Fast Four with Ziena Jalil

Global Women recently grabbed a few minutes with Partner at SenateSHJ and Global Women Member, Ziena Jalil in our Fast Four series to discuss ethnic diversity in the workplace and what organisations and individuals can do to make workplaces as inclusive as possible. Ziena regularly presents and advises on diversity and inclusion, including publishing internationally in the book Workforce Diversity: Global Perspectives.

How is ethnic diversity crucial to enabling productivity and profitability in the workplace?

Like any form of diversity, ethnic diversity provides organisations with access to a more diverse pool of knowledge and experiences. Different perspectives help in identifying new opportunities, problem solving, creativity and innovation. It enables organisations to tap into diverse customer groups and stakeholders in more informed ways and helps ensure that products and services are relevant for the ethnically diverse communities the organisation serves.

But simply having ethnically diverse staff doesn’t make an organisation more productive and profitable. Staff need to feel included and empowered before they can and will make a meaningful contribution.

How can organisations ensure their hiring processes are ethnically inclusive and unbiased?

Typically recruiting practices emphasise hiring people from historically reliable sources and selection practices choose candidates based on what’s worked in the past. Recruiters need to think more broadly about where and how they advertise their roles and whether these channels reach an ethnically diverse audience.

Language used in advertisements can provide cues to candidates as to whether or not they may fit in a particular workplace.

Diversity attracts diversity. Photos of staff on the company website send signals as to whether or not the organisation currently embraces ethnic diversity and whether diversity exists at senior levels.

Standardised processes, such as blinding CVs during hiring and using objective metrics during performance reviews can have a big impact. But the teams developing those processes must ensure they aren’t institutionalising their own biases.

The importance of cultural understanding is also critical so as not to disadvantage candidates from cultures where interview practices are different from dominant cultural values. For example, in Pacific cultures maintaining eye contact with a senior is disrespectful. Being modest is also important so candidates may not be too forthcoming about their achievements. This doesn’t mean they aren’t engaged or haven’t achieved anything – just that they are being true to their culture.

What should leaders’ number one priority be, to ensure that they are making their workplaces as inclusive as possible?

Leaders need to articulate their commitment to diversity and inclusion. They need to role model appropriate behaviours and call out those that are unacceptable. At the heart of diversity and inclusion is organisational culture and leaders set the tone for that.

Unspoken rules about leaders’ likes and dislikes can have a greater impact than what policies say. Inclusive leadership starts with self-awareness, and a willingness to listen and learn.

And what about employees who aren’t in leadership positions? What impact can they have?

Every employee can play a role in helping to build an inclusive culture. This comes from being respectful of everyone else and their cultures and backgrounds. In terms of ethnic diversity specifically—celebrating each other’s cultural festivals at work and learning about different cultural practices helps build understanding. Simple things such as learning about colleagues’ names and the meaning behind the name is a good start.

All staff can also play an important role in challenging themselves and others when they see bias in action.

Leaders don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. All staff can make suggestions and advocate for initiatives which help to make a workplace more inclusive.