Diversity, equity, and inclusion: How Australian IT is doing

While diversity and inclusion are common discussion topics, addressing them may not be as simple as some think. But trying to solve all diversity measures at once could be a recipe for disaster, experts say.

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Blind Citizens Australia CEO Bennison says that the behaviour found in the data often translates into people not getting employed. “Nine times out of 10, there’s a lot of unconscious bias that employers tend to have. And usually it’s not that they are unsupportive or disinterested. Often, it’s just that they’re frightened, because it might be the first time that they’ve come across a person who is blind or vision-impaired, so they are often just fearful that they’re going to get it wrong. I think one of the things that we need to do is to diminish that fear. One of the ways that I think we can do that is by making disability far more visible in the community as a whole,” Bennison says.

Knight’s and Bennison’s advice to employers is to ask the candidate what they will need, because they will know what they need to perform their job. After all, everyone is different—not just those with diabiities—so there is no one-fits-all solution.

People with Disability Australia (PWDA), a national disability rights, advocacy, and representative organisation that is made up of, led, and governed by people with disability, has information on the appropriate language to use when interviewing candidates and writing job advertisements to help attract people with disability.

The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) has developed training for small and medium-size businesses to help business leaders to ensure they are disability-confident and -aware. “The workplace may need some changes to ensure that it is accessible and disability-friendly. This can be at little or no cost, and simple to undertake, but will make a difference for both people with disability as employees or as customers or clients,” AFDO CEO Ross Joyce tells Computerworld Australia. “If you consider that around 20% of all Australians are people with disability, this is a vast market that your business is missing out on. If your business isn’t disability-friendly, not only can you miss great employees but [you miss people with disability as] customers and their families as customers.”

Neurodiversity in IT

In the past several years, neurodiversity has gained attention as one area of disability that should be reframed as an ability valuable to IT and other professions. Being good with numbers is one of many characteristics of people with autism, so organisations have sought them for roles in data analysis for example. ANZ Spectrum Program has trained people in cybersecurity, coding and testing, and data services, and it offers the opportunity for participants to develop a career with ANZ. Larger organisations such as Microsoft and VMware also have similar programs.

People with autism are also known to have high logical and analytical thinking, exceptional focus, punctuality, and dedication to specific passions or areas of expertise.

But hiring managers should consider that candidates with autism can respond differently to hiring decisions. “CIOs should be extra sensitive to the emotional impact a rejection can have. A well-defined feedback plan must be in place and followed. Communication should be in person or over video. Make the feedback clear and actionable, highlighting areas of improvement for the unsuccessful candidate,” Gartner’s diversity study says.

Neurodiversity extends beyond autism. Gartner points out that people with dyspraxia are often highly creative and strategic in their thinking, as well as excellent communicators. People with ADHD have attributes such as hyper focus, spontaneity, and the ability to “jump right in” to problem-solving. They also score higher on creativity tests than people who do not have ADHD. According to Gartner, 84% of people with dyslexia are above average in reasoning, understanding patterns, evaluating possibilities and making decisions. Dyslexia correlates with creativity, problem solving, storytelling, and enhanced verbal communication skills.

Tips for IT leaders to improve diversity

The first lesson on diversity, equity, and inclusion is to accept that you cannot know everything. Seek knowledge and reach out to organisations that have succeed in achieving diversity in the workplace or those specialised in training in those areas.

Diversity is an outcome; it should not be a quota or a number. There is no point hiring a certain number of migrants, or promoting a certain number of women to leadership roles, if that is still viewed as a quota that has been filled. Inclusion is a cultural shift, and the numbers will naturally follow. Everyone in the organisation is responsible, but leaders should lead.

Diversity should not be a good-to-have but a must-have. When organisations focus on what they look like externally rather than how they are perceived internally by their workers, those organisations fail to build a truly diverse workforce.

One of the main issues is the unconscious bias, where people tend to get close to those they have something in common with. That often happens naturally, and isn’t a conscious decision. It may be native English speakers keeping a closer relationship with each other, it may be migrants keeping a closer relationship with each other. Education around diversity, equity, and inclusion can help everyone see how unconscious bias leads to exclusion, and how to act instead in inclusive ways.

Ironically, good intentions can lead to exclusion. “Affinity groups [employee resource groups, or ERGs] are the main way that most companies think of first [to promote diversity]. Indeed, having an in-house affinity group gives individuals an instant network and like-minded friends,” Gartner’s study says. “However, affinity groups are by definition exclusive.”

Think of ERGs as one of several efforts needed to change the business culture. “Mentorship, allyship, and sponsorship programs are a way to maintain diversity while still belonging. Diversity without inclusion can actually be counterproductive,” Gartner recommends.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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