News & Knowledge

How should diverse and inclusive organisations approach mandatory vaccination rules?

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What happens when diverse and inclusive organisations decide on mandatory vaccinations for their workplace?

Mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for employees is being adopted daily by more and more public sector agencies and private sector organisations. What should the approach be for an organisation which espouses diversity and inclusion but whose leadership considers that mandatory vaccination is essential?

The issue is fraught with legal, ethical and cultural complexity. The legal questions in Australia are governed by a matrix of interweaving laws including Fair work; discrimination; privacy and WHS.

Symmetra agrees with this writer that the federal government bears the responsibility of passing overarching and specific pandemic legislation to clarify matters as soon as possible. But there will always be the need to cater for exemptions, exceptions and outliers. There are and will continue to be strongly held views that may be irreconcilable. Leaders should prepare to lean into tough conversations. But they must be transparent and always willing to listen.

Embedding a culture of psychological safety for all is paramount and stereotyping or excommunicating those who elect not to be vaccinated without careful and deep consultation is not the way to go. Symmetra is convinced that leaders who can demonstrate the art of inclusiveness will be far more likely to find effective solutions which balance the needs of the greater good with the diverse needs of an individual when faced with addressing these new challenges.

Why nations should support women’s rights ?

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Nations which suppress the rights of women are more likely to be failed states overall. The latest edition of the Economist magazine is one of great significance for women. Both the editorial and the lead article explore in-depth how nations which suppress the rights of women are more likely to be failed states overall. Naturally, recent events in Afghanistan where advances made by women are suddenly and dramatically being reversed have brought this issue into stark relief.

In the lead article, the magazine quotes extensively from a study that measures countries on a scale from 0 to 16 to determine the  “patrilineal/fraternal syndrome” where a high rank indicates that laws and entrenched customs condemn women to varying degrees of servitude. Countries with high ranking are usually also economically and socially backwards.

However, as we all know, even in a country like Australia which has a zero score, all is not well. Women suffer abuse at home, harassment in the workplace, and have to contend with a host of biases, conscious and unconscious. As a start, Symmetra calls on all political and business leaders to read this issue of the Economist.

Abortion rights under threat in America

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The right of women to abortion in the USA is under threat. The Supreme Court has declined, for the time being, to interfere with a Texas law which effectively prohibits abortion when a heartbeat can be detected. Astonishingly it gives any private individual the right to institute legal action against a clinic or other person who participates in or assists in the procuring of such a prohibited abortion. Roe v Wade which entrenched these rights across the USA might soon be overturned affecting the rights of women to control their own reproduction and to have autonomy over their own bodies. If carried to its ultimate goal by anti-abortionists it will be a monumental reversal of advances made to women’s rights in the 20th century.

As a further cruel irony, this situation may be the legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the most doughty fighter on the Supreme Court for women’s rights. When she was old and in failing health, Ginsburg was asked by President Obama to resign so that a younger liberal jurist could be appointed. She declined and died at a time when Donald Trump could appoint a staunch conservative and active campaigner against abortion, Amy Coney Barrett. The Court now has a distinctly archly- conservative majority. Women in the USA and elsewhere will hold their breath to see how this critical issue turns out.

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.




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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

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.

Reflections on a tumultuous period for race and gender diversity

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Working  across two continents in the US and UK over the last six weeks with a focus on  positioning a multinational to leverage the full value  diversity has to add in the workplace,  I have ironically been exposed to disturbingly public displays of intolerance  and inter-racial animosity . These incidents have brought attitudes towards diverse groups, such as racial minorities, religious groups, women and the LGBTI community, on to the front pages of newspapers and created contentious material for prime-time television debates.


I was fortuitously present in London on the fateful day when the Brexit result was announced. Whatever the respective claims from each side on the economic issues, it was certainly disconcerting to note the unmistakeable expressions of xenophobia and bigotry from some of the leave campaigners and members of the public. Not only was the spectre of a large-scale Muslim invasion raised but there was also overt hostility expressed against foreign workers from Eastern Europe who have actually been living and working peacefully in Britain for years. And unfortunately this seemingly casual observation on my part proved to be entirely consistent with the statistical monitoring  by websites and institutions of hate-crimes who reported a marked and unmistakeable upswing of race-based incidents post-Brexit.


These incidents, nevertheless pale when compared to the current brutal racially-motivated killings on both sides of the colour line in the USA. Many people argue that the USA is more racially polarised than it has been for the past two or three decades. While it is clear that there are no simple or quick solutions it is equally clear that political and other leaders have a duty not to stoke fears and prejudices, as some have been doing, but to help find areas of common interest amongst different communities.


 Paradoxically, however, while race issues appear to be escalating, there is decidedly cause for optimism on the gender front. This conclusion has been brought home forcibly by a number of remarkable and unanticipated events arising in the political arena from the Brexit exercise.

Many of the leading male protagonists on both sides of the argument  have now effectively departed the scene: David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, and Michael Gove. In their place, a number of women have suddenly risen to prominence and it will fall to them to extricate their countries from the present malaise. The next British Prime Minister will be Theresa May. The leading politicians in Scotland and Northern Ireland, Nicola Sturgeon and Arlene Foster, make up the rest of the group of UK female political leaders. And, of course, there is Angela Merkel leading Germany, the most powerful nation in Europe as well as Erna Solberg in Norway.

When one adds to this that a leading nation in Asia, South Korea, is headed by a woman, Park Geun-hye, and the very real possibility that the United States could have a female President, one can picture a world next year where women  will lead some of the most powerful nations  across the globe. This is bound to have a positive effect on gender advancement in all areas where discrimination and unconscious bias has created barriers to female advancement.

Research has consistently shown that having a single or even two female leaders elevated to boards or other decision-making entities often leaves them isolated. It is usually only when they achieve a significant proportional representation that their voices are heard and they are able to wield influence. Having so many female political leaders in number of powerful nations will surely serve to embed this as the new normal.


It may be too soon to form a clear understanding of how Brexit and related events will turn out for the UK, Europe and Australia  However, it is clear that we cannot afford to be complacent in believing that racial and ethnic tensions could never come to the surface in Australia as they have elsewhere. The racial confrontations that occurred in Cronulla a decade ago are a stark reminder that we cannot take inter-group harmony in Australia for granted.

Nevertheless, we are fortunate in Australia that we have been spared some of the worst excesses of violence towards minority groups. We must all redouble our efforts to create workplaces and arenas of social interaction that are seen to be places where diversity and inclusion become the norm. This is undoubtedly the best recipe for social and economic advancement in this country of ours.

Closing the Gender Gap – Some serious movement at last by world leaders

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Errol Price with title - 415 x 275Alice: Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?

The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to

Alice: I don’t much care where

The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go

Alice: …. So long as I get somewhere

The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough

Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

For much of the second half of the twentieth century, women, when considering their unfavourable economic, social and political status, viz-a-viz their male compatriots, faced a dilemma somewhat similar to the one addressed between Alice and the Cat. Much like Alice, they knew that they could not afford to remain where they were. Their difficulty in aspiring to gender equality however, was to define what equal treatment would really look like and what steps societies needed to take in order to get there.

One of the principal reasons for the stalemate in which women have found themselves was the absence of hard and objectively verifiable data which measured the areas and the extent of female disadvantage. This absence frequently allowed opponents either to deny that women faced structural barriers and gender discrimination or to side track the debate by questioning whether women and men had essentially the same aspirations in their work and their profession.

That has changed substantially over the last 2 decades.

Firstly, much data has been gathered by a host of organisations, academic, governmental and in business within countries, as well as internationally, providing objective metrics on the extent of female disadvantage. One of the most prominent reports is the Gender Gap Report issued by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

For the past 9 years the WEF has recorded the gender gap in individual countries as a percentage in four critical areas of inequality: economic participation, educational attainment; political empowerment, and health and survival.

The Gender Gap Report ranks countries in each of these 4 categories with those having the smallest gender gaps ranking highest. Countries also receive an overall ranking depending on the average of their gender gap scores and it is this overall ranking which is carefully monitored by organisations and media across the globe. As has been the case for some time, Iceland and the Nordic countries have the smallest gender gaps.

Australia was ranked 15th in 2006 – the first year of the report – but has since dropped to 24th overall out of 142 countries measured this year in the ninth report (issued 28 October, 2014). Australia fares very well on educational attainment where there is no gap at all and in health and survival where the gap is negligible. However, the gap is significant in the areas of economic participation and opportunity where Australia’s score is 0.80 (a 20% gap between men and women) and an abysmal gap in political empowerment (Australia’s score is 0.189), notwithstanding the fact that Australia has had a female Prime Minister.

The second significant change which signals greater awareness of the gender gap issue is the increasing attention that it is gaining at top political levels. World leaders are taking on board the idea that improving the lot of women is good for national economies as well as the world economy. According to a Grattan Institute Report (2012), if Australian women did as much paid work as women in Canada – implying an extra 6 percent of women in the workforce – Australia’s GDP would be $25 billion higher.

Australia together with many other industrialised countries in the last 3 to 5 years has been formulating policies which will have a material impact in narrowing the gender gap. Recent news reports have indicated that Australia is building support for a declaration by the G20 leaders gathering in Brisbane later this month that they will reduce the gender gap globally by 25 per cent by the year 2025. If this is achieved it will mean employment for an additional 300,000 women in Australia alone.

It has to be said, however, that Australia is capable of doing better than this. Australia has the building blocks in place to embark on a concerted program for the rapid advancement of women. The coming G20 summit can serve as the springboard for a sustained program to close the gender gap in economic participation and political empowerment .

The question is, as the Cheshire Cat implies, whether Australia’s political and business leaders really want to get there?


The Serena Cartoon: A Classic Case of Unconscious Racial Stereotyping

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The cartoon by Mark Knight, published by the Herald Sun newspaper, depicting an on-court rant by Serena Williams, has, as most people now know, evoked a storm of criticism, particularly from the African-American community. A defiant doubling-down from the cartoonist himself as well as the newspaper ensued; followed by a spirited defence of the cartoon from a number of commentators.

Williams is portrayed in the cartoon with thick lips, wild hair and what is presumed to be a vaguely Africanised physiognomy, not having any particular resemblance to Williams herself. She is shown as being in a state of un-selfconscious rage.

Renown author J. K. Rowling commented: “Well done on reducing one of the greatest sportswomen alive to racist and sexist tropes…”

The defenders of the cartoon have responded with generalised comments about the freedom of the press and rejecting what they see as “political correctness”. In addition their counter-arguments can be summarised in the following points:

  •  The cartoonist, Mark Knight has no history of racism;
  • Mark Knight has emphatically denied any racist intent and said his aim was just to be funny;
  • The cartoon simply makes use of the fact that Williams has a large body-frame and happens to be black;
  • It is common practice for public figures to be lampooned by exaggerating their physical features;
  • Williams’ behaviour was unacceptable and she deserves to be taken down

These statements, in our view, all miss the point. Williams, like any other sports figure should not be immune from criticism if she behaves badly in public.

However, a line is crossed when drawings or cartoons resort to the use of generalised features or characteristics (usually of an unsympathetic nature) which historically have been taken to connote a particular race, religious affiliation, gender or other diverse group. This cartoon crossed that line and the subliminal messaging was, naturally picked up most immediately by the group who felt that they as a whole were demeaned by it-African-Americans.

The examples of race-insensitivity and crude racial stereotyping in publications throughout history are too numerous to list. Some are created deliberately for political purposes such as the Nazi cartoons of Jews. Yet others are published as bland matters of fact not realising the distorted images they convey. A recent one of note was the April 2018 edition of National Geographic which surveyed its own coverage over decades of black people. It acknowledged that in the language which it has used and the way photographs had been composed it had been undeniably racist over a long period. Its lead article noted the following:

“There is no genetic or scientific basis for race. It’s largely a made-up label, used to distinguish and divide us”

It may well be true that Mark Knight sincerely believes that no element of racist intent motivated him when drawing the cartoon. But his conscious intent is not the end of the matter. Research and a wealth of data from testing using tools like Harvard’s Implicit Association Test have shown that biases which lurk in the subconscious emerge in all manner of situations, often in the actions of people who emphatically renounce and condemn racially-motivated prejudice. Unconscious bias is universal and by its nature, is undetectable by the person at the time the relevant action is carried out.

The first step in combating unconscious bias is understanding how it arises and then acknowledging that no-one is free from it. We can then take steps to counteract some of the unintentional acts and statements which cause hurt and offence to those who are different from us because of their race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.

The Perils of Ignoring Diversity

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A Case of Inclusion Illiteracy

As much as diversity is incomplete without a culture of inclusiveness, so inclusion is incomplete without encompassing employees as well as customers of an organisation. Customers desire to be inclusively treated by organisations as much as employees do. And like employees they will be extremely sensitive as to how inclusive they perceive a company’s behaviour to be. Many businesses have not accepted this principle and almost every day we see how they are beginning to suffer for it.

Empathising With the Customer

Customers can no longer be seen as the passive recipients of goods and services

A Bain and Company survey of 362 leading firms found that 80% of the surveyed companies believed they were delivering a “superior experience” to customers. But the same survey of customers revealed only 8% would have agreed. Obviously, it is the assessment of the client that matters since he or she will take their business elsewhere if dissatisfied.

Customers in the current environment want to be respected, treated fairly, have a sense of connectedness with the businesses they buy from and sense that their unique value is known and appreciated. In short, the way they experience the transaction is as important as what they actually buy. And just as with employees, if they feel excluded rather than included by an organisation their loyalty will soon evaporate.

Customer inclusion implies a profound understanding of the customer’s needs derived through relationship building rather than direct sales efforts. It involves endeavours to see the world through the eyes of the customer so that the organisation is positioned to cater for the ever-evolving nuances of the customer’s needs and expectations.

A Momentous Failure of Inclusivity

An example of elementary failure to appreciate the need for customer inclusiveness which hit the headlines recently was provided by the Swedish clothing retailer H & M. Here was a classic illustration of how being tone-deaf to diversity and racial and cultural issues could exact a severe reputational as well as financial penalty. As most people know H & M published an advert depicting a young Black boy wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the words “the coolest monkey in the jungle”.

The response to this grossly insensitive advert was predictable outrage and condemnation from members of the Black community worldwide and bewilderment from others that a company purporting to present a global brand could allow itself to be associated with such an obnoxious image. Two celebrity collaborators of H & M, The Weeknd and G-Easy immediately terminated their relationships. Many members of the African-American community expressed total dismay at the reckless way the advert had been allowed to impact on their cultural sensitivities. In South Africa where the group had many stores and was hoping to make significant commercial inroads there were widespread public demonstrations causing all H & M stores to be closed. I happened to be in South Africa when the furor erupted and can testify to the palpable sense of outrage that was expressed in the formal media as well as via social media platforms. When I walked past the flagship store in a flashy shopping centre in Johannesburg several days later it was dark and closed but the evidence of the anger which led to rioting through the store and upturning all the clothing racks could be seen through the ceiling to floor glass windows. A few days after the media storm erupted, H & M announced (finally) that it had appointed a global manager for diversity and inclusion. As with all things, what is on the inside will show up on the outside. One can only wonder how a global organisation with more than 4500 stores worldwide and 161,000 employees, marketing a broad range of clothing brands did not have a structure in place to implement diversity and inclusion for either staff or customers. Its gaffe with the monkey advert is almost certainly a sign that H & M has failed to come to grips with what is now a basic truth: that customers will no longer tolerate indifference or, even worse – disrespect.

The Virtuous Circle

Diversity and inclusion has become a multi-dimensional concept. Research by Symmetra and its extensive experience with global clients has brought home to us very forcefully that employee diversity and inclusion and customer diversity, and inclusion when conscientiously and systematically implemented lead to a virtuous circle. They perpetuate each other and act as reciprocal stimuli helping to attract and retain the best people internally and to attract and retain more customers externally. This in turn spurs greater innovation and creativity from employees who aspire to please the customer in a myriad of new ways. And it is this empathy, the ability to truly comprehend the context of customers which enables organisations to design, build and ultimately deliver a product or service that will keep a customer for life and lead customers to advocate on behalf of your organisation.