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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?

 

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.

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

WHAT IS BIG DATA ANALYTICS?

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.

WHAT DOES BIG DATA PEOPLE ANALYTICS OFFER?

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.

BIG DATA AS A SPUR TO THE DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION AGENDA    

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.

GAINING AN ADVANTAGE THROUGH ADVANCED ANALYTICS

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

Unconscious Bias : A killer when pursuing innovation

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by Deb Assheton

While working with the future leaders of one of Symmetra’s major clients in Hong Kong recently I was provided with vivid insight into the importance of counter-acting unconscious bias for those organisations wishing to adopt Lean innovation principles in their future service and product developments.

Lean thinking requires that leaders enable an environment that consistently seeks diversity of thought; one that continually generates opportunities to explore new ideas. The better leaders then consider these opportunities with an attitude of not knowing, that is ‘I don’t know…let’s test and see’ and then iterate through experimentation. This framework and approach is a vast departure from a traditional organisational leadership role where a leader is often the ‘expert’, and the decision maker.

The ability to suspend judgement and allow the experimentation and testing process to unfold requires that leaders acknowledge their biases. In the world of Symmetra’s client some examples of the strong biases which surfaced during Lean workshops were:

Interest bias – where leaders were reluctant to ‘throw away’ their own ideas, even after testing demonstrated they weren’t viable

Social bias – subjecting one idea to less than rigour than others because the idea had the support of several leaders

Diagnosis bias – during customer discovery this emerged as asking leading questions of customers. That is, leaders were subtly asking questions that ‘herded customer responses’ to a pre-determined outcome – the outcome the leader thought would be best.

Action bias – there was a very strong tendency amongst this group, as we see in many organisations, to rush into action before all the questions were answered, and all the risks were understood.

Company ‘think and speak’ was the major enemy when discussing ideas with customers during real interviews. Company speak meant executives talked about features, when customers wanted to understand benefits. Company think meant time and money were being spent on non-value add activities out of ‘institutional’ habit rather than productive ones.

Perhaps the biggest call out was learning to sit side by side with ‘failure’ everyday, and to embrace it as a necessary step in the innovation process. Just about every founder knows that 90% of start-up’s fail, yet they start-up anyway – why? Because they believe they can find a way.

They seek success, but the search frequently runs into dead ends, encounters false starts and missed opportunities, and perhaps ends in the failure of the whole venture. Sometimes the search may yield a new and initially unimagined business opportunity that is scalable and ultimately successful. Either way, re-framing the ability to fail and learning from failure as a necessary, valuable and competitively advantageous skill -set is a major challenge for most leaders and organisations. This particular group demonstrated a deep willingness to learn, using activities which provoked their thinking, created awareness and challenged their assumptions. They adapted quickly. They re-framed failure as practice, and got better at asking questions to leverage diversity of thought. They owned their biases and mentally parked them; demonstrating that they too could create a culture that finds a way.

 

Judges Confronting Their Own Bias A Necessary Exercise?

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Biased thinking can lead not only to minor mistakes but can precipitate major disasters. This is so whether the bias is conscious- apparent to the actor upon self-reflection (explicit) or unconscious – hidden from the actor’s reflective thought processes (implicit).

A recent edition of the New Scientist magazine (Aug 15) explains that the explosion in 2010 of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig could have been prevented but for the existence of a distinct “confirmation bias” amongst rig workers. When a test on a critical seal showed a failure, this was explained away as something innocuous by the workers rather than facing the evidence indicating that something was seriously amiss.

Allegations of bias arise in all sorts of contexts and sometimes have to be resolved by a formal inquiry. Where requests are made for judges, arbitrators and judicial commissioners to disqualify themselves because of alleged bias, the aggrieved party will seek to establish demonstrable manifestations of such bias.  In other words it is conscious bias that is decisive in a recusal application. Unconscious bias rarely, if ever, features in these enquiries and short of requiring the judicial officer to take an unconscious bias test, the operation of implicit biases while often plausible, remains outside the scope of the argument.

Recently Royal Commissioner Hayden was requested by certain unions to stand down. The commission was established to enquire into possible breaches of governance standards, malfeasance and criminality on the part of elements within the trade union movements. While sitting, the Commissioner had accepted and later declined an invitation to give an address on a legal topic at an event sponsored by the Liberal party. The initial acceptance, the unions argued,could be viewed as sympathy for the Liberal side of the political spectrum.

The legal question which the Commissioner had to decide was not whether he had been shown to be biased but whether a fair-minded lay observer might reasonably apprehend that the Commissioner would not bring an impartial mind to bear to the issues at hand. So the Commissioner is required to put himself in the position of an independent third party viewing the potential for bias. Applying this test, the Commissioner refused to disqualify himself, holding that a fair-minded observer would not apprehend any bias on his part.

In truth, unless one is alive to the hazards of the application of heuristics (mental short-cuts) any enquiry as to bias in judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings is itself potentially subject to unconscious bias. This is so because, as the highest UK court observed:

“The fair-minded and informed observer is him or herself in large measure a construct of the court”.

Since different judges have in the past created different constructs of the ideal fair-minded observer one can conclude that this imagined paragon of objectivity and fair-mindedness could easily be a product of the judge’s own biases. In other words, the judge is more likely than not to think that the fair-minded observer “thinks as I do”. This is a manifestation of a classic and well-documented bias known as the “false consensus bias” which involves an assumption that the thinking of most people or at least most right thinking people is consistent with one’s own.

While lawyers and judges are indeed trained to exclude irrelevant matters from their consideration this is not the same thing as being free from unconscious bias. Extensive research, for example, by Cornell Law School has shown that in the area of race, judges hold the same implicit biases as others.

And as one prominent Australian judge has written “The task of fact finding or fact selection has involved a large amount of intuitive decision without conscious deliberation. It has, no doubt, also been done with some preconceived or unconscious bias, potential distortion and error” (Hon.G.T. Pagone)

In principle, therefore it would be very beneficial and perhaps even imperative, for anyone and particularly those who perform a decision – making role to examine their own biases and take steps to counteract them.

Judges like others who are placed in a position where critical decisions are made need to understand that it is not disparaging of oneself to acknowledge one’s own biases. Recent scientific advances have shown that use of heuristics is a natural part of human cognitive functioning. All of us, judges included make errors in judgement every day because of the design of the machinery of our thinking and therefore need to bring our biases from the unconscious to the conscious level so we are better able to counteract them.

By Errol Price

Hasty dismissal of employees in the age of social media – A Pandora’s box…

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Symmetra has been delivering Unconscious Bias workshops and collecting data from executives and managers globally on impact of biased decision-making for several years.

Accordingly, we at Symmetra can readily endorse a recent article from the McKinsey Group – ‘Are you ready to Decide?’ (April, 2015) – reiterating that many bad decisions “are caused by cognitive or behavioural biases”. The authors of the McKinsey article contend, persuasively, that debiasing techniques built into the process of decision-taking are the most effective way of overcoming bias. Their technique proceeds in two stages:

Firstly:   decision –makers must examine the sources of assumptions and opinions: are they sufficiently broad-based and diverse to counteract a single-minded narrow view of the problem?

Secondly:   Whether the full range of potential negative outcomes has been taken into account.

An area which bears considering is that of employee dismissals and terminations. Risk arises when managers take the view that employees have used social media inappropriately and they are convinced that an employer response is called for with minimum delay. Precipitous decisions often result in bad outcomes following dismissals as in many other business situations.

A Real Life Illustration:

On Anzac day (April 25th 2015, a Saturday), sports journalist Scott McIntyre employed by SBS television posted some controversial tweets about the Anzacs on his private twitter account which to many Australians  were distasteful and were more than a little offensive.

Two Examples of his tweets:
“The cultification of an imperialist invasion of a foreign nation…”  and 

“summary execution widespread rape and theft committed by these ‘brave’ Anzacs… “

By the end of the following day, April 26th, Mr McIntyre had been summarily dismissed. On the 18th May, it was reported that Mr. McIntyre had lodged an adverse action claim with the Fair Work Commission, claiming he was unlawfully dismissed because he had expressed a political opinion.  He also claimed apparently, that he had been unfairly dismissed because proper dismissal procedures had not been followed.

Applying McKinsey’s guidelines in the McIntyre situation we subject the dismissal to the two-step process that the authors advocate.

Step 1

Q. Would a dismissal run counter to Mr McIntyre’s freedom of speech?

A. There is no absolute constitutional right of freedom of speech in Australia, However, in Australia as in other democratic countries it is generally accepted that people can express themselves as they please as long as they do not break the law on vilification or incite others to break the law in some way or are personally abusive. Managers need to understand that a dismissal may be regarded as unfair and therefore unlawful if it is harsh unjust or unreasonable This means both that it must be procedurally fair and the offence committed by the employee must justify a dismissal.  Every tweet, email or facebook posting that managers or executives find offensive must be measured against these yardsticks.

Q. How would a manager know if an opinion is, in fact, a ‘political opinion’?

A.  From the legal perspective there is no clear boundary as to what is ‘political opinion, ‘Clearly ‘political opinion’ in the discrimination provisions of the Fair Work Act goes beyond membership of or promoting the policy of a particular political party or even advocating a particular ideology such as communism or socialism. Tweets supporting trade union activity; taxation reform; use of renewable energy and so forth might be classed as political opinion. Impulsive dismissals on any of the discriminatory grounds could well result in unwelcome legal action.
Does it make a difference that Mr. McIntyre was using his private twitter account?
A. Possibly – where an employee makes derogatory tweets or comments on Facebook about their employer or the circumstances make it likely that the employer’s reputation or commercial interests will suffer or where the tweets and comments break the law then the employer is entitled to take disciplinary action against the employee. However there comes a point where the employee’s comments are simply his or her private opinion and not the business of the employer. The employer then intervenes at its peril.
Q. Can seriously offensive tweets or emails justify a summary dismissal?
A. Summary dismissals are usually reserved for the most serious cases where the evidence is reasonably clear and the employee’s unacceptable actions go to the heart of the employment contract. The mere fact that an employee is in breach of a company policy will not of itself justify a summary dismissal where no damage is done to the employer. It is usually safest to follow the principles of natural justice and allow the employee to be heard.

Step 2

Q. What are the potential downsides of a badly-considered dismissal?
A. Internal – There are costs in money and time to the organisation when dealing with protracted litigation. There is also a potential problem of decline of morale in remaining staff members, when dismissals occur. Finally, employees may start suspecting that the company is regularly trawling through private Facebook, twitter and Instagram accounts to search for damaging or embarrassing material

External – There is the potential for damage in the eyes of the public, particularly when the organisation is high –profile. There is also the risk that prospective employees might think twice before joining a company where there has been a high-publicity dismissal.

Conclusion: The constantly changing face of the workplace and the blurring of the dividing lines between work times and spaces and those which are private create new challenges for managers.

Managers need to be made aware through appropriate training of the hazards of rapid-fire responses, personal biases and taking sole responsibility for decisions without having all the information available.

Organisations need to understand how biases impact on all manner of decisions and institutionalise and systematise checks and balances when decisions can cause unforseen damage.

Why Training on Counteracting Unconscious Bias Works

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A recent blog article by UGM Consulting in Australia has highlighted some important research from the USA regarding the impact of programs to counteract unconscious bias in the workplace. Unfortunately, the provocative title of the article and the conclusions and recommendations which the authors seek to draw, are in no way supported by the research that they cite!

Their proposition is simply that unconscious bias training should be jettisoned in favour of other forms of workplace intervention, lest the unconscious bias training itself do more harm than good. We will respond to this proposition in this post.

The first piece of research that the authors cite by Cialdini (2005), does not deal with biases as such but rather on the ways of optimising impact when seeking to change undesirable social behaviour. After conducting experiments in attempting to deter visitors to a national park from stealing petrified wood, the research concludes that a ‘descriptive normative’ message – that theft is commonplace – is actually less likely to reduce theft (and may in fact increase it) compared to an ‘injunctive normative message’ – that such thefts are disapproved of.

The authors suggest that the reason for this is that when endeavouring to bring about change to objectionable behaviour, one should focus on the desired outcomes rather than simply emphasizing that the bad behaviour is widespread. Simply focusing on the bad behaviour has two disadvantages: firstly it projects a mixed message (“this behaviour is bad, but everyone is doing it”) and secondly it may be inaccurate (the actual absolute quantity of stolen wood was relatively low).

The later research study by Duguid and Thomas-Hunt (2014) that was cited in the blog post does deal directly with stereotyping of the conscious and unconscious varieties. This study consisted of a series of tests to determine how respondents’ stereotypical attitudes towards certain groups would be impacted by advance information about whether stereotypes about these groups were either widespread or rare.

Consistent with the earlier study by Cialdini, they found that where respondents proceeded on the premise that stereotypes were widespread, they tended to exhibit more biased attitudes than when advised that stereotyping was very rare. It did not make any difference if the participants were admonished not to let themselves be influenced by stereotypical thinking.

The critical qualification, however, which is ignored in the UGM blog post is the following conclusion by Duguid and Thomas-Hunt: “…Our findings suggest that awareness of the general pervasiveness of stereotyping behaviour does not mitigate stereotypic expression, and in fact may have the opposite effect of increasing stereotyping. Nevertheless, stereotyping behaviour may be mitigated by heightened awareness to other’s efforts to work against stereotyping.” (in other words, by focusing on the efforts of others to achieve unbiased behaviour). Duguid and Thomas-Hunt go on to acknowledge that there is existing research in the literature which shows that raising unconscious bias awareness can cause a significant reduction in individual stereotyping behaviour, and they suggest that their study “qualifies” this previous research.

This rider furnishes the ideal basis for a solution to the potential negative consequences of providing generalised information about the fact that we all have bias in a training program. Indeed, no unconscious bias program worth its salt would simply inform participants that bias exists and leave it at that. That would be a job half done. Furthermore one could easily argue that the very fact that a group of 10 or 20 leaders are gathered in a workshop for the express purpose of finding ways to counteract bias, is in and of itself a clear message by the organisation  to every leader regarding the undesirable nature of biases.

Unfortunately, UGM concludes (without any empirical data to support their proposition) that most unconscious bias training must be increasing the levels of bias in the workplace. Accordingly they recommend that taking an “influencing approach” rather than examining the nature and prevalence of bias is the preferred route to addressing, for example, gender imbalances and stereotyping in the workplace.

This is an astonishing and unwarranted conclusion. There is a wide variety of programs designed to modify objectionable practices in the workplace in areas such as resource wastage, sustainability, unethical financial behaviour, workplace hazards, sexual harassment, bullying and so forth – most of which are built on the pillars of:

  1. Explaining the nature of the undesirable practice;
  2. The degree to which it occurs;
  3. Its effects, costs and general undesirability;
  4. Inculcating cultural and behavioural change

Taken to its logical conclusion, UGM’s argument suggests that it is always counterproductive to bring to the attention of employees that levels of unacceptable behaviour are high, because the inevitable consequence is that the bad behaviour will only become worse.

A more plausible approach suggested in this article written by thought leaders Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant in response to the same research, is to acknowledge the relevance and appropriateness of pointing out the stereotyping and biases, but warn that this should not be seen as “legitimising prejudice”. Instead, it should be information which provides a foundation to move to: “…reinforcing the idea that people want to conquer their biases and that there are benefits to doing so…”

Sandberg and Grant assert that people should be encouraged to correct for biases and this can only be done if we acknowledge that all actors in the workplace are subject to explicit and implicit biases.

In conclusion, we at Symmetra would contend that there is no reason to abandon unconscious bias training that is properly designed as part of a multi-pronged behavioural change initiative. Our experience with thousands of leaders across the globe over the last few years shows just the contrary – that starting with unconscious bias training as the first step of a culture change process towards embedding inclusion can “turbo boost” change.  When leaders actually become aware of the extent to which unconscious bias can undermine the quality of their decisions, we have found they become highly driven to develop their skill to counteract bias, as well as to (re)design systems and processes to render them more impervious to biases, as they see this as a direct means of optimising their business performance.

Employer sponsorship of egg freezing: holy grail or poisoned chalice?

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by Errol Price

Errol Price with title - 415 x 275In recent months U.S. technology giants Apple and Facebook both announced a decision to provide financial cover to female employees for a significant part of the costs associated with freezing their eggs. The ostensible objective of this new policy is to allow women the opportunity to schedule their pregnancies to align better with their career goals, although female employees could well take advantage of this for other equally valid reasons.

The new policy adopted by these companies has re-ignited a furious debate about elective or ‘social’ egg freezing in general and whether it is right or appropriate for employers to intrude into the area of female procreation at all. It, also, naturally gives rise to the question of whether Australian organisations should facilitate access by their female employees to this medical procedure with its potential to radically extend choices available to women in the workforce. Female egg freezing (the technical term is ‘oocyte cryopreservation’) is not new. It has existed for some three decades. Nor for that matter is elective egg freezing. However the decision of corporates to provide this benefit is indeed very new.

It is timeous for Australian employers and employees to engage in a debate as to whether elective egg freezing is a desirable benefit to be offered to female employees by their employers as an addition to the currently existing ways of facilitating work-life integration.

THE CASE FOR

Women’s fertility declines steadily in their 30s

Oocyte cryopreservation in 2015 is a relatively safe medical procedure. Natural fertility in women starts to decline after age 33 and by age 40 only 20 per cent of women can conceive naturally. Most experts consider the optimal age for child bearing to be between ages 25 and 35, taking factors such as emotional preparedness and the physical ability to carry a pregnancy.

 

Women have a  right to control their own bodies

Many women consider that children will be or could be an important part of their lives but they are not all ready to fall pregnant and assume the obligations of motherhood during the ‘ideal’ period. The reasons for delay may be one or a combination of factors: not having the right partner; educational, professional and career priorities; other carer obligations; financial considerations; ambivalence about having children; and feeling unready to be a mother. Women have a moral right to have control over their own bodies and to exercise available options regarding the timing of conceiving and raising children.

 

It’s liberating for women

Women recognise and understand that there is no guarantee that egg freezing will produce a successful pregnancy in the future. However, it is an important additional element which empowers them in two significant respects.

Firstly, it unshackles them from the implacably ticking biological clock which may govern many of the decisions which they make in their child bearing years.

Secondly, it removes even if only to a limited extent, the disadvantage which women face in the workplace when competing against men – the fact that they may have to interrupt their career at a critical and very unfavourable juncture. In this respect, elective egg freezing may be as liberating for women as the contraceptive pill.

 

Most working women cannot afford egg freezing

The primary obstacle at present is financial. Very few countries cover elective egg freezing under government provided medical aid schemes. In Australia, Medicare will not pay for these procedures.

It therefore falls to employers to step into the breach and offer this as an option (together with paid parental leave, flexible work options, child care subsidisation and so forth) which will allow female employees to develop their talents and progress their careers until they are ready to take the time to have children. A properly-devised program for the subsidising of elective egg freezing need not place any additional pressures on women but rather free them to make more appropriate decisions at the right time.

 

THE CASE AGAINST

It’s a plot by men

The principal argument against corporate sponsored egg freezing is that it is a stratagem devised by male-controlled organisations to induce female employees to tamper with normal biological time lines, at best without regard to their emotional, physical and psychological well-being and at worst for exploitative motivations. Even if it appears that a valued female employee is autonomously and carefully weighing the pros and cons of employee-sponsored egg freezing for herself , she will be subjected to unspoken pressure from the employer to delay child-bearing.

The French Philosopher and theologian, Bertrand Vergely gravely warns that companies like Apple and Facebook, which interfere with the biological clocks of female employees ‘are meddling with the whole of humanity (in Le Figaro)’.

 

Working women will be commercially exploited by egg freezing factories

Currently, egg freezing is expensive (up to $10,000 for one freeze cycle and generally two cycles are recommended). It therefore makes women targets for exploitation by the unrestrained commercialisation of egg freezing by ‘freezing brokers’ – businesses that act in partnership with drug companies and fertility clinics. These organisations apply high pressure sales techniques for egg freezing and minimise the health risks and other disadvantages.

 

It is unethical to encourage women to reprogram their biology for commercial reasons

Opponents point out that the bio-ethical issues of elective egg freezing are obscured or entirely lost by suggesting to women that the only material factors to be weighed are economic health risks, finance and convenience. There are ethical considerations to extending the ability of the female body to bear children beyond that which nature has evolved, apart from the physical difficulties of carrying a pregnancy in a woman’s late 30s or early 40s.

Further, opponents maintain that it is unethical for a woman to interfere with or attempt to manipulate the natural reproductive cycle simply for lifestyle reasons.

 

It’s the workplace not women who need to change

Finally, opponents assert that resorting to something like egg freezing for career women is simply a means of disguising the real underlying issues. The labour market is structured in such a way that it is extremely difficult for women to exercise their basic biological right to have children in their 20s and 30s and not be thwarted from pursuing a career at the same time. Thus elective egg freezing is an artificial ‘fix’ when the real issue is how to reorganise the workplace so that women can have children as nature ordered it and not be marginalised in the work context if they do so.

Tell us what you think…

The Evolution of Supplier Diversity: From Social Responsibility to Business Advantage

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by Errol Price

HP 2 cropped

On 1st December, Heather Price, CEO of Symmetra delivered a presentation on Supplier Diversity to the Pride in Diversity Workplace Conference, held in Sydney.

While focusing on the LGBTI community as a component of the diverse supplier grouping, the theme of Heather’s talk was the changing rationales and evolving understanding of the benefits of embracing Supplier Diversity in general.

Heather explained how Australian businesses, in particular, have made giant strides in the appreciation of embedding supplier diversity as a fundamental principle of procurement programmes. They have done this because it is now clearly accepted that the advantages arising from the latest supplier diversity paradigm current in Australia flow in both directions – equally for the procuring organisation as much as for previously disadvantaged supplier groups.

Tracing the history of this approach to procurement, Heather noted that supplier diversity has its origins in the United States when the first Federal Government – sponsored program began in 1969 in conjunction with the Civil Rights Movement. An executive Order signed by President Nixon required government agencies and their contractors to contract with minority-owned companies and to report the results against pre-established goals. The National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) was formed during the 1970s to certify businesses as Minority Business Enterprises.

In essence this was an ethical initiative supported by Government directive designed to give impetus to the enabling of previously disadvantaged groups to establish a significant presence in the economy.

In South Africa, where unequal economic rights had previously been entrenched by law, remedial legislation has been passed which requires the implementation of transformative measures to improve the participation of the black population in the economy – including rules about supplier diversity. Again this was a move through legislative intervention to modify traditional supply arrangements so that those who had been largely prevented from supplier undertakings could now gain a competitive foothold.

This kind of legislated supplier restructuring while necessary in some societies can be constraining because, by its nature, it limits the scope for choice and selection.

Later, however, in the USA and elsewhere businesses started to comprehend that supplier diversity was not simply an expression of social goodwill but could be leveraged by organisations to offer a competitive business advantage for themselves.

These benefits flowed initially from a business imperative – the realisation by U.S. businesses of the need to cater for a continuously diversifying customer base. From this came the awareness that the makeup of the range of suppliers to organisations should be reflective of and resonate with their increasingly diverse customers.

Businesses which accepted this proposition soon found that they penetrated sectors of the market where they previously had little or no presence. They also found that once customers became aware of their supplier diversity programs, the brand loyalty of these customers increased.

In Australia, businesses are not constrained by legislation and can explore and leverage supplier diversity to their maximum economic benefit. Australian business has accordingly leapfrogged to the next level of supplier diversity, pursuing diversity in their suppliers for performance rather than just governance requirements.

Progressive Australian businesses now accept that a diverse range of suppliers can help them gain access to new ideas, can increase competition, can provide them with a more flexible service and most importantly can offer untried and innovative features to the supply chain which ultimately adds value for the consuming organisation. Supplier diversity for such businesses is not a specialised programme but is being integrated into their policies and procurement procedures as the best way to do business.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that supplier diversity is not a one-way street but has the potential to be a winner for all participants.