Solving the Big Issues: Ian Williamson on Social Impact and the Power of Diversity

Ian Williamson

Ian Williamson, Professor of Leadership at the Melbourne Business School is a man of Principal and Action. As the Director of the Asia Pacific Social Impact Centre at the Melbourne School he has focused on key social issues such as Indigenous economic development, the development of pathways to work for individuals dealing with mental health issues, the creation of investment instruments to financially support social impact initiatives, the evolution of CSR and the creation of new social enterprises. Ian will be speaking at the World Business Forum this month in Sydney. Barbara Harvey recently interviewed Ian to hear his insights about gender targets, diversity and working accross global teams.

“Diversity and innovation go hand in hand” Ian Williamson

What are you passionate about in your work at the moment?

My passion centers on developing innovative solutions to intractable social issues. For the last 8 years I have served as the director of the Asia Pacific Social Impact Centre at the Melbourne Business School. The centre was founded to position the business school as a vehicle to solve intractable social issues by conducting world-class research that forms the bases for innovative community interventions.

In your opinion what is the value of diversity to organisations?

Diversity and innovation go hand in hand. In particular, organisations seeking radical innovation must develop a strategy for attracting, retaining and developing diverse workforces.

Many organisations are now delivering global services with teams operating across continents, from different cultural, linguistic and social backgrounds. What advice do you have for managers and teams working across different countries?

In order to have an effective multi-national workforce organisations must be willing to create practices that tailor to employees’ needs. For example, in a recent research article my co-authors and I examined the impact of work-life support practices on employees’ delivery of effective customer service across a sample of companies operating across 27 countries. We found that the impact of work-life support practices was greater in those countries with a strong gender egalitarianism culture, such as you find in many Scandinavian cultures. However, the impact of work-life support practices was limited in countries with a low gender egalitarian norm, such as you find in many Gulf countries. The point is that one-size does fit all and organisations must take the time learn what types of practices fit local norms and also be willing to incur the costs associated with tailoring their human resource practices across different regions.

Ian Williamson will be talking on: “Empowering High Performance Organisations” at the World Business Forum June 2017

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