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Why Diversity Matters: Soprano Chooses to Challenge

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By: Helen Rutherford, Director of People and Culture at Soprano Design

Diversity in the workplace impacts positively on everyone. It creates a richer work environment, brings different ideas to the table and makes organisations more competitive in how they respond and engage with their customers.

As head of HR for a global IT business headquartered in Sydney, Australia with people across more than 15 geographies on 4 continents, a big part of my role is to ensure that my team and I capture and capitalise on the ideas and diversity of thought among our global team. This ensures we consider different perspectives during our decision-making so that we accurately reflect our international customers, partners, and teams, not just our HQ view from Australia.

Why do we do this?

Research from McKinsey found that companies with diversity among executives and employees outperform those without the same amount of diversity by 10-30 percent. However, tackling diversity in the workplace is not just a leadership issue or a female issue.

Harvard Business Review says 96 percent of organisations saw diversity progress when men were engaged in addressing gender inequity. That is compared to only 30 percent where men are not involved in finding a solution, which demonstrates the crucial need for a truly inclusive culture to create change.

If companies are genuinely committed to building diversity among teams, then this requires leadership from everyone within an organisation to achieve the end goal. It also makes economic sense.

As an international business, International Women’s Day (IWD) is something all Soprano employees can support across our business in all locations. We are running some internal campaigns and plan to connect remote teams virtually while bringing a small group together in Sydney, where we have reopened our office for our local team. Taken in isolation, days like these won’t create a more diverse workforce, per se, but the reason they are important is that they open up conversations for men and women alike, and purposefully draw our attention to key issues that can sometimes be overlooked on a day-to-day basis.

Consciously cutting unconscious bias

Before 2020, remote working was largely unchartered territory for a lot of organisations, and it created a totally different way of thinking about how to sustain company culture within remote based and geographically distanced workforces. However, at Soprano we’ve been thinking about inclusion for remote teams for a long time, as 25% of our people, and 40% of our senior leadership team already worked 100% remote pre-pandemic.

While we quickly adapted to a fully remote arrangement, we observed that COVID-19 further levelled the playing field between office-based and remote workers, in that it fostered a better understanding of the different challenges people face in different situations. That sort of empathy creates a great foundation for exploring our own unconscious bias. Reflecting on and challenging our dominant thoughts while having greater empathy towards the views of others, broadens our minds and enables us to see different perspectives, which is a key component when charting a pathway towards improving inclusion and diversity.

Many organisations have delivered extensive (un)conscious training programs and not seen the benefit. To me, this is because we need to focus as much effort on reflection and active change as we do on building awareness.

We also need to look closely at some common and widespread HR practices that have been proven to discriminate against women, albeit unintentionally. For example, when we think about performance reviews, there is a growing body of evidence that women will apply lower self-ratings than men with the same level of performance. These ratings may then impact manager ratings, and eventually compensation, widening gender pay gaps while holding back organisational performance.

As custodians of these processes, HR professionals need to constantly challenge our thinking and create more effective, agile, and contemporary practices, which also reduce the risk of bias occurring.

Recognising women in a remote working world

The remote working environment has simultaneously created advantages and disadvantages for diversity and inclusion goals.

On one hand, moving into a fully remote environment has challenged some prevailing team norms, making it easier to invite everyone into every conversation, giving team members who are generally quieter a stronger voice. We’ve seen team connectivity increase across most parts of our business during the pandemic, positively impacting engagement and productivity.

However, for places that have experienced long lockdowns, particularly with school closures – such as the UK and Spain – we’ve seen the lives of many working women become more difficult as they generally bear the primary responsibility for childcare and domestic work in the home, and this workload has increased. At the same time, many men have also increased their household and family responsibilities, providing a new appreciation of the challenges of working parents and a shift (perhaps even permanently) in the distribution of domestic duties.

Striving for equality in technology

Soprano has a long history of hiring diversely (culture, gender, background) across all roles and our gender statistics are in pretty good shape. For example, about 40% of our MEMS software engineering team are female and my own team comprises a 50/50 gender split, representing four different cultures. This diversity helps us work more effectively with our international teams and also brings broader perspective to our own team planning.

While technology is traditionally perceived as a male-dominated sector, we are seeing fundamental shifts occurring – roughly half of all STEM graduates in Australia are female and women are excelling in senior leadership roles all over the world. Many of the top tech companies globally are now led by women – HP, IBM and YouTube are three examples. In Australia, we have women leading companies such as Salesforce, Adobe, Google, PayPal and Australian success story, Canva.  

Despite this progress, Soprano still sees females under-represented at senior levels like many organisations. Balancing our requirements for specific talent capabilities with a desire to reflect the demographics of our client base, core partners and the communities in which we operate, remains an ongoing goal.

Developing, retaining and supporting talent

Organisations in every sector need to consider not only how to attract talent, but how to develop and enable that talent to be successful – this is the “inclusion” part of D&I. While talent attraction is an important area, it’s actually quite a narrow part of the equation. If we direct our focus on retention and creating inclusive workplaces, we will enable a broader cross-section of people to be successful, which will in turn attract a greater diversity of high performing talent to our organisation.

Courage to challenge

The theme of IWD for 2021 is ‘choose to challenge’, encouraging us all to be responsible for our own thoughts and actions, to call out gender bias and inequity and to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements.

What is most important for me, and what I expect my team to deliver through all of their interactions across the business, is to ensure we are reflective and thoughtful about the work we do and how we interact with other people, and in that reflection, to identify where we can improve on a number of levels to prevent against norms being established or maintained that don’t provide the inclusive experience we want for our people.

Sometimes that takes a lot of courage, but we all have to call it out to drive the changes we’re looking for.

About Helen Rutherford

Helen Rutherford is the Global Head of People & Culture at Soprano Design, she has been working in the company since 2019, and she is based in Sydney, Australia. Helen has the proven ability to quickly identify organizational needs and develop the People and HR Strategies required to drive business results. Do you want to read more articles written by Helen? Click below to read more articles or visit her LinkedIn page.