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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.

What will the Future WorkPlace, in the “Future of Work”, look like?

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As we enter Phase 3, of the S-Curve (A. Edmondson, adapted from G. Land), we have a unique opportunity to design “Future WorkPlaces” as a win-win-win for business, teams and individuals.

The “Great Working from Home Experiment of 2020”, did not have the benefit of the consciously considered human-centred design principles, we typically recommend for teams seeking to co-create high performance FlexAgile WorkPlaces of the future.

Rather, it was urgently rushed into place, to protect lives and livelihoods, in the middle of a crisis.

On good days we’ve heard our clients espouse the value of less “dead” commute time – positively impacting personal productivity and the environment due to l fewer cars on the road, in addition to closer connections with colleagues – resulting from the window we’ve gained into each other’s personal lives.

On bad days, we’ve heard it described as chaotic, confusing and alternately socially isolating or socially overwhelming (depending on your home schooling and/or home office circumstances).

The highest priority has been, to keep people physically safe whilst maintaining their ability to do their job, and support their emotional health and wellbeing.

This has not been a typical “FlexAgile” experience.

In the initial stages of the crisis, (it seems like a long time ago now!) the focus of business was to “keep the lights on” and figure out what the “winning model” was in the new world.

With many companies successfully emerging from Phase 2 of the S-Curve, with all but their most intractable challenges resolved, they now turn to the next order of business, Phase 3; devising what comes next.

With a very different economic trajectory to pre-Covid forecasts, many companies previously in the   throes of adapting their strategy and “go to market” approaches to ensure survival in the “old disrupted world” of just 3-4 months ago, now again, find themselves re-thinking their markets and marketplaces and devising what the next new winning formula will be.

We’ve coined the term “hyper-disruption” to describe the experience.

Whilst many companies are exploring cost reduction measures ensuring short term protection in response to hyper-disruption, it’s equally critical to explore short and long term reinvention and renewal of business models, products and programs, to lay the foundation for future survival and growth.

The very nature of reinventing business models in Phase 3 is complex, and we know diverse teams with diverse mental toolboxes are uniquely positioned to find optimal answers to challenging problems.  (S. Page).

So it’s crucial, as we design Future WorkPlaces – be they virtual or on-premise –  that we seek to enable high performance environments which enable both individual performance and the collective intelligence of teams.

What Future WorkPlace designs will enable “high performance teams” to thrive?

Beware recency or confirmatory biases which lead you to determine either a remote or on-premise WorkPlace is best placed to deliver this outcome.

If you’ve had recent positive remote experiences, you might be tempted to go “all-in” for remote / distributed Future WorkPlace models.  Conversely, if you’ve experienced frustrations, you might be tempted to swing the pendulum and opt for the traditional on-premise WorkPlace.

Crucial for “sparking” new ideas and generating new perspectives essential for the organic renewal and reinvention of every business, is the oft accidental and informal “water cooler” chat.

Enabling this organic human interaction, has been the rationale for much of the open plan, hot desking arrangements incorporated into modern office design.  During this crisis, instant messenger applications have sought to replicate this organic communication – with greater or lesser success, depending on their pre-existing level of adoption.

It is our view supported by data from clients, that achieving a blend of distributed and on-premise “Future WorkPlaces” will achieve optimal employee satisfaction, engagement and business performance.

FlexAgility is not just a “perk” for high performers.

It is a performance enabler generating win-win-win outcomes for business, teams, individuals (and the environment).

Symmetra’s Roadmap for designing Optimal “WorkPlaces of the Future”

When designing “Future WorkPlaces”, we recommend leveraging a Human- Centred Model of Design to co-create the win-win-win for your business and your team.

Human- Centred design principles always start with empathy for the human condition and experience.  Next they define the goal – which in this instance is to design a Future WorkPlace which maximises individual and team performance.

We recommend leveraging the collective intelligence of your team to solve this complex problem by:

  1. Asking: what would our WorkPlace look and feel like, to achieve our highest performance, individually and collectively?”
  2. Challenging: your own traditional thinking and biases about performance in remote vs. on-premise Future WorkPlaces.
  3. Consciously: exploring a blend of remote / distributed and on-premise arrangements, to unlock the optimal mix of individual performance and collective intelligence.
    • When faced with a request for ongoing FlexAgile arrangements, ask “how might this work if we were to…”? rather than respond “it won’t work because…”
  4. Exploring: a wide range of FlexAgile options including:
    • Flexible start and finish times; compressed working weeks; time-in-lieu; part-time and job share; purchasing leave, unpaid leave and sabbaticals are all options available to retain and engage teams and enhance individual and collective performance over time.

It is the ideation discussions of the team, which co-create the experimentation required to refine the optimal solution for implementation.

Optimal “Future WorkPlaces” require experimentation and an ongoing shift in mindset of how “flexagility” supports optimal individual and collective performance.

We urge you to use this great ‘reset’ to explore your own unique and optimal “Future WorkPlace” to unleash the critical blend of individual and collective performance which will steer your business through Phase 3 of “hyper-disruption”.




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.

Each for Equal – International Women’s Day 2020

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It Is generally accepted that we have underestimated the challenges associated with achieving equality in the corporate world when it comes to attributes of gender, race ethnicity and sexual orientation amongst others. This is despite significant investments of time and money and the lure of substantial rewards from robust financial and human “dividends”.

Whilst we’ll never know the exact cost of inequality, we do know without doubt that a culture of equality can make or break the financial success of your organisation.


The value of equality

At Symmetra we believe, equality:

  1. is a social justice issue, and the right thing to do
  2. is a business issue, with significant financial impacts
  3. impacts human emotions, and an individual’s life experiences matter.

Some useful attempts have been made to place a financial value on reaching the goal of equality in our workplaces and societies. For example, McKinsey calculated the financial value of achieving gender equality in Australia would add 12% to GDP.

  • Given the IMF is forecasting economic growth of 1-3% in mature economies such as Australia – this is a dividend well worth making a focussed commitment to.
  • In Asia Pacific, a similar growth rate would add approx. $4.5 Trillion and China $2.6 Trillion and globally $12 Trillion!

More complex is valuing the “human” dividends associated with achieving equal positive emotion in your workforce.

  • Employee surveys commonly identify the emotional experiences of “diverse” groups in organisations, is significantly different to the “dominant” group.
  • There are a few progressive companies which have financially valued the impact of this unequal human experience: For example, the German software organisation, SAP, knows for every 1% improvement in their corporate culture index, they realise EU75-85M per annum additional (SAP integrated report 2019).

It’s worth calculating the dividend associated with achieving equal positive emotion across your workforce. It could be a material sum!


So, why hasn’t the pace of change been more pronounced?

And more importantly – what can we do about it?

Of the 5 areas the above McKinsey study highlights as critical to achieving extraordinary financial growth, the two within an organisation’s remit are about attitudes and values. In our 24/7 switched on world, we may have little time to stop and give their impact appropriate consideration – i.e. our true attitudes about women’s roles and work in society and why they are underrepresented in leadership positions.

Wicked problems rarely have simple answers – and changing a millenia-old social structure that leads to inequality is the perfect definition of a “wicked problem”.

So what then IS the “solution” to creating equality? Our experiences at Symmetra tells us, the answer is:

There is nothing more powerful than Culture to either ENABLE or DISABLE any change initiative.

The recent Hayne Royal Commission, referenced the critical role of CULTURE as key to achieving deep and consistent change in the banking and finance industries, rather than more legislation & governance. But this principle can be applied more broadly to any organisation: equality comes about when the culture of an organisation is free of bias, values diversity and manifests a high degree of inclusivity.

Sexual Harassment: Progress at Last!

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The long-awaited report of the Australian Human Rights Commission into workplace sexual harassment has just been released. It marks a paradigm shift in the way combatting sexual harassment should be addressed and in many ways is a world first.

In essence, it posits that employers should owe a legal duty of care to all employees to ensure as far as possible that the workplace is free of sexist behaviour, harassment and physical assaults.

Highlights amongst the recommendations include: amending the Sex Discrimination Act to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sex discrimination, harassment and victimisation; granting unions and other representative bodies the right to bring representative sexual harassment cases; giving the  AHRC investigative powers; creating a “stop sexual harassment order” similar to the “stop bullying order” under the Fair Work Act .

This approach is consistent with the one Symmetra has been advocating for workplace harassment prevention some time and is aligned with Symmetra’s harassment and bullying training program that emphasises improving workplace inclusion, promoting a speak-up culture and motivating and empowering bystanders as the best way to address this blight on our workplaces.

What Does Inclusion Actually Means in the 21st Century?

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Heather Price, CEO at Symmetra, discusses what inclusion actually means in the 21st century.


Well, it’s really important for us to define exactly what inclusion means, because historically, for the last three decades or so, inclusion was really just described as showing respect for difference, engaging with difference, and having integrity about your own difference. And if a leader could demonstrate those three things, they were defined as an inclusive leader.

But now that we know that inclusion is inextricably interlinked with innovation and optimising performance, then that’s only half the package. Yes, as the foundation stone, leaders still need to know how to respect difference, engage with difference, and have integrity about difference, but over and above that, they also have to know how to be open to new ideas so that they will leverage diversity of thought to optimise performance. They have to know how to embed enough psychological safety so that people who have diverse views will feel safe to express them. They have to know how to span boundaries, geographical, division, and functional boundaries so that they can access the diversity of thought wherever it is. And they have to be flexible, and agile, and responsive, and adaptive to the ever-accelerating pace of change.

So to pull that all together, ultimately, we’re saying that if a leader’s inclusive, they really have to cover all those competencies in order to embed an inclusive culture in their team and in their practice.


diversity and inclusion video series

Why Inclusive Leadership is Critical Today

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Heather Price, CEO at Symmetra, discusses why inclusive leadership is so critical today.



When you talk about diversity, we’re talking about all the differences that people bring to the table. We’re talking about inherent differences. Those are the differences you’re born with like your age, your gender, or ethnicity. And then we’re talking about acquired differences. Things like your personality style, your socioeconomic status, your education, your industry experience and career path. All of these are what we are referring to when we talk about diversity, and inclusion is when we’re referring to the glue that helps those differences stick together.

In the last few years there’s been a host of empirical research that has emerged which has demonstrated that diverse teams outperform homogenous teams, and that more importantly, you can use inclusion to drive business growth, performance and innovation.

The whole mark of an inclusive organisation is one where people feel a very strong sense of belonging and commitment. Where people actually feel that their voice is heard and that you are accessing their full intellectual capital. And what’s the key to achieving that? The key to achieving that is leadership. Leaders, as we know, cast a very long shadow over the culture of an organisation, and if people want to feel that their voice is heard and their full intellectual capital is being utilised, then you need to build the skills to lead them in an inclusive manner.

We need to understand that today, effective leadership in the 21st century is inclusive leadership. We need leaders who know how to leverage diversity of thought, so that they can optimise performance and innovation. We need leaders who know how to counteract unconscious bias so they don’t allow their bias to stand in the way of giving credibility to the ideas of people who are diverse from them. We need leaders who can embed psychological safety. In other words, make it safe for people to express their divergent views. Pushback, disagree, experiment with unproven actions. That’s what inclusion means in the 21st century, and that is the critical enabler.


diversity and inclusion video series

Social media: Have Australian employees just got a rude awakening?

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The High Court ‘s landmark ruling in Comcare v Banerji, last week affirmed that Comcare was justified in dismissing the employee for breaching the Australian Public Service (APS) code of conduct. The Code required employees to uphold APS values, including the obligation to maintain an apolitical public service at all times.

While employed by the department Ms Banerji had posted a series of tweets under a pseudonym criticising the Federal Government and its immigration policies. The Court rejected an argument from Ms Banerji that because she had not explicitly identified herself in the tweets as a department employee she was immune from her contractual and statutory obligations. It also rejected a contention that the tweets constituted an exercise of constitutionally-protected free speech.

Although the case was strictly-speaking concerned with employment by the Federal Government, it has implications for private sector employment as well.  Many employees have committed themselves to principles of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.  Ostensibly private acts which violate or undermine these precepts and can be connected to the employment relationship will generally constitute workplace misconduct.

On the other side of the coin, employers are being required to broaden the duty of care to employees. This is particularly so in matters of bullying and harassment. In some American states and in the UK there have been moves to extend the obligations of employers to eliminate sexual harassment. The Australian Human Rights Commission, in its report on workplace sexual harassment due out this year is likely to recommend the same. Employers who want to stay ahead need to start to investigate implementing strategies to counteract sexual harassment.

Symmetra will be canvassing a number of relevant issues pertaining to sexual harassment as a cultural phenomenon at the next session of Symmetra Connect.

Why Diversity and Inclusion is Now a Source of Competitive Advantage

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Diversity & Inclusion has become significantly more important in the last 3-5 years where it’s shifted from being a social justice issue to a strategic imperative.


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Diversity and inclusion has become so important over the last three to five years, where it’s shifted from being a social justice issue to a strategic business imperative because there’s been a host of empirical research which has emerged which demonstrates that diversity can actually optimise performance and innovation in organisations.
And this has really changed the way that leaders think about diversity and inclusion. Because historically, they really just looked at it as a social justice issue, about being a socially responsible organisation who could ensure that everybody, no matter how diverse, could actualise their full potential.
But what this research now demonstrates is that inclusion is inextricably interlinked with performance and innovation. And that means that this is something they can leverage to respond to the ever-increasing demands for change and innovation that they’re facing in a currently disruptive business environment.

Navigating the Post #MeToo World: What This Means for Our Workplace (MELBOURNE)

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Women are no longer tolerating micro-inequities and micro-aggressions in the workplace, men feel like they are walking on broken glass and countless people complain that they are going home each day thinking “I should have said something”. Come and explore how the surge in demand to deal with the full spectrum of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace is impacting on organisations and what they are doing about it.


Build an Inclusive Culture to Be More Ethical? Implications of the Findings of the Hayne Commission (BRISBANE)

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There is no question that many of the findings of the Hayne Commission and recommendations made by APRA to address ethical breaches in organisations, point to building a more inclusive culture- such as creating the psychological safety for people to demonstrate curiosity, to express diverse perspectives, to counteract group think, and to leverage diversity of thought- all in the interest of  adopting a more conscious approach to making more ethical decisions. Whilst no direct reference has been made to building a more inclusive culture to achieve these objectives by the Commission or APRA- it is clear to those who understand what constitutes inclusion in the 21st century, that building an inclusive culture is precisely what needs to be done.


Navigating the Post #MeToo World: What This Means for Our Workplace (SYDNEY)

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Women are no longer tolerating micro-inequities and micro-aggressions in the workplace, men feel like they are walking on broken glass and countless people complain that they are going home each day thinking “I should have said something”. Come and explore how the surge in demand to deal with the full spectrum of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace is impacting on organisations and what they are doing about it.


Making Inclusion Stick: Solutions that are Brilliant in Their Simplicity (SYDNEY)

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Back by popular demand! 

Why is inclusive leadership so rare and inclusion so hard to sustain? Symmetra will share its global findings on where the inclusion capability gaps are showing up in leadership and how leading organisations are closing this gap, driving inclusion across multiple markets, divisions and teams without breaking the bank and having huge sustainable impact.


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