overall SuperInclusion score for balanced scorecards, it has acted as a compelling catalyst for sustained behavioural change and kept front of mind the value of inclusion in optimising team performance.

With tools such as these to diagnose individual and team developmental needs on Inclusion and to set up accountability for improvement, we can really accelerate the much-needed building of inclusive leadership capability across organisations.




Workplace Diversity meets AI

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At this point in the twenty first century we are already immersed in and often unnervingly confronted at work and socially by the accelerating pace of change of the new digital age.

We see it on our TVs which depict the arrival of driverless cars, in telephone answering systems which identify us by our voices and at the airport when we are whisked through immigration by facial-recognition technology. New disruptive businesses spring up and familiar processes and systems suddenly disappear every few months.


Work will Change

That the workplace we are all familiar with will undergo dramatic change over the next decade under the impact of robotics, data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) is a given.

Although it is impossible for anyone to predict exactly how work will evolve in the coming decades, the general trend is unmistakable. Many jobs will disappear and certain human roles and functions will simply be replaced by machines on grounds of cost and efficiency. This will apply not only to manual or repetitive tasks but also to what were previously considered to be more cognitive fields of expertise. It is clear that AI will make inroads into activities previously the exclusive domain of doctors, lawyers, accountants and financial advisors.

While some fear a wave of human redundancy and unemployment other experts like Malcom Frank believe that the new technological wave like others before it, will create more and different kinds of new jobs.


Workplace Diversity in the New Age

But an interesting point to consider is how these changes will affect the significance of diversity and inclusion initiatives in organisations over the next decade and beyond. Will it heighten its importance or will D&I be relegated to the back room again as I have heard some mention in fear?

Some answers are already beginning to emerge.

1. Diversity and Inclusion will grow in significance

In a commercial world needing innovation, agility and constant learning, we at Symmetra are of the view diversity and inclusion will only grow in importance. Indeed for many organisations it will become critical to their ability to compete.

Computers are obviously superior to humans in processing data, scanning volumes of written material and carrying out repetitive tasks without mistakes. AI can outperform human reasoning where sequential logic is required. However AI still lacks the ability to engage in parallel reasoning where humans excel.

While many tasks are being automated, the intrinsically “human parts” of work where computers lack ability will become the focal points in recruitment, promotion and human resource allocation. These include the search for skills such as empathy, communication, persuasion, personal service, problem-solving, innovation and strategic decision-making.

The areas in which humans will add value in a data-driven commercial world are precisely those areas (decision-making, talent attraction and customer-connection) where diversity has already been empirically demonstrated to drive better organisational performance. In addition, diverse workforces are better by a significant margin at developing innovative products than homogeneous workforces.

Technology will increasingly have an influence on how organisations structure and manage their human resources. Big data and data analytics will be used to predict affiliation, retention and team dynamics. Decisions on recruitment and promotion will more often be data based or at least more often supported by statistical analysis, rather than based on intuition. Virtual teams operating globally will become the norm as organisations set up ad hoc groups of freelancers for hire, short and long-term contractors together with traditional employees who might be combined for a specific project and then disbanded. Inevitably these groupings will be more diverse both in identity as well as cognitively.

When it comes to complex tasks, teams that are cognitively diverse are able to use their more expansive mental toolkits to outperform teams of individuals who are each very skilled but do not display the same degree of cognitive diversity. Thus cognitively diverse teams, freed from the drudge work more efficiently executed by AI systems, will be able to apply their imagination and boundary-spanning thinking to create radically innovative products and services and to develop disruptive business models.

Corporate executives certainly understand the increasingly pivotal role that diversity and inclusion will play in their businesses.

In 2017, 69 per cent of executives of corporations surveyed globally rate diversity and inclusion an important issue—up from 59 per cent in 2014 and aligned with this, more and more of our global clients are adopting inclusive leadership training as their foundational approach to building leadership capability- particularly focused on the broadened definition of inclusive behaviour in the 21st century.

2. Technology will drive greater Diversity

The onslaught of the new technological age will actually circumvent many of the human-induced barriers to diversity in the workplace. As AI systems proliferate they will be integrated with working teams. Organisations in consequence will increasingly depend on teams which exhibit cognitive diversity.

Machine learning is capable of removing human-sponsored and systemic impediments to advancing diversity in organisations. One of the major factors hampering diversity in recruitment, promotion and project allocation is unconscious bias. While education on better decision architecture is certainly helpful, there is every reason to grasp the added power of technology in order to reduce the negative effects of inherent human bias.

AI systems can be used to mitigate many of the problems arising from unconscious bias. They can be taught algorithms which ignore cues like personal names or social activities in resumes which are often the triggers for unconscious bias. AI can also assess candidates for promotion by statistically linking past successful promotions to a range of identifiable attributes or skillsets. AI could even be used to monitor patterns of communication between people in the workplace to identify unconscious bias in their interactions and the small everyday iterative opportunities they provide to their diverse direct reports.


Looking Forward

As much as other business models face disruption we recognise that the field of diversity and inclusion is also at an inflection point. The model for advancing diversity needs to be seamlessly integrated with the new digital technology to be agile, adaptable and more targeted to fashion diverse teams that can deliver what machines still cannot.

Anticipating this paradigm shift, Symmetra is ensuring we are ready to advise and assist clients to leverage technology to improve diversity and inclusion outcomes, utilising our own unique tools as well as those being generated in a lively start up marketplace.

Hepeating – the Unconscious Pilfering of Good Ideas

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At a recent Women of the Future event, foreign minister Julie Bishop described her experiences as a single female minister together with nineteen men in the cabinet of Tony Abbot.

It was pretty lonely. I would be sitting in a cabinet with 19 men and me.”

Ms Bishop then related what seems to have been an all-too-frequent occurrence in the cabinet room. She would make a proposal or suggest a new initiative. The response of her male colleagues: “Nothing. Halfway around the room, a guy will say what I said – exactly my idea, exactly my initiative and the others will say ‘brilliant what a genius idea’.”

Ms Bishop then went on to label what had manifested itself on these occasions as ‘unconscious bias’, ‘a kind of deafness’.

In that respect she was almost certainly correct. Recent advances in understanding cognitive processes now offer a vocabulary which has entered the lexicon of business, politics and social interaction. What previously might have been dismissed as incivility or at worst over-competitiveness is now being recognised in many quarters as a fundamental problem of cognitive bias.

So common and unexceptional is this behaviour in meetings that a certain Nicole Gugliucci, an astronomer and professor, and a group of her colleagues have coined a word ‘hepeat’ to describe it. In their circle the following phraseology has become understood:

“I was hepeated in the meeting again today.”

Casual and repetitive demeaning of women in meetings is a consequence of in-group gender bias. This is not to say that women themselves do not harbour unconscious biases which, of course they do. And others, such as members of diverse groups find themselves being ignored in meetings or having their ideas usurped by entrenched white males.

But the fact that women are almost always in the minority when power plays are operating, creates a pernicious cycle which often results in women coming to believe they have nothing to contribute and choosing not to speak.

Another manifestation of this is the well-established fact that men repeatedly interrupt women who are speaking. This has been documented in a plethora of studies going back to the 1990s and is supported by innumerable anecdotes of women in business, on TV, in public forums and in various legislative assemblies worldwide being unable to finish talking as a result of male interruption. So much so that the New York Times recently described it as “a universal phenomenon”.

A number of stratagems have been suggested to help women to speak up, such as women reinforcing each other’s ideas if there is more than one woman present or women preparing in advance for what they wish to say. But these are just palliative measures. Bias must be understood, recognised and tackled across organisations at every level and in every type of interaction and men bear as much onus in this respect as women.

Much like rooting out inappropriate behaviour and overt discrimination, the elimination of the multiple harmful effects of unconscious bias can only come about when leaders walk  the talk, when education on techniques to counteract bias is ongoing, appropriate systems are put in place to limit the effects of bias and importantly when unacceptable conduct is called out by men and women speaking in unison.

Are you being “hepeated” in meetings in your organisation?


Are Judges Immune to Bias?

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How do you convince judges – who pride themselves on their ability to make unbiased decisions – that they too have unconscious biases that may affect their behaviour in (and out) of the courtroom?

Symmetra has been gratified by the success of its first unconscious bias workshop for judicial officers of the South Australia Magistrates Court. In a post workshop survey, 100% found the session a valuable leaning experience and 90% considered they could apply what they learned in day to day interactions.

For some years now, through our work with some of the leading firms of solicitors, barristers and the development of an online training module on unconscious bias for legal practitioners, we have gained valuable practical insights with respect to how and where biases emerge in the opinions and decisions of legal professionals.

However, designing this workshop for members of the judiciary presented a number of interesting challenges. Like any other humans the cognitive processes of judges predispose them to rely on intuition and heuristics in situations which really require slow deliberative reasoning. This is an inevitable consequence of the way in which human thought processes have evolved.

The context in which judicial decision-making occurs, however, is such that it is not possible to use analogies from everyday commercial decisions or even decisions which practising lawyers make. Judges do not make decisions about hiring and promotion; do not allocate tasks, duties or work projects to members of their organisations; do not work in teams (even in appeal cases) and do not have to make investment decisions for their work or decide how resources should be applied or expended. Ordinary commercial organisations can take measures to counteract bias through greater use of group decisions or by building checks and balances into their systems and protocols – but none of this is available to judges.

Judges who normally sit alone, assess the evidence placed before them by others and hand down rulings and judgments based on what they conclude is relevant to the decision at hand. They must train themselves to pre-empt bias by learning to identify points or areas of risk and then alerting themselves to avoid system 1 thinking where it is not appropriate. Furthermore, the practice of issuing written decisions would seem to be an inherent preventative measure against biased thinking.

The main thrust of this workshop therefore was to illustrate that intuitive thinking is an innate tendency which can impact our assessments or decisions in very subtle ways – it is not simply how we consciously stereotype people of a particular gender, ethnicity or social status.

Biases can impact on how probabilities are assessed or damages are calculated. Biases such as egocentric bias, anchoring bias and hindsight bias can feature unconsciously not only at the time of final judgement but also at interlocutory stages of proceedings. Participants in the workshop identified status quo bias as a particular risk: when faced with challenging decisions often our bias is towards the least risky option (albeit not necessarily the correct one) which is to leave things as they are.

Moreover it is not only their own biases of which judges need to be aware but also to be more sensitive to biases of others who appear in the courtroom: the litigants, the lawyers and the witnesses. These biases may arise from the way we perceive people different to us, or for other reasons.

The workshop also covered practical skills of bias avoidance specifically for people working independently. Magistrates were open minded and enthusiastic in co-designing tools for themselves to help them overcome potential biases in the future.

The project to develop a learning experience on unconscious bias for the judicial arm of the legal profession has given Symmetra valuable experience in extending the new boundaries of neuroscientific understanding into professions and industries which are not obvious candidates for this type of education. We will be positioned to pass on our new insights to our existing and future clients.

Same sex marriage; what’s at stake

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History Revisited

The hullabaloo swirling around the plebiscite on same sex marriage and the dire consequences envisaged by some if it becomes law, is reminiscent of the overwrought situation in Australia in 1984 when the Federal Sex Discrimination Act was being debated in Parliament.

By 1984, three countries with which Australia identifies most closely, culturally and historically, had all implemented legislation at the national level to prohibit discrimination based on gender and other attributes – the USA in 1964; the UK in 1975 and Canada in 1977. For the most part this legislation had been long accepted in those countries and regarded as positive and beneficial, causing no significant upheaval or social dislocation.

Yet the prospect of passing Commonwealth legislation in Australia to protect the rights of women in the workplace and in other areas of public life evoked an extraordinarily heated response amongst some sections of the public and representatives in Parliament.

One angry senator declared that the legislation would change nothing as “men are by nature more likely to be leaders, providers and protectors”. A member of the House of Representatives considered that the legislation will “be destructive of fundamental rights and freedoms”.

Today, hardly anyone questions the principles underlying the Sex Discrimination Actor the need for it and the main criticisms are that it does not go far enough.

As the plebiscite gets underway, Australia again finds itself following the lead vis a vis the main English-speaking democratic countries with the USA, UK  New Zealand and Canada (not to mention another 20 countries) all having recognised same sex marriage and Australia facing a debate on the issue which sometimes borders on the vitriolic.

The Real Issue

The real and probably only relevant matter for debate is a philosophical one – between those who, mostly on religious grounds, believe that marriage in its essence can only be between a man and a woman, and those who believe that the notion must be broad enough to encompass a relationship between two adults of the same gender who love each other. And while every person is entitled to have his or her say as to what constitutes a marriage, there is simply no basis for suggesting that legislating for same sex marriage will restrict religious freedoms or will undermine basic social mores and family cohesion. There is no evidence that these effects have occurred in countries where same sex marriage is legally recognised, nor should there be any harm in Australia to religious institutions and other groups in a country where long-term gay and lesbian partnerships are unremarkable and same sex partners can parent children.

The claim by gays and lesbians to be afforded the equal dignity and the legal benefits which flow from marriage is the culmination of a long struggle against centuries of crude prejudice and discrimination. Until the middle of the twentieth century in almost all Western countries, homosexuality was classified as a mental illness; sexual relations were vilified and often subject to criminal penalties; and homosexuals would not be hired or would be dismissed if their sexual orientation became known.

The Persuasive Case for Same Sex Marriage

We at Symmetra believe that the argument in favour of legitimating same sex marriage is cogent and compelling. The rationale for this has been aptly set out in the ruling of the US Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges considering whether same sex marriage is a right guaranteed under the Constitution, where the majority held that it is. While the reasoning was against the backdrop of the US Constitution, many of the observations are pertinent to Australia.

Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy noted that: “…the centrality of marriage to the human condition makes it unsurprising that the institution has existed for millennia across civilizations.”

He then listed four assertions which weigh in favour of same sex marriage:

  1. The right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy. The decision whether and whom to marry is one of life’s momentous acts of self-definition
  2. The right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to committed individuals
  3. Where children are being raised by a same sex couples, the right to marry safeguards the interests of these children and their families
  4. Just as couples in a marriage vow to support each other so does society confer symbolic recognition and material benefits upon married couples. Some (but not all) of these benefits include taxation; inheritance and property rights; spousal privilege in the law of evidence; medical decision making; adoption and so on.


Most of those who intend voting no accept that gay and lesbian unions are now a fixed part of our social fabric but they say that these unions should be granted recognition under a status other than marriage. But the question is why should gays and lesbians be consigned to indefinite inferiority by being denied the opportunity to commit themselves to each other in the ultimate way. There is, we suggest, no morally justifiable reason. We believe that fairness and Australia’s inherent sense of social equality will win the day for same sex marriage.


Symmetra presents at MCC AFAC Conference: Contemporary Thinking on Diversity and Inclusion

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Male Champions of Change Diversity and Inclusion Workshop, 2017 AFAC Conference

While AFAC have long recognised the need for a diverse and inclusive  sector as fundamental to maintaining the capability of the Fire and Emergency Services workforce, changes have been slow to occur over the past 20 years. As a result, AFAC has taken a proactive approach to increasing gender diversity and the type of workplace and culture that encourages this across Fire and Emergency Services in Australia.

The Male Champions of Change initiative has engaged several leaders of Fire and Emergency Services to lead the way, empowering them to commit to an agenda that encompasses Diversity and Inclusion in their respective service areas, to the  establishment of a Charter on gender equity, advancement of women and embedding respectful and  inclusive cultures  and to foster change  across the whole Sector.

Heather Price and Symmetra are honoured to be working with Fire and Emergency Services to support their leaders to gain an understanding of what constitutes inclusion in the 21st century and the types of barriers that can stand in the way in their sector of driving collaboration, performance and innovation through inclusion. What we hope to achieve at the AFAC Conference on 7 September is that leaders leave  with a clear vision of what best practice in inclusion looks like and an appetite to drive this agenda forward across the Sector.