Peter Mousaferiadis: Leveraging diversity for business success
Peter Mousaferiadis, founder and CEO of Cultural Infusion

Diversity Atlas is an innovative digital tool for measuring workforce diversity, developed by Australian cultural enterprise Cultural Infusion. The tool analyses diversity within a given response-group and presents results via interactive info-graphics and key narrative facts. This empowers organisations to engage with, celebrate, and leverage the power of diversity to achieve a range of goals for communities and institutions, and to explore different approaches to creating harmonious intercultural environments.

Ahead of this years’ Rhodes Forum, which will include a tailored demonstration of the Diversity Atlas, the DOC Research Institute put a few questions to Peter Mousaferiadis, founder and CEO of Cultural Infusion, about the thinking behind the tool and its value to organisations and the wider policy and business communities.

DOC Research Institute: Diversity Atlas is built on some foundational ideas about the power of culture as an enabler of innovation, inclusion and the corporate advantages to be gained by recognising and learning how to leverage cultural diversity. You have said that “diversity is a fantastic thing if you know how to manage it”. What are some of the common pitfalls individuals and organisations make when managing diverse workforces and how can they best be avoided?

Peter Mousaferiadis: Diversity needs to be actively valued and engaged with in order to be truly leveraged for positive outcomes. One of the biggest mistake organisations can make is to simply ignore diversity.

This may manifest in a company deliberately not recruiting staff from certain backgrounds or genders, but more commonly, companies recruit diverse staff from various backgrounds but then expect everyone to behave the same and ‘fit in’ to a pre-existing organisational culture.

One of the biggest mistake organisations can make is to simply ignore diversity

The benefits of diversity are varied, but all of them are predicated on the active and deliberate bringing together of diverse perspectives around shared goals. By expecting staff to ‘fit in’ to what are often rigid organisational cultural norms, this puts pressure on employees to make sure that important differences about themselves do not count.

If everyone behaves the same and looks at the world the same way, diversity cannot lead to creative problem-solving, or enhance creativity and innovation, because everyone will approach problems through the same lens. This ‘compliance only’ approach to diversity limits it to the point of almost nullifying its true power.

The second pitfall is to focus on diversity only at the lower levels of influence within an organisation. In order to be truly impactful, diversity should be represented across various functions and levels within an organisation.

Assumptions that certain genders or cultural backgrounds ‘don’t do well in certain roles’ can limit a person’s career choices. This unfair stymying of the careers of staff considered to be diverse damages career aspiration and staff development, which in turn makes staff less likely to contribute to their full potential and less likely to stay, both of which have a direct negative impact on business performance.

The answer to the question of ‘how diverse do we need to be?’ should be shaped by the diversity of your community

A third pitfall, related to the above, is to focus on diversity but not on the interrelated concepts of mutuality and inclusion. Wanting to have a diverse workforce but not taking the time to think about how to make a workplace somewhere that brings out the best in people may lead to short-term diversity gains but possibly a lack of retention of staff, as discussed above. That is what is meant by inclusion.

Mutuality, on the other hand, is a concept we have coined to give organisations an understanding as to what standard of diversity they should be aspiring to. The answer to the question of ‘how diverse do we need to be?’ should be shaped by the diversity of your community. This is a simple yet powerful standard that can easily be measured. Often, organisations think that the ‘tick box’ approach to diversity, such as focussing on events for weeks such as international UN Days, harmony lunches, and the like, is sufficient. We believe in evaluating your diversity against mutuality as one of the key ways to benchmark progress and ensure a simple and clear way to be truly diverse.

Another pitfall is framing diversity initiatives as existing solely or primarily in the realm of the people-management function within an organisation. Diversity is transformational only if you allow it to have that power, and it is leaders who need to take ownership of and be accountable for diversity initiatives, not HR.

HR plays an important role in diversity initiatives but is often under-supported in terms of influence and over-burdened with the administration of diversity. Doing so requires institutional commitment, by creating an authorising and enabling environment at all levels whereby all staff who lead teams understand the importance and impact of diversity and are actively supported and trained not just in cultural competency but in agile ways of working that enable diversity to be leveraged.

It is leaders who need to take ownership of and be accountable for diversity initiatives, not HR

DOC: Diversity Atlas enables participating individuals to select up to three ‘worldviews’ when entering data. Why do you use the term ‘worldview’, as opposed to perhaps religious or faith group-type terminology, why are multiple selections possible, and how can organisations take advantage of staff with multiple worldviews?

Peter: The right to self-identification is a key step in empowering individuals and groups. From the outset we wanted Diversity Atlas to be a tool that had the power to reflect how people saw themselves, in their own eyes. This is why we’ve based our lists of languages and ethnicities that users of Diversity Atlas can choose from on the most exhaustive databases available, such as Ethnologue and the United Nations.

We realised that in order to be as inclusive as possible we would have to extend this freedom of choice to religion as well. But where would that leave people who didn’t hold a religious belief? We decided therefore to include the category of ‘worldview’ to capture the different ways of seeing the world that were either non-religious or didn’t fit into the usual definitions of religion.

Our database now includes atheism and agnosticism, secular worldviews like humanism, and mystical belief systems like Spiritualism or New Age beliefs.

Users of Diversity Atlas are also given the opportunity to select more than one worldview to reflect the fact that many people subscribe to more than one way of understanding the world.

DOC: The Diversity Atlas infrastructure encompasses an impressive dataset. We have heard you refer to the business case for diversity and cite studies comparing culturally homogenous and heterogeneous management teams as well as the thermodynamic law of ‘requisite variety’ in reference to organisations’ reflection of their external service environment. Do you have any favourite hypotheses that you are hoping Diversity Atlas data might be able to ‘prove’?

Peter: To put it simply, we are coming up with numerous hypotheses and hope that we can ultimately prove that diverse and inclusive workplaces that reflect the diversity of the broader community are able to not only deliver better business outcomes and are more harmonious and pleasant places to work at but make societies more cohesive and peaceful. Just a small goal to achieve!

We are confident that Diversity Atlas will be able to provide the badly-needed empirical evidence that will support this hypothesis. There are many arguments out there about the benefits of diverse and inclusive workplaces, but finding the metrics to measure the success – or failure, as sometimes happens – of diversity has been notoriously difficult. Diversity Atlas is the tool that can prove all of this.

We hope that we can ultimately prove that diverse and inclusive workplaces that reflect the diversity of the broader community are able to not only deliver better business outcomes and are more harmonious and pleasant places to work at but make societies more cohesive and peaceful

Diversity Atlas was designed to map the diversity profile of organisations and businesses to a depth of, and with a degree of, intersectionality that no other tool can offer. It is our goal that the datasets generated by Diversity Atlas will be able to give empirical and conclusive evidence that shows clearly how diverse organisations operate differently.

Not only will this prove what people who work in the diversity and inclusion space have known all along; we believe that Diversity Atlas will also show the way forwards for organisations including governments who want to improve their mutuality with the diversity of the community by closely understanding it, who want to lift their outcomes and engage competitively within the ever-increasing complexity of the globalisation.

 

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The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the original author(s) and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views and opinions of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, its co-founders, or its staff members.