International Womens Day 2021 – #ChoosetoChallenge

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“I’m about to embark on a six-month secondment.”

That’s what I’ve been telling myself these last few weeks as I transition into the daunting world of parenthood. All the parents out there reading this are no doubt having a chuckle to themselves thinking I must be kidding myself if I think I’ll simply snap back into a full-fledged working professional again at the end of this “secondment”. The reality is that this is only the start of the wildest ride of my life filled with doubt, anxiety and non-stop questioning of “am I doing it right?”. I should disclose at this point, that I’m expecting twin girls (surprise!), so in fact, let’s just double the doubt, anxiety and non-stop questioning!

Given the news, it’s no surprise that International Women’s Day this year has felt more significant to me than ever before. The #IWD2021 theme is #ChooseToChallenge and it’s a topic that my partner and I have discussed in detail over the last seven months, especially when it comes to how we’ll raise our two girls. The list is long and it’s only the beginning, but here is my promise:

  • I #ChooseToChallenge the stigma of the working mum AND working dad. I’m fortunate to have a supportive partner who truly wants to balance the parenting duties with our careers and an employer who lives and breathes flexible working every day. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that already we have experienced the challenges and unhelpful comments this ideal comes with. It’s unfortunate, but research has also found the global pandemic has and will continue to cause deep long-term damage to women’s careers in particular, as we all work towards the “new normal”.
  • I #ChooseToChallenge the gender stereotypes that define what girls should wear and instead support clothing choices that are comfortable, makes them feel good about themselves and sends a message that they can be just as brave, strong and powerful as all the other kids in the playground.
  • I #ChooseToChallenge the barriers that detract girls from studying and eventually pursuing a career in STEM. Instead, we want to encourage our daughters to give all subjects a go – even the ones that seem impossible. The fact that there are great organisations like this one out there supporting STEM learning, innovation and creativity at all ages, fills me with real hope.
  • I #ChooseToChallenge the glass and bamboo ceiling that still exists in Australia and continue to advocate for more female and cultural representation in leadership positions. It’s something that is personally very important to me, to know that my daughter’s will have access to the same career opportunities they wish to pursue in their life as others around them.

There’s a lot we can all do to challenge the assumptions, preconceptions and biases that society holds about what girls and women are capable of, but it starts with us as individuals.

Whilst the events, celebrations and social media posts are important and provide much needed visibility, I’d encourage you to take the simple step of consciously reflecting on the everyday actions you could choose to take to show your support for gender equality. Whether it’s starting a conversation about the gender pay gap, speaking up when you see someone experiencing sexual harassment (Hint: don’t wait for your wife to “clarify” it for you), or simply taking the initiative to share the workload at home – it all counts.

So for this International Women’s Day, I want to know, what do you #ChooseToChallenge?

The Chinese Diaspora welcomes a New Year

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Symmetra Lunar New Year

I once heard a saying that the Chinese are probably the most dispersed diaspora across the globe, albeit ranked third behind the Indians and Mexicans by the  UN in 2019. While this might surprise many, Chinese migration started  in  the 10th century settling as far as Kenya .Various points in Chinese and global history exacerbated their departure such as the Taiping rebellion, the Gold Rush, World War II and most recently the Belt and Road Initiative. Micropopulations of people of  Chinese descent can be traced in the remotest towns of Eastern Europe, Africa and South America. 

Therefore, with great certainty, I am confident that on 12 February 2021, the festival known as Chinese New Year would be one that is celebrated in almost every country due to the massive outreach of the Chinese diaspora; there are at least 35 Chinatowns across the world in countries with a Chinese minority which will be ushering in the Year of the Ox, albeit on a  more modest scale due to  the pandemic.  

 Significance of Chinese New Year (CNY) 

So, what does Chinese New Year mean anyway? To those who are not of Chinese descent, your impression might be a celebration splashed with red everywhere to symbolise prosperity and health, dragon or lion dances, the vibrant beats of gongs and drums, traditional dresses or shows (of course, it varies depending on where you are). To most Chinese, the most common feature is  the family reunion dinner which falls on the eve of Chinese New Year. It is the most significant event as it is  the time when many people travel from far to reunite with their family at a large feast – akin to Christmas. Of course, with the pandemic and varying restrictions globally, CNY has been low key since 2020. 

Some fun facts for you: 

Not all Chinese know the Dragon dance – communities in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, USA, UK and other parts of the world might be familiar with dragon or lion dances, where troupes dance around in colourful dragon or lion costumes; this is often reserved for grand occasions like Chinese New Year. As I discovered from people who moved from China to Australia – they are not familiar with these dances which were suppressed during the Cultural Revolution.

Lion Dance


CNY is the world’s largest travel rush – during non-pandemic times, in China alone, an estimated 3.2 billion trips are taken over a six-week period. That excludes the Chinese diaspora, so good luck figuring out the true numbers.  

CNY is 15 days long – the festival kicks off on the CNY eve feast, followed by  another 15 days, lasting from the new moon to the full moon 

 Not just the Chinese you know … 

If you grew up in a country with a significant Chinese community, say Malaysia like me, then you would probably have a singular and uniform perception of what the celebration is all about, that is . CNY songs, lion dances, food and red envelopes with money for kids. But if you were to grow up in a more diverse country,  like my son Cory in Australia, then it would be important to note that during this time, people of other ethnicities also share this significant time of the year. To the Vietnamese – Tet, to Koreans – Seollal to Tibetans – Losarto Japanese – Shogatsu and to Mongolians – Tsagaan Sar.  

With inclusivity in mind – the #Symmetra team  would therefore like to extend a warm and inclusive greeting for a Happy Lunar New Year to those of Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese and Mongolian origin wherever you are. May your year be filled with abundance of prosperity and health. 

 By Jason Teoh – Senior Manager Symmetra

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Working Remotely? Make Sure You Are Silo-Busting

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A number of recent articles have pointed out that  one of the potential negative consequences of the new work-from-home paradigm is that our links to acquaintances and our weak ties may dissipate or be lost. We may no longer have a chat with the barista or the receptionist on the way to the office or bump into a colleague from a different division at the lunch bar and exchange views or share information.

The importance of  “weak ties” was highlighted  by  Mark S. Granovetter who defined that the  strength of a tie depends on the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding) and reciprocal services which characterise the tie. His research revealed that we get most of our new and useful information from our weak ties because our strong ties, being closer to us, tend to have much of the same information as we do. On top of this, strong ties take effort to maintain so we can have relatively few of them; weak ties require much less effort so the network is more diffuse and widespread.

Ben Waber, president of Humanyze (which creates software to map how communication in an organisation flows internally) noted that data from  companies showed that in the first few weeks of lockdown, time spent with strong ties went up from the normal 45 percent to over 60 per cent but weak ties dropped by 30 percent.

Waber says that this trend is concerning if it is maintained over the long term for organisations striving to be innovative. It is essential that team members maintain both their strong and their weak ties: weak ties are where we get most of our novel, bold and electrifying ideas; strong ties are needed to execute and implement these ideas.

It will certainly take time before organisations can arrive at an effective combination of working from home and at a common physical location. The question is how to maintain valuable weak ties in the current dispersed work setup – which may be permanent for some employees.

The answer is: inclusive leadership. A leader who is truly inclusive will maintain and even broaden the reach of weak ties under remote working conditions. In Symmetra’s Inclusive Leadership Model  a core competency which is measured in our 360 Inclusive Leadership Index is the ability to span boundaries, to bust silos.

This measures whether a leader:

  • Encourages the team to seek out new ideas and approaches from outside the organisation
  • Communicates new knowledge to people across functions
  • Networks with experts from diverse disciplines
  • Emphasises the importance of collaboration and leveraging diversity of thought across functional, geographical and demographic boundaries

The graph below, which represents data collected from thousands who have evaluated their leaders on Symmetra’s Inclusive Leadership Index, shows that Boundary Spanning scores in the intermediate range- suggesting much room for improvement. Our data also shows Boundary Spanning has one of the highest variances of all inclusion competencies – reflecting a considerable degree of inconsistency in leadership capability on this competency.

Building the inclusion capability of your leaders, in particular on this core inclusion skill, will empower team members to leverage all the benefits accruing from strong as well as weak ties, thus optimising innovation. Are you equipping your leaders to do this? Contact Symmetra if you wish to discuss our Inclusion for Virtual Teaming program which is dedicated to equipping your leaders with the inclusion skills for leading virtual teams.





Can We Halt the Perverse Cycle of Racism?

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This is a very personal piece for me to write, as a White privileged person, who has sought over a large part of my professional life to mitigate some of the most egregious manifestations of racism and prejudice directed towards persons of colour.

I come from South Africa (am now an Australian citizen) where race divisions were institutionalised and opportunities distributed on a racial basis to a degree exceeding anywhere else in the world. Through the last decade of the 20th century and into the first few years of the 21st century I worked with government organisations and large corporations in South Africa to endeavour to dismantle apartheid and reach a fundamental change in mindset: from the one where Black people were assumed to be inferior, to one where the intrinsic equality and worth of all humans is acknowledged.

There were certainly positive signs to be seen. The sustained adulation by millions across the world of Nelson Mandela for his inspiring leadership taking South Africa to democracy, followed by the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the USA, seemed to indicate that gross and universalised race discrimination was at last on the wane. This, as we all know most unfortunately was just an illusion.

The current upheaval in America, precipitated by killings of unarmed Black civilians followed by sympathetic protests across the globe, is a pointed reminder of how far we are from the reality of embedding racial equity and justice. Societies almost everywhere, physically removed from the locus of the incidents, have been taking stock and facing the reality of their own histories of ongoing racial oppression and discrimination.

These protests hopefully reflect that societies have reached an inflexion point in their willingness to blind themselves to or tolerate unrestrained racial humiliation, exclusion and repeated acts of race-based violence. However, it will take a huge and sustained effort by individuals, the media, governments and private businesses and organisations to bring about real change.

And such transformation has to start with me, with you, with us. A constant refrain from BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Colour) is that White people “just don’t get it”.  White people do not comprehend or even acknowledge the repeated fears, hurt, humiliations, exclusions and apprehensions experienced daily by people of colour. This is a reality which all of us as Whites must accept. Saying we are colour blind is simply denying the reality of very real racial dynamics which filter through every conversation and every situation that a person of colour encounters daily. We need to take off our blinkers, to make the gigantic emotional leap into the shoes of the person of colour, and do the hard work of really getting to grips with the immense toll that racism plays on our social structures and on people of colour the world over.

And we need to take stock, pause and consider what deliberate action we can take, individually and collectively, to halt the perverse cycle of racism and ameliorate the harsh impact of inequity and oppression in the long journey to building a fair, just and inclusive culture for people of all  races across the globe. Will you join me?

A Sexual Predator Stalks the High Court of Australia: A Call to Action

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The revelation that Dyson Heydon, a former judge of the High Court of Australia had been a serial sexual harasser and that female judges and associates at the Court had been amongst his victims is shocking, but not really surprising. The accounts given by the female victims reveal a startling degree of recklessness on the part of the judge and a callous indifference to the emotional damage and professional disruption caused. The incidents remained buried for years because of the power and authority of the perpetrator.

The stories recounted by Heydon’s targets are symptomatic  of what is known to be a perennial problem in the legal profession not only in Australia but globally.

The International Bar Association report released in 2019 records the following salient statistics:

  • 1 in 3 females and 1 in 14 males in the legal profession have been sexually harassed
  • Targets do not report in 75% of cases
  • 32% of sexual harassment victims consider leaving the profession

The report points to the features which make the legal profession particularly susceptible to bullying and sexual harassment:

  • male-dominated
  • hierarchical power structure
  • lower level employees dependent on superiors for advancement
  • power highly concentrated in one person
  • targets not reporting for fear of repercussions
  • Policies do not deter unacceptable behaviour

What is apparent from these shameful episodes at the apex of Australia’s legal profession is that until there is a comprehensive and systematic endeavour to create respectful and inclusive workplaces, we will not see any reduction in the unacceptably high rate of sexual harassment.

So what do we need to do to create such a culture?

We need to build leadership capability in the legal profession to role model inclusive behaviour. We need to make it clear that all forms of sexual harassment, from mild, more subtle forms right through to serious sexual misconduct ALL contribute to a disrespectful, unsafe and unfair culture. We need to set expectations that leaders be inclusive and:

  • Actively and visibly speak out about sexual harassment when it occurs
  • Call sexual harassment out as a problem (saying nothing is not good enough)
  • Apply real consequences
  • Provide real protection for people to prevent victimisation and retaliation
  • Approach training that embraces men as part of the solution to the problem, rather than treating them as “perpetrators in waiting”.

And at the same time as all of this, we need to even out the power imbalances between men and women – because at its core sexual harassment is about unequal power relations at work and in society at large.

The fact of the matter is that Diversity and Inclusion efforts, gender equity initiatives and efforts to combat sexual harassment should not run disparate paths in organisations. They should converge, collaborate and work together to achieve the common goal of creating respectful, fair and inclusive workplaces.

Female Leaders Shine in Crises – will this debias the lens through which they are seen?

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The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity
William Butler Yeats

Male leaders stumble

Disasters and Crises show leaders at their best and worst. Some political leaders show their underlying strength, the ability to listen and a talent to rally the troops when decisions to act are taken. Others respond with arrogance, denialism, false assurances and unfounded assertions that the situation is entirely under control.

Donald Trump, the nominal leader of the free world has been confronted by three crises in recent months: his impeachment, Covid-19 and the racist killing of George Floyd.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, he has lost his nerve and displayed an abject lack of leadership in dealing with all three.

Similarly and disconcertingly  other male leaders of major powers, Putin in Russia, Boris Johnson in the UK and Bolsonaro in Brazil in dealing with the current pandemic have in turn been arrogant, dissolute and inept and have probably caused the needless deaths of some of their citizens.

By contrast, Jacinda Ardern, facing her first crisis was admirably resolute and calming in responding to the shooting in Christchurch. Her conduct won plaudits globally and promoted healing rather than division and upheaval.

The crisis of Covid-19

The monumental and fast-developing calamity brought about by Covid-19 has given us the rare opportunity to witness leadership capability across the globe in real time.

Four countries have been noteworthy for the exceptionally good performance of their leaders: Estonia, Iceland, New Zealand and Taiwan. All four have women political leaders, although only seven percent of world political leaders are female. In addition, Angela Merkel of Germany, Mette Frederiksen of Denmark, Sanna Marin of Finland and Erna Solberg of Norway have distinguished themselves in the resolute, and sometimes imaginative, ways they have acted in a period of profound uncertainty.

At the very least these instances demonstrate an unmistakeable thread of consistently competent female leadership which should put an end to the biased notion that women cannot lead.

What marks a leader in a crisis?

Is there any one vital leadership characteristic in a crisis which sets the effective leaders apart from those who fail?

Professor Gianpiero Petriglieri explores the vital leadership quality of Holding”  in a crisis.

“Holding describes the way a leader contains and interprets what is happening in times of uncertainty. It is that ability to calm in a time of distress and help to interpret when times and circumstances have engendered uncertainty.”

An article in Harvard Business Review posits that women leaders are clearly better exemplars of holding behaviour.The authors suggest that there are at least seven lessons that men can learn from women which, if they do, will make the men better and more effective leaders:

  • Don’t lean in when you’ve got nothing to lean about
  • Know your limitations
  • Put people ahead of yourself
  • Don’t command, empathise
  • Focus on elevating others
  • Motivate through transformation
  • Don’t say you’re “humbled”. Be humble.

This suggestion is consistent with evidence gathered by Symmetra over several years through deploying its online assessment tool, the Inclusive leadership Index measuring inclusion capability in leaders.

On seven out of twelve behaviours reflected in the graph above (those marked with an asterisk) female leaders score better than men and the difference is statistically significant. Some of the critical leadership “holding” behaviours such as showing empathy, putting others ahead of yourself, knowing your limitations and focusing on elevating others are common to both sets of data.

In light of all this evidence one would expect a fundamental change in perspective when evaluating female leadership capabilities which would stand women in good stead when the COVID-19 pandemic has cleared.

The future for women in the workplace

However, there is also a distinct possibility that women may emerge from this crisis worse off than before. More women may  lose  their jobs than men, more have and may continue to  be subjected to domestic violence while under lockdown and  more have been expected to shoulder the greater share of the caring responsibilities while children are away from school.

We are starting to emerge from the most drastic aspects of isolation and interruption to normal living. Work norms have been unceremoniously upended and discarded (some permanently). Many of our false pre-conceptions and prejudices have been exposed for what they are and our behaviour in some areas will surely change.

Australia is experiencing its first recession in 29 years and going forward the economy and many workplaces will look different. The opportunities to rebuild our societies and economies stronger and free of unnecessary shackles are there for the taking. Using the abilities of all our women will make Australia stronger and more prosperous. Is it too much to hope that organisations will look at women with talent, drive and ambition through a fresh lens and recognise that their leadership skills are not to be wasted?

Why are 75% of suicides by men?

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By the end of today, 12 people will have taken their lives by suicide, 75% of them will be men.

In recognition that the Covid-19 Crisis would place a significant burden on the mental health of citizens, the Australian Federal Government approved long overdue additional funding for mental health services in March.

It unfortunately needed a global crisis to fast-track support for what was fairly widely acknowledged as a protracted pandemic of a different kind – i.e. the mental health pandemic.

However, this pandemic impacts men, at a much greater rate than women.  It has been exacerbated by increasing loneliness, distributed family relationships and cyber-friendships over the last 50 years.  With the health impact of persistent loneliness being equivalent to 15 cigarettes / day, so some say it is the “new smoking”, with 1 in 4 Australians regularly feeling lonely. (Beyond Blue; Medibank)

Almost 1 in 2 Australians will experience a common mental health disorder in their life, which means 20% of us are experiencing a mental health challenge in any given year.

How does this impact business?

In today’s Knowledge Worker WorkPlace, our brain is our “tool of trade”, which means having it function at its optimal level of performance is key to results.

Having 20% of your WorkForce at any one time working at less than their optimal level, cannot possibly deliver optimal results.

Therefore, it’s not surprising, that wellbeing has become a major focus of corporates in recent years.

Companies investing in traditional wellbeing initiatives have found positive returns of 2.3x expenditure as a result of reduced absenteeism and presenteeism; employee turnover and health care costs with results augmented by increased productivity, creativity and engagement. (BeyondBlue)

How are wellbeing and inclusion connected? 

Symmetra sees a merging of inclusion and wellbeing, with some mature corporations recognising the benefits of a systemic approach to both inclusion and wellbeing, based on a foundation stone of culture and leadership.

Just as wellbeing is not just about fruit and pilates, diversity and inclusion is not just about celebrating harmony day!

Inclusion enables wellbeing in six important ways:

  1. Being able to safely speak up (Parke & Sherf)
  2. Being yourself (Emanuel et. al)
  3. Flexibility (NCBI)
  4. Self-Actualisation (APA)
  5. Mental health (Medicare)
  6. Reducing loneliness and increasing belonging (Murthy)

Whilst this confirms what we’ve long known i.e. there is a strong correlation between WorkPlace experiences and Life experiences, it doesn’t explain why men are at more risk than women.

Why are men more at risk?

Although this is changing, many men still have a strong sense of identity and self-worth emanating from their desire to self-actualise in their work and careers. Many men also spend more time at work than women and have fewer personal social connections, putting them at greater risk when things aren’t going well in their professional environment.

This can be further exacerbated for mature men, who face the additional pressure of being the family breadwinner, and view asking for help or seeking support as a sign of weakness.  Younger men face their own challenges too, largely because of their stronger social media use and resulting less meaningful social connections.

The risk factors of loneliness and feeling as if you don’t belong and can’t be yourself are magnified by the relentless pressure to appear as if it’s “business as usual”, even when things aren’t going as well as you might wish.  For anyone who has carried that burden for any period of time, you understand the weight of its impact.

How can Inclusion better support Men’s Mental Health?

Our Inclusive Leadership data shows men have lower levels of capability (as judged by other men and women), in 3 competencies which both inoculate individuals against lower levels of wellbeing and mental health, and support resilience and performance in all walks of life.

Psychological Safety supports being able to speak up, be yourself and feel as though you belong.

  • A recent study highlights those who did not feel it was necessary to stay silent about an issue or problem did not experience as much burnout as employees who reported self-silencing about problems. (Parke & Sherf)

FlexAgile WorkPlaces offering a variety of flexible work locations and options, enable a better balance of life and work relationships, reducing loneliness and increasing belongingness.

  • Flexagile Future WorkPlaces enable men to benefit from systems and structures which were originally put in place to benefit women, balancing their work and life aspirations.

Learning Mindset enables individuals to approach life’s challenges with curiosity and a desire to learn.  In a recent client analysis, we discovered “was 1 of the top 3 drivers of inclusion and belonging.

  • By believing failure is an important step in future performance, individuals are protected from the full impact of life’s inevitable disappointments and setbacks.

Creating environments and making choices 

Just as “karoshi” in Japan has remained a silent curse for too long, men’s mental health will too, if leaders don’t purposefully create an environment which enables men to speak up and speak out, asking for what they need to thrive, not just survive in life and work.

As the leadership in many organisations today is largely male dominated, men have the uncommon ability to influence the environment and culture to not just their own, but to everyone’s advantage.

What is good for men’s wellbeing is good for all genders.

Psychological Safety, FlexAgile WorkPlaces and Learning Mindsets have individually shown they have positive impacts on business performance and personal wellbeing.

During a week in which we focus on Men’s Mental Health specifically, we encourage all men to overcome their “code of silence” and take the lead in building their own capability, whilst also evolving existing professional environments to reduce the incidents and severity of the other pandemic currently influencing our lives and livelihoods.

How does Cultural Diversity reduce risks you face in today’s Virtual Workplace?

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In today’s virtual world, what risks might you face and how might you leverage an asset, likely latent, but ready for action, in your team or organisation?

The facts of the matter:

  1. Cultural diversity is a catalyst for innovation, business growth and performance. (BCG)
  2. Diversity of Thought is critical for solving complex and interconnected challenges. (S. Page)
  3. InterCultural Maps Maps (Hofstede & Meyer) demonstrate differences (diversity) across countries and cultures.
  4. Differences which commonly exist in Australian teams, can be leveraged for greater impact and outcomes.

Symmetra’s Inclusive Leadership Index confirms leaders have top quartile strengths in treating others as individuals and taking action to support fairness in common corporate practices such as recruitment, promotion and pay. This doesn’t explain our lack of cultural diversity in leadership, however.

However, the 3 lowest rated items for Unconscious Bias, which include 2 of the lowest rated items in the whole Index, might explain the gap.

Leaders find it more challenging to get to know, or surround themselves with those who are not similar or like-minded. They also find it challenging to test their own assumptions or acknowledge their own decisions may be impacted by preconceived ideas.

Now, we might be getting to the heart of why Cultural Diversity in Leadership is not yet reflective of the cultural diversity in our society.

Leaders naturally shy away from difference and tension, ambiguity, dissonance and discomfort

Why hasn’t Unconscious Bias Training Successfully Generated more Culturally Diverse Leadership?

Unconscious Bias training has been deployed widely to assist leaders and teams to become aware of their differences.

But unless it has been combined with training on how to counteract biases in decision making, little difference in outcomes and impact is experienced.

Awareness without Action, doesn’t improve Performance.

Which Conscious Decision Making Approaches make the Greatest Difference?

At Symmetra we value research and data and here’s what it tells us:

  1. Leveraging Diversity of Thought generates greater innovation and performance (S. Page)
  2. Decision making which focuses on a robust process of reflection, is 6x more powerful than the analysis or data incorporated in the decision. (McKinsey)
  3. Teams with equal, engaged and “energetic” communication consistently achieve better performance. (Pentland)
  4. Productive tension in decision making is critical for more holistic and effective decisions (Hill)

Take a moment to reflect…

  • To what extent do your current team processes consciously embrace the 4 approaches above?
  • How might they be impacted by the current virtual environment?

The loudest, most confident voices in teams are commonly heard, often reflecting the leader’s viewpoints.

This effect is magnified in the virtual environment, particularly if you record team meetings.

How can we “Hard Code” Diversity of Thought into our Decision Making?

Given leaders have a preference for action and documented processes, we recommend providing them with just that.

Developing Team Communication and Decision Making Charters, or using de-biasing techniques such as Pre-Mortems, Vanishing Options and appointing Devil’s Advocates, are a few of the many ways to leverage difference and generate productive tension.

In today’s virtual world, “hard coding” conscious decision making techniques, will be more important than ever.

Ensuring the dominant and loudest team members don’t drown out all the latent knowledge, intelligence and value sitting in your team, will be critical to future performance.

When we drown out diverse voices in our teams we increase group think and perpetuate leadership homogeneity.

May 21, 2020, is a time to reflect, renew and reinvent – it’s a time to leverage and unleash Cultural Diversity and all of the very tangible business benefits it brings.

Let’s not leave Cultural Diversity to chance.

“Hard code” what will make a meaningful difference to future business and future generations.

Coronavirus is making managers fast learners and more inclusive leaders

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It is now a truism and a platitude to assert that the world will never be the same after Covid-19. But undeniably, organisations and teams have rapidly been forced to change the ways they function and there will probably be no going back.

While previously only lip-service might have been paid by some to the notion that people are the organisation’s most valuable resource, this has become executives’ and managers’ most pressing daily reality. Concepts such as mental-health, safety, caring, well- being, security and empathy, all core to an inclusive workplace culture, which previously might have been acknowledged as useful for employee engagement have now, out of necessity, been thrust front of mind. How well or poorly leaders perform now against these yardsticks is likely to be their enduring legacy.

Statistics produced from research done by Willis Towers Watson which explore the sudden and notably positive transformations are remarkable and even astonishing. Surveying the impact of Covid-19 on employee experience they report:

  • 95% say senior leaders have demonstrated a sincere interest in employee well-being and safety
  • 76% say collaboration of the overall organisation has improved significantly
  • 89% say measures to ensure people feel supported during this time have been put in place
  • 59% think working from home policies are likely to remain after the Covid-19 pandemic is gone

These are very promising findings. And an astonishing improvement on the usual status quo. But will they be sustained?

The report sets out the top two expectations of people of their leaders both during and coming out of Covid-19:

  • Be a crisis handler of small and big change
  • Lead by responding to the needs of others and collaborating across teams

This latter set of expectations describes some of the inclusive leadership capabilities that Symmetra has been measuring across the globe on our Inclusive Leadership Index and Team Inclusion Pulse Survey And our results pre-Covid have shown that when it comes to collaboration across teams and responding to the needs of others many leaders have always struggled with these expectations.

Symmetra’s data shows there is a huge range in capabilities of leaders to encourage close collaboration within teams, to span boundaries (collaboration across functions and disciplines) to listen attentively to the diverse opinions of others or to create opportunity to leverage diverse perspectives and ideas.

This siloed approach by leaders ultimately undermines the ability of leaders to counteract expert think, innovate and make the best quality decisions, all of which has become even more critical in the face of demands for rapid change right now. And whilst we are scrambling to manage the immediate fallout, it is also necessary to prepare at the same time for what’s next. This has been demonstrated historically by the most visionary leaders and requires an ability to switch on our system 2, listen to others, give consideration to diverse ideas and not allow just System 1 behaviour and decisions to dominate. This is commonly known as conscious inclusion.

The bottom line seems to be that Covid-19 has triggered mighty improvements in leadership, teamwork, and collaboration; and trust and confidence in many leaders has been enhanced during Covid-19. But notably all those astute organisations which recognise that leading inclusively is now more important than ever are capitalising on the momentum gained by ensuring a focus on inclusion in virtual teaming. The objective is to ensure their teams can thrive in these times of uncertainty and crisis and sustain such changes beyond. These visionary organisations and leaders are the ones that will look back and find they have garnered some lasting good borne out of this pandemic.

Coronavirus Pandemic! Inclusion to the Rescue?

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

Unprecedented Impact

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

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

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

How will inclusion help?

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

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

What can you do?

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

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

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

Keeping People Engaged

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

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


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