Monthly Archives

July 2021

Dealing with a hostile work environment

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hostile work environment

In line with community expectations, Australian courts are taking a much harsher approach to employer’s as well as contractor’s duties to prevent workplace sexual harassment. Ex-employee of Sydney Water, Reem Yalda has had a large award of $200,000 upheld by an Appeals Court. Her photo was featured without her consent in a safety poster with the words : “Feel great – lubricate”. An outside contractor, Vitality works which had produced the poster was held liable. The Court said: “Innuendo, insinuation, implication overtone, horseplay, a hint, a wink or a nod; these are all devices capable of being deployed to sexualise conduct in ways that may be unwelcome“. Ms Yalda’s much larger claim against Sydney Water is still pending. Employers have now been given a stern warning, says Symmetra, that they need to review policies on sexual harassment particularly with reference to hostile working environments and harassment via social media, email, Zoom and the like.

‘Debiasing Decisions’ at the Lex Mundi Asia/Pacific Regional Conference, Sydney, 6 October 2017

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Heather will be presenting “Debiasing decisions” at the Lex Mundi Asia/Pacific Regional Conference, Sydney, 6 October 2017, which will bring together approximately 110 senior lawyers from every continent for learning and networking opportunities.

Debiasing Decisions

We know we can’t remove unconscious bias, but we can change the environment in which our decisions are made. Explore how some companies are using novel strategies to remove bias from key decision points, and learn some techniques you can use too.


The link between psychological safety and innovation: A cue for business leaders?

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How will Australian business leaders respond to the Federal Government’s drive for innovation?  How will they help to adapt the economy from one based on resources to one that generates and exploits new ideas, processes and technologies?

Innovation in the modern economy is viewed as a business imperative by almost all. The extent and continuity of idea generation and implementation has become both a source and a measure of competitive advantage. Almost half the executives in a survey by PWC (2014) regarded innovation as a ‘competitive necessity’ and according to Bain’s research, amongst 450 company executives worldwide in 2013 companies in the top quartile for innovation achieved a significantly higher growth rate than other companies.

Much innovation in the modern world is the result of team effort rather than individual inspiration, hence not surprisingly the key to sustained innovation is the creation of a framework for effective collaboration. This collaborative framework requires focus on two streams; firstly, on the systems which are designed to cultivate innovation and secondly on the mental readiness of employees within the organisation to undertake innovation.

With regard to the systemic element, a recent article in Harvard Business Review (‘You need an Innovation Strategy’, June 2015) points out that many corporate attempts to mobilise their organisation to be sustainably innovative have failed. This is because more often than not, measures to advance innovation are designed or implemented haphazardly. What is required, is “a commitment to a set of coherent and reinforcing policies and behaviours aimed at achieving a specific competitive goal”.

With regard to the second prerequisite for sustained innovation, this refers to the appropriate mental readiness of an employee to venture into unchartered innovative territory. The fact of the matter is that when an individual employee is mentally primed for innovation this can actually be scientifically observed. Work in the field by neuroscientist, Janet Crawford et al shows that the prefrontal cortex area of the brain is where innovative thought has its genesis. Neuroscientists can observe electrical changes in the brain reflecting feelings of being either secure or being threatened. Where an individual feels threatened the tendency is to retreat into habitual responses and avoid any element of risk, but where he or she feels secure then the individual will be prepared to venture into new experimental territory.

Symmetra’ whilst delivering workshops on Leveraging Diversity of Thought for Innovation with large numbers of leaders across the Asia-Pacific region has researched  whether individuals are mentally primed for innovation. Our research reveals three critical cultural factors that contribute to that readiness- these are the existence of an entrepreneurial frame, psychological safety and inclusion in the culture of the organisation.

Our focus in this article is on embedding sufficient psychological safety- what are the necessary cognitive or behavioural elements? Creative and innovative outcomes in the workplace arise from a complex interaction between the individual and others at various levels of the organisation. If these interactions lead to feelings of well-being, high self-esteem and motivation, the individual will become more inclined to stretch him-or herself, to expend  discretionary effort and to become creative or innovative.

Extensive research has established that when employees perceive that they are psychologically safe they become more engaged with their actual role and inspired to extend their imagination to activities outside their prescribed role.

Amy Edmonson, probably the best known researcher on psychological safety has written: “Psychological safety describes perceptions of the consequences of taking interpersonal risks in a particular context. It facilitates the willing contribution of ideas and actions to a shared enterprise”.

Ultimately it is the direct manager or supervisor of an employee whose actions will have a major impact on creating or undermining feelings of psychological safety. Amy lists eight leadership behaviours which, if present, will create a climate of psychological safety; namely; being accessible and approachable, acknowledging the limits of your current knowledge, being willing to display fallibility, inviting participation, highlighting failures as learning opportunities, using direct language, setting boundaries, and  holding people accountable for transgressions.

Symmetra has gauged the existing level of psychological safety in a range of Australian and Asia Pacific organisations over the course of 2015 by auditing the experiences of 1,264   middle and senior managers who were participating in the Leveraging Diversity of Thought for Innovation  workshops. These leaders are working in the professional service, financial, property, legal, research and resources sectors.

The graph below shows the current reality : namely that as few as just over a third (37%) of these leaders consider there to be sufficient levels  of psychological safety in their teams to encourage challenging each other and the status quo. In many of these organisations there is an actual overt commitment to establishing a speak up culture , but the data indicates they have not been successful in embedding such a culture. What this reflects is a huge opportunity cost for such organisations who have worked so  hard to attract and retain the best intellectual capital but are not creating sufficient psychological safety to allow that  diversity of thought  expression.

To lay the appropriate foundations for sustained innovation, there is a clear need for leaders to build their skills to embed psychological safety, to cultivate a culture where everyone feels safe to question, challenge, take reasonable risks and not be punished for failure. This is a fundamental prerequisite for maximising innovation and achieving the outcomes needed for Australia to meet the Federal Government’s call for innovation.



2015 Pride in Practice Conference

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IMG_3223hThe only Australian conference dedicated to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) workplace inclusion. Produced by Australia’s National Employer Support Program for LGBTI Inclusion and the Developers of the Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI) – Pride in Diversity.

Heather presented on the topic;

Unconscious bias and sexual orientation: What does it look like? How does it impact on decisions that are made about members of the LGBT community? And what can we do about it?



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How does an organization know if it’s D&I program will provide a good return on investment? And how best to determine the right point of entry?

A panel of 97 D & I experts from across the globe (of which Heather Price, CEO of Symmetra is one) have reached agreement on what makes for success in Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks: Standards for Organizations Around the World (GDIB)

The 2016 edition, released globally today, provides updated standards, keeping pace with present-day, real world matters. Driven by the two ultimate goals of diversity and inclusion — improving organizational performance while also creating a better world — GDIB is research-based and practical.

The GDIB describes what is necessary to do D&I work well. Effective D&I work is achievable when it is strategic, tied to the mission and goals of the organization, led with competence and care, and implemented in a sustainable manner. The GDIB’s 266 benchmarks encompass fourteen categories with five progression levels: from Inactive to Best Practice.

“This is a tool we have offered to many of our clients as added value as it is excellent in providing a systemic framework for D & I work. Rather than getting caught up in multiple initiatives which are fashionable in time, a client can use this to benchmark their strengths and weaknesses, inform their priorities and track their progress. Having participated as an expert panelist since 2006 in  producing  many editions , collaborating with D & I experts across the globe to  reach consensus on what these benchmarks should measure, and tracking how these have needed to  change over the last decade, has been  an inspiring journey” says Heather Price.


“With the support of the Japanese government and recent legislation on requiring companies to disclose gender targets and female advancement plans, this action for transparency is a great time for the 2016 GDIB Launch,” remarks Expert Panelist Janelle Sasaki, executive director of diversity & inclusion services, Ernst & Young Advisory Co., Ltd., Tokyo, Japan. “We customized the GDIB for cultural, localized meanings.  When diversity and inclusion was first introduced in Japan several years ago, it was seen as a western concept. In fact, there is not a Japanese character for the word ‘inclusion.’ The benchmarks accurately guided us when we broke ‘inclusion’ down into traits and other descriptive statements,”

Nene Molefi, managing director of Mandate Molefi, Johannesburg, South Africa, emphasizes the GDIB’s applicability to her varying clientele sectors in oil, mining, manufacturing, construction, financial services, and academic institutions. “The GDIB offers a unique opportunity to leverage diversity and promote inclusion at multiple levels and multiple arenas. The practical steps and incremental nature of the GDIB provides a clear sense of where you are and where you want to be,” Molefi, also an Expert Panelist, states.

Please contact Symmetra if you wish to find out more about the GDIB and get access to this tool which is provided free of charge

Developing a brand strategy in Asia through inclusion and leveraging Diversity of Thought

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Recently Symmetra had the pleasure of partnering with the Seoul Sales and Marketing team in a manufacturing and distribution company of consumer goods.  The international company has made some early progress with their broad diversity and inclusion agenda.  They wanted to use the brand strategy workshop in Seoul as a strong, compelling and visible symbol for embedding diversity and inclusion in their business.  Let us tell you how this was achieved.

The Seoul Sales and Marketing team scheduled a 3 day brand strategy workshop with a diverse group of participants from Sales, Marketing, HR, and Finance as well as General Managers.  The first day focused on Symmetra building participants’ capability and confidence to create the right environment and leverage diversity of thought for creating an innovative brand strategy.  More specifically one of our Executive Facilitators, Rod Smart, facilitated a highly interactive and compelling workshop to:

  • Build the business case for diversity and inclusion to achieve innovation and high performance
  • Introduced the concept of and cultural conditions required to leverage diversity of thought
  • Highlighted common unconscious biases that hinder innovation
  • Shared and practiced strategies for counteracting bias as well as creating psychological safety and inclusion.

The rest of the workshop focused on building the brand strategy whilst applying some of the newly learned techniques.  Rod played a ‘real time coaching’ role during these 2 days.  He provided both informal and structured feedback to individuals and the group as a whole to help them maintain psychological safety, foster inclusion and leverage the diversity of thought in the room.

Feedback from participants highlight the value Rod and Symmetra made to the workshop experience as well as the quality of the brand strategy produced:

Rod says “An exciting and most productive new application of Symmetra’s ground breaking ideas to the process of strategy building”.

Symmetra’s experience shows that blending the capability building with application and coaching can help build real, solid engagement and commitment for diversity and inclusion.

Yes you can thwart your bias!

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Biases are Innate

That unconscious bias is a real feature of human cognition is no longer a matter of dispute or doubt. A mountain of evidence has been accumulated on the existence and impact of subliminal processes below our active consciousness influencing our behaviour continuously. The evidence derives from improved psychological insights generated by the field of behavioural economics as well as increasingly sophisticated scientific data as to how electrical impulses flow through the brain (neuroscience). Moreover, the use and application of specialised and dedicated software tools designed to reveal unconscious biases has confirmed not merely that they exist but are also able to show where the biases of any individual and leadership team actually lie.

Biases lead to poor decisions

The practical implication of failing to acknowledge or address unconscious bias means that a high proportion of decisions will be made on the basis of incomplete, inaccurate or outright false data. And the consequences of biased decision-making can range from the inconvenient to the catastrophic, costing organisations billions of dollars. Working across the globe with leaders in order to identify examples of bias impacting on the quality of their decisions, Symmetra has collected dozens of examples. These include “pet projects”  which should have been called off because they were not working ( new technology systems, new products etc.)-but were not  due to the interest bias of the project leader, or “seasonal patterns” identified to explain a dramatic drop in revenue in a business by a leader  where an objective assessment of the evidence would have indicated that the problem lay elsewhere.

Biases can be neutralised

Because unconscious biases are universal, two fallacies have arisen as to whether there is any point in trying to counteract them: The first fallacy is that because these biases operate below the level of our minute-to-minute awareness there is no way of impeding them. The second fallacy is that telling people that everyone is biased will lead to the conclusion that it is just a basic human frailty and therefore not objectionable. The fact of the matter is that we can indeed take steps to counteract mental processes that lead to less than ideal results, in just the same way that we can take protective measures against harmful physical responses to outside stimuli. The understanding and recognition that everyone harbours some unconscious bias is simply a first step to trying to moderate the harmful effects of the biases. It is not a tacit signal that biases are okay because we all have them.

Positive strategies for counteracting bias

Strategies for counteracting unconscious bias in organisations can follow two parallel streams. The first is by helping individual employees to recognise that they have biases and then introducing them to techniques which can inhibit the biases from controlling their decisions.

The second is at the organisational level, where systems or processes are created through recommended or mandatory procedures and structures so as to diffuse decision-making powers. The effect of this will be that the biases of a single person are less likely to be decisive. Research by Sunstein and Jolls (2006) demonstrates that unconscious bias is very hard to detect in one’s own thinking but easy to detect in another’s. Thus groups, and even more so diverse groups, are better at self- checking, identifying biases within themselves.

Leaders who labour under the impression that an education session alone on the topic of unconscious bias will address the issue effectively are unlikely to experience any transformational change in organisational culture. What is required is a well-tailored strategy which is comprehensive and sustained to instil proven techniques for counteracting unconscious bias.

Attend Symmetra’s breakfast session on Debiasing your Decisions


Symmetra delivering FlexAgility Workshop in Hong Kong 2016

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Heather Price in Hong Kong delivering a session on FlexAgility for the Diversity and Inclusion Asian Network (DIAN), sponsored by Community Business 

“This was attended by Executives, HRDs and Diversity and OD leads from a range of blue chip multinationals in IT, Law, Financial services, Media and Professional services who operate across Asia.

Whilst all have cutting edge policies most are grappling to get traction in their flexibility agenda says Heather.”

“The FlexAgility Workshop is designed to change the way leaders think about flexible working. It is not just about setting up flexible working arrangements for success – but about providing leaders with the insight that leading effectively in the modern day economy requires agility – the skill to exercise individual judgment and wisdom in response to the increasingly diverse needs and expectations of the workforce and to the ambiguity and uncertainty of the workplace where change has become the new normal”.

“This shift in the mindset of leaders about FlexAgility, from an inconvenient employee perk to a strategic business imperative, is what will close the gap between policy and  practice on flexibility in organisations”.

Quotes from attendee’s

“I learned a great deal from the session and am eager to share key realizations with my team”.

Thomson Reuters

Thank you for delivering such an excellent workshop this morning! Participants are all leaving with some practical takeaways and are eager to bring back their insights to their leaders and drive change!”

Matthew YU, Program Manager, D & I, Community Business


How Big Data Analytics will boost Diversity and Inclusion

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Businesswoman standing looking at data flowchart in cloudy landscape


Big data analytics is a relatively new methodology for collecting and analysing vast amounts of data – much of it from sources previously untapped. It creates a new capacity for organisations to discover hidden patterns of important information and thus improve their ability to make predictions and decisions.

Collecting and analysing data has always been important for business. What has now changed is that through technological advances linked to immensely more powerful computing systems, data can be collected rapidly, from a vast number of sources sorted and then analysed. Big data may come from emails, location data, spoken interactions, postings on social media questionaries and interviews.

Companies and organisations now recognise that applying the metadata lens to data relating to employees or prospective employees, derived from a multiplicity of sources, can offer significantly amplified signals of workplace problems and at the same time, it can reveal new potential and opportunities for the business. This is known as People Analytics or Talent Analytics.


For HR, gaining new insights through a comprehensive analytics system can undoubtedly improve performance, help to make the work experience more satisfying for employees and identify trends on engagement and culture and offer companies a competitive advantage. This intelligence can offer new strategies to help direct how, when and where interventions should occur.

Thus, Pfizer, AOL and Facebook use People Analytics to identify factors that correlate with high performance and retention; BP uses it to evaluate its training programs, Google uses it to dissect interviews in order to extract maximum insight as to the possible suitability of prospective hires.

Xerox which employs 45,000 workers in its customer care centres previously filled positions through interviews and basic assessments of technical efficiency. Some 5 years ago after switching its recruitment to big data analytics, XEROX discovered that previous experience was not a useful predictor of employee performance but rather the distance between home and work was strongly associated with employee engagement and retention. Insights like this could, in addition, have implications for the business case for flexible and remote working.

In Australia, Commonwealth Bank has been using a predictive analysis tool for the past three years to answer such questions as which employees are most likely to resign and which employees will be the best performers. The analytics tool affords the Bank a predictive capability so that future problems can be avoided.


In the USA the most progressive companies in the diversity arena have already implemented big data analytics to accelerate the progress of women and other diverse groups in their organisations. The vast majority of companies ranked in the top 50 for Diversity in 2016 have achieved this status through exploiting the abundance of available data. Many of the top diversity companies employ  data scientists and have installed dedicated software to help discover new pools of talent as well as to produce metrics showing that diversity and inclusion gives businesses a competitive advantage.

The advent of people analytics supported by big data has created a new paradigm for the sourcing, hiring and retaining of diverse talent. No one has put this more pertinently than Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel who has written in a recent article (May 2016) “When it comes to ‘doing’ diversity and inclusion we need to measure what matters: hiring rates, exits and turnovers, progression and promotion rates and pay parity. Let’s go get the data, make it public and do something about it. Use data to debunk the myth that there are just not enough good candidates to hire diversity in great numbers. Let the data tell the truth.”

On the inclusion front, digital HR now has the capability to draw upon data extracted from social, mobile and cloud technology. Work can be made easier, more productive, more rewarding giving employees access to real time information and massively advanced communications systems.


The Container Store, a retail chain in the U.S.A., supplies its 5000 employees with a wearable voice activated device principally to advance communication across the group. However, it is used also to accumulate data on staff interactions, conversations with customers and is able to monitor exactly where and for how long an employee is in a given location. It provides unheralded data on employee performance. Using the data, Container store was able to identify gaps in store reporting as the area where improvement was required. As a consequence all members of the leadership team were provided with an app which dramatically enhanced the reporting functionality. Rather than being regarded as an intrusion this monitoring device has been welcomed by staff as a huge boon to their mode of working. Thus in 2015, The Container Store was ranked 14th in Fortune’s best companies to work for. It was voted the best company for women, for diversity in retail and for camaraderie.

As with many other factors which contribute to better performance, motivation and innovation in organisations,  the drive for diversity and inclusion stands on the threshold of revolutionary changes because of the advent of big data analytics. Whether a company is just embarking on its diversity journey or is already well down the track it has now available to it a solid platform of metrics upon which to base its decisions.

To learn more register for the next Symmetra Connect Event : Silicon Diversity 23 June

Heather Price: CEO of Symmetra on the paradox of delivering Unconscious bias training in corporate USA amidst the gaining popularity of Trump

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Symmetra has been delivering unconscious bias training to leaders across the globe over the past 6 years which has included working with many large corporations in the USA, some of whom have become outstanding exemplars of workplace diversity and inclusion.

On my most recent working journey this month in the USA I have found it  challenging and disappointing, to say the least, to find myself operating in an environment where the political debate around matters of race, gender and sexual orientation have become increasingly shrill and fraught with enmity. Expressions of racial, ethnic and religious bias and stereotyping are being openly expressed in the public arena raising an issue of stark dissonance between those corporations striving for fairer and more progressive workplaces on the one hand, and the background of harsh racially-charged discourse in the public domain on the other.

Where America has for the last 50 years been upheld as the benchmark on embedding democratic values into the society at large and its institutions, it has now paradoxically become acceptable in some quarters to give explicit voice to attitudes of bigotry and prejudice, often done in the name of casting aside unnecessary and burdensome political correctness. The repeated appeals to racial and ethnic solidarity which have become a hallmark of the current election campaign in the USA are a stark reminder that the task of reducing and overcoming biases and prejudice is a continuing battle.

Working with a progressive financial services company in several locations in the USA over the month of June I became involved in deep conversation on many occasions with outstanding corporate leaders who are truly intent on attracting and retaining diverse talent, “to fish from the full pond, so to speak”, so as to optimise their business performance. In a society where it is predicted that in less than 10 years, 75% of the workforce will be Millennials, of whom 44% currently belong to  a racial and ethnic minority (hence there will be no racial majority group in the USA by 2050) and where women  between the ages of 25 and 34 are currently 20% more likely than men to be college educated, this is surely a business imperative.

However all forward thinking business leaders are  now paradoxically faced with a potential President and his supporters who do not disguise their hostility towards women, Mexicans and persons with disability. Fortunately this overt bias, rather than undermining the efforts of those who are assiduously striving for diverse and inclusive workplaces,  is admirably underlining for them how fundamental it is that they remain on course and even redouble their efforts

America is now presented with a populist leader willing to exploit racial and other fears in an explicit and unapologetic way which is certainly something which the country has not experienced for many decades.

As an ex-South African who has witnessed first-hand the devastating impact of deep seated racial  bias on millions and on the economy at large, I can only hope that the American dream that all men (and women) are created equal will ultimately prevail. Surely the thousands of leaders in big business, who subscribe to responsible and ethical business values will leverage their power to ensure that the years of constructive and painstaking building of a more inclusive society and more equitable workplace will not be lost.

This current paradox is disturbingly too reminiscent for me of  what it was like when I worked with big corporations in South Africa in the early 1990s, who were subscribers to the Sullivan principles (which happened to be American!) intent on responsible business and upholding democratic values whilst operating in an Apartheid society which stood for the very opposite. Whilst I can understand and appreciate that some Americans perceive  that their livelihoods and culture may be at risk, I do hope a progressive mindset will prevail which upholds that collaboration, in spite of our differences, will always be of greater benefit than isolationism and antagonism.