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Are you doing DIVERSITY right? A quality Q&A with Tania Domett

If you’re still wondering whether diversity in the workplace is important…best you go hang out with the Flat Earth Society.  

As McKinsey & Co (and a host of other highly credible researchers) have shown, diversity makes your organisation more effective, successful and profitable. 

But knowing you should be cultivating and promoting a diverse workforce – and actually getting it right in your team or organisation is another thing altogether. 

That’s why The Leader’s Digest has enlisted the help of Tania Domett, Director of Cogo research firm, to give us some tips. Tania knows a thing or ten about diversity, especially how to measure it. BTW, Tania and her talented peeps have also developed a nifty tool called Diversity Counts, which helps you measure diversity in your workplace.

Ve-ry clever.   

Fun fact: I’ve interviewed some great leaders for The Leader’s Digest, like Adam Holt (Chairman of Universal Music), Dale Clareburt  (Co Founder and CEO of Weirdly) and Shane Anselmi (Founder and CEO of Overland Footwear), to name a few. But this interview is even more delightful, ‘cos Tania is one of my oldest friends (see the pic and her comments below to find out JUST HOW OLD). 

I quizzed Tania about some of the most common questions leaders ask on the topic of diversity. Here’s what she had to say:

What do you say to people who think the diversity topic is just another management fad?

There are many reasons to take diversity seriously. Here are just a few:

New Zealand’s population is changing rapidly. By 2038 over 50% of New Zealand’s population will be Māori, Asian and Pacific. Currently one in four New Zealanders have a disability and this is likely to increase in step with our rapidly ageing population.

Your workforce is probably already diverse to some extent, but in the middle of all this demographic disruption, it needs to become more so. Smart companies are actively recruiting for diversity because they know that’s the way to ensure they’re getting the best talent available. Smart companies also know that having a workforce that reflects the demographic makeup of the customers they serve makes them more responsive and adaptive to their changing needs, and better positioned to retain market share.

It’s critical to ensure that demographic diversity exists at all levels of your organisation, particularly in your leadership team. You can’t have diverse thinking without it. And with disruption now a constant feature of almost all sectors of the economy, you need diverse thinking to stay ahead of the curve. 

You need leaders who view issues through different lenses and who bring different perspectives to problem-solving. But it’s also critical to have demographic diversity at entry and middle management levels too, to make sure you’ve got that leadership talent pipeline taken care of (among other reasons).

What are the biggest mistakes leaders and organisations make when it comes to diversity programmes?

Something we’ve seen at Cogo is that not many companies are evaluating their diversity programmes. And yet these programmes often require a significant investment. It’s not necessarily the biggest one, but I think it’s a mistake not to investigate what the impacts of these programmes are. Are they actually resulting in better diversity and a more inclusive culture in your company?

If you had one piece of advice to an organisation starting out on their diversity journey, what would it be? What’s the first baby step people can take?

The first step would be to decide what the ultimate destination is – what would good diversity look like in your organisation? If your goal is to improve demographic diversity, then my advice would be to start measuring it at all levels in your organisation, before you do anything else.  This way, you can identify when, where and how diversity has improved.

One of the mental models I often come across in leadership circles is that diversity is mainly about gender. What do you say to that Ms Domett?

I’ve noticed this too, and it worries me. Many companies are saying that they’re reporting on diversity and it’s not true, they’re reporting on gender balance only. The focus on gender means that other dimensions of diversity – ethnicity, age, sexuality, disability – become less important.

That’s a problem for equity reasons, but, and this will be more compelling for some, if your goal is to benefit from the increased operational performance that a diverse workforce brings, then focusing on gender only won’t give your diversity strategy its full effect. 

What are some of the common misconceptions around diversity at the top table – and what’s your advice or response?

I get frustrated when people say things like, ‘we’re so diverse here at Organisation X’ or ‘you can literally see the diversity here’. You really can’t. You can’t just look around the room and count the women or who you think might be Māori or Pasifika or the people in a wheelchair and suggest that’s a robust measure. For a start, recent research Cogo carried out showed that most people’s disability is not outwardly visible. What’s more, diversity changes over time as people move in and out of your organisation.

Is there a logical progression as you think about diversity? In other words, what should come first? Or does it not matter?

We’ve had clients who say to us “Diversity Counts looks great and we’d love to be measuring more than just gender, but this year that’s our focus and so that’s where our investment will go.”

But diversity isn’t just about gender, or ethnicity, or sexuality, or disability in isolation from one another. People have complex identities – and all of these dimensions intersect. So no, in my view, there is no logical progression. Prioritising one dimension of diversity over another, and staging your diversity programmes to suit, is kind of missing the whole point of diversity.

How do you ensure it becomes entrenched rather than just the latest fad?

If you have a Diversity & Inclusion policy, make sure it includes expected outcomes, put programmes in place to achieve those outcomes and then evaluate those programmes. And then review these on an annual basis. D & I policies are great for signalling an intent to support a diverse workforce and culture of inclusion. And for some organisations, they’re a great first step. But if your people don’t see you committed to actioning it in substantive ways, then they will become justifiably cynical and apathetic. You really don’t want your D & I policy to just look like lip service. 

As a researcher, why and how did you get interested in this topic?

I noticed how New Zealand businesses are starting to engage with diversity and inclusion in ways they haven’t really done before – it’s like they’re starting to mean it! They’re certainly investing in it. As a strong believer in the philosophy that ‘if it doesn’t get measured, it doesn’t get managed’, I identified an opportunity for my business to help organisations measure diversity across multiple dimensions and at all levels in the organisation.

And since it’s always all about me and what you think of me, let me get in with a question – about me. So, Tania – what was I like at school?

Suzi bounded up to me on the first day of school and asked me if I wanted to be her friend. We haven’t looked back since. Suzi isn’t someone you can easily say no to…

True dat. 

If you’re keen to get your organisation’s diversity journey off on the right footing, check out Diversity Counts and get in touch with the lovely, intelligent and charming Ms Domett. 

Not that I’m biased or anything….

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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