The Business Case for Diversity

The Symes Report has been collating some incredible stories of diversity and it's value to organisational culture and therefore I am sharing a report by Pearl Tan, Barbara Harvey and myself that was written in 2016 for The Symes Report that still has some important and relevant findings.

Why diversity?

The importance of encouraging and supporting diversity in the workplace has gained momentum in the past five years and is something that workplaces should take into consideration predominantly for reasons relating to tolerance, inclusion and equal opportunity but increasingly for the impact diversity has on innovation and collaboration.

As proven by Silicon Valley and countless major organisations the method of embracing creativity, diversity and innovation translates to higher levels of motivation, engagement and subsequently productivity in the workplace.

The importance of encouraging and supporting diversity in the workplace has gained momentum in the past five years,predominantly for reasons relating to tolerance, inclusion and equal opportunity but increasingly for the impact diversity has on innovation and collaboration.

As proven by Silicon Valley and countless major organisations the method of embracing creativity, diversity and innovation translates to higher levels of motivation, engagement and subsequently productivity in the workplace.

Symes Group are of the opinion that Diversity is not something to accept and acknowledge but rather be incorporated, embedded and championed in organisations at all levels. 

In this paper we are looking at the three following benefits to The Diversity Mindset in the workplace:

1)    Diversity is the Key to unlocking creativity which leads to innovation and success

2)    Diversity fosters Authenticity

3)    Diversity improves Collaboration

But there’s also another reason why it’s so important to champion diversity and that’s because of the consequences of not doing so.  A lack of diversity and presence of monoculture at an organisation will disable any potential creativity and innovation in the organisation.

At Symes Group, we consider that diversity encompasses differences in demographics, identity and cognition. Therefore, diversity includes a range of areas including age, gender, ethnicity, disability, education, socio-economic background, LGBT, religious beliefs, mental models and more. While some may consider diversity and inclusion an exercise in political correctness, multiple studies have shown that diversity leads to more innovation and success in business.

Why aren’t we already diverse?

Unconscious bias is the way we ‘instinctively categorise people and things using easily observed criteria… [as] it saves time and effort processing information about people… [However, it] results in a tendency to rely on stereotypes, even if we don’t consciously believe in them’ (Mind Tools 2016b). People are reluctant to face up to their own subconscious biases and often deny they are prejudiced unless faced with evidence (Tinsley et al. 2009). The Implicit Association Test can reveal unconscious attitudes (Greenwald, McGhee and Schwartz 1998) and you can take a demonstration test, online at the Harvard’s Implicit Association Test.

As a result of our unconscious bias, we tend to associate ourselves with and select individuals who are similar to ourselves. We need to consider that as accessibility to education and opportunities improve, the right person for the job may not appear in a ‘package’ that we are expecting. It is crucial that diversity programs start with the leadership, and that they have a positive attitude towards diversity and an awareness of their own unconscious biases, or there may be unintended outcomes (Peretz, Levi and Fried 2015).  

Diversity and the media

In the media, the landscape of journalism is changing at an accelerated pace. More than ever, media agencies must be adaptable, facilitating change ahead of trends and markets and constantly innovating. At present the challenges of “Clickbait”[1] are altering not only the way in which stories are told, but determining what stories are told. 

The consequences of not doing innovating will leave media companies redundant, much like the impact of the decline of print journalism. The following points are important to consider:

1)    Audiences are diverse and stories should reflect and appeal to those audiences.  One in four of Australia’s 22 million people were born overseas; 46 per cent have at least one parent who was born overseas; and nearly 20 per cent of Australians speak a language other than English at home.[[2]

2)    Staying relevant and fresh requires a culture of innovation.

3)    Diversity in the screen industry has had critical and financial success e.g. The TV series: Glee, Big Bang Theory, Empire which feature diverse cast and stories.

Innovation and success

In order to gain competitive advantage in our rapidly changing world, new ways of thinking and innovation are key. The top three skills needed in 2020, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report are:

1.     Complex Problem Solving

2.     Critical Thinking

3.     Creativity

Diversity is key to unlocking creative ideas, to encouraging pathways and critical thinking, to effective collaboration and to the successful implementation of ideas and projects. 

Katherine Phillips (Professor of Leadership and Ethics at Columbia University) notes that ‘Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision-making and problem solving’ (2014). Phillips demonstrates that at an individual level, being surrounded by diversity increases your performance. This is because an opinion from a work colleague, who is socially different, will trigger your mind to work harder to understand their perspective and the anticipation of differing points of view leads to better preparation from all involved.

When teams comprised of people with various intellectual foundations and approaches to work—that is, different expertise and creative thinking styles—ideas often combine and combust in exciting and useful ways.[3]

Creativity requires difference in opinions, outlooks, which can only occur when individuals are able to tap into and lean into the difference. Historically, the most creative results in music, theatre, architecture, literature, dance and film have come from the celebration of difference. In the creative arts, one need only think of the vision of Guy Laliberte to create a circus whose every element was the opposite of a traditional circus- Cirque Du Soleil. An example of convention turned on its head; which also has resulted in artistic, critical and financial success.

‘In some situations, a group of ordinary people who are diverse can defeat a group of like-minded experts’ (Denning 2012).

Conversely, homogeneity can lead to groupthink, which may lead to poor decision-making (Mind Tools 2016a) and lock out ideas that have strong potential. Hewlett, Marshall and Sherbin note that ‘without diverse leadership, women are 20% less likely than straight white men to win endorsement for their ideas; people of colour are 24% less likely; and LGBTs are 21% less likely’ (2013).

Jessica Symes notes:

“In many organisations when teams are comprised of similar personality profiles an absence of diversity and diverse thinking has a direct impact on the creative results of the team.”

Similar outcomes have been demonstrated in a wide array of areas globally, such as financial outcomes in business, education, academia, politics and jury decision-making with consensus from a range of research areas including ‘organisational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers’ (Phillips 2014).


Firstly, Diversity must be increased at a recruitment, advancement and retention level in order to succeed in the not too distant future. Staff should be recruited from a range of backgrounds, with diverse personalities and this can be done through methods such as using a personality tool such as Facet 5 in the recruitment phase and consciously recruiting diversity.

Parallel to this is increasing training in communication, empathy and cultural awareness in order to succeed and thrive harmoniously. Diversity leads to innovation and success in business. 

Diversity Fosters Authenticity

“Authenticity”, which is the quality of an individual who is true to who they are, is essential for individuals to thrive at work, perform at their optimum and contribute effectively. Authenticity occurs when individuals are self aware, play to the strengths, understand their values and personality which are founded on who they are as a person. 

In a workplace where diversity is championed, authenticity is championed by default, as by creating the environment in which different points of views and range of experiences can be understood and appreciated, individuals not only have permission to be authentic, but are expected to be so.

“For individuals to bring their “authentic self” to work they must understand that their personality and character are what makes them an individual and what makes them different. It’s about championing your strengths and differences, not hiding or diluting them. And that it is these differences which need to be leveraged.”

Jessica Symes

On the flip side, understanding that every personality trait at the extreme has its own strength and weaknesses. For example, if you are someone that lacks an attention to detail, it's perhaps an indicator that you are focused on the big picture; you are a visionary. So rather than hiding your lack of detail you will need to find a positive channel for your visionary talent. As we know this ability is very valuable to leadership, inspiration and motivation.

The creative arts have always understood at a very deep level that believing wholeheartedly and authentically in the talent of one's team is essential for successful leadership and performance and that the role of the leader is one of facilitating and inspiring the talent. So in the end a great leader in any setting will instinctively know that at that moment when a team member states "I disagree, I see it in a different way" that is not the moment to stand by your own vision, but the moment to lean in and say "that's interesting…tell me more."


Authenticity must be championed by values based, self awareness professional development.

Diversity improves collaboration

The third benefit of championing diversity in this paper is the forming a creative/innovative work culture through embracing difference, greater collaboration occurs due to increased skills in social intelligence and social behaviour.  When diversity is championed at an organisation Symes Group has observed an increased capacity’s in the skill of a teams social intelligence, cultural understanding, which ultimately impacts on a teams capacity to work together effectively.

Scott Page, a professor of complex systems, provides in his book, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies evidence of the value of diversity in collaboration.

This is an extract from an interview with Scott Page:

The problems we face in the world are very complicated. Any one of us can get stuck. If we’re in an organization where everyone thinks in the same way, everyone will get stuck in the same place.

But if we have people with diverse tools, they’ll get stuck in different places. One person can do their best, and then someone else can come in and improve on it. There’s a lot of empirical data to show that diverse cities are more productive, diverse boards of directors make better decisions, the most innovative companies are diverse.

Breakthroughs in science increasingly come from teams of bright, diverse people. That’s why interdisciplinary work is the biggest trend in scientific research.[4]


Diversity in collaboration should be championed through specific team strategy programs aimed at playing to individual strengths within a group.

The Symes Solution

Symes Group offers a combination of experiences and programs, which celebrate, stimulate and empower diversity in 2017 and beyond so that organizations can become the leaders in their industries.

Symes Group’s Diversity and Inclusion Program

‘Embrace, Include and Value’

Belonging is the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group or place. It’s the basic fundamental drive to form and maintain lasting, positive, and significant relationships with others. People who feel they belong perform better, become more willing to challenge themselves, and are more resilient. It is undeniable that having workforces that are diverse and inclusive is crucial. Diverse and inclusive workforces make better decisions, are more productive and make for more successful organizations.

People from different demographics experience the workplace differently and a person’s workplace commitment, motivation, pride and recommendation is determined by their sense of belonging. The correlation between belonging and engagement is stronger for historically underrepresented groups. Symes Group focus on belonging as the overarching frame of our` inclusion initiatives in the workplace to support organisations reach and exceed their diversity and inclusion goals and objectives.

Workplace diversity means creating an inclusive environment that accepts and values everybody’s differences, embraces their strengths and provides opportunities for all staff to reach their full potential. Presented in a straight forward, meaningful and entertaining format ‘Embrace, Include and Value’ will help the participants learn the value and benefits of diversity in the workplace, how to implement diversity and inclusion best practice and ways to manage and prevent discrimination, exclusion and insensitivity.

Symes Group focuses on ten key approaches to help people feel and experience increased belonging at work;

 1. Understanding the organisations current position through evaluation of diversity and inclusion engagement survey’s to inform the design and delivery of the program.

2. The creation of and maintenance of social bonds and trusting relationships.

 3. Being intentional about inclusion by demonstrating that it inclusion is ‘effortful’ and not ‘effortless’ and that it requires mindfulness and thought.

4. Bring belonging out into the open through narrative and storytelling and group coaching.

5. Creating a shared vision of purpose, vision and a team charter to create the utopian work culture in which everyone is happy, fulfilled and engaged as they walk through the doors each day.

 6. Empathy training and development through personality theory and character strengthsperspective taking.

 7. Autonomy support through education of the concept and the benefits and outcomes achieved by the fostering of an autonomous working environment.

 8. Fostering a culture of creativity through the creativity and innovation series.

 9. Health and well-being support through the mindfulness keynote and mental toughness session.

 10. An in depth understanding of work life integration and the individual needs, wants and preferences in work and the ability to be proactive and take responsibility for creating their own opportunities to cater for that or to seek out options that may be available to them.

The benefits of this program is the fostering of an engaged, happy and included employee community that feel that they belong and that they want to actively contribute to the positive, thriving and diverse culture that they can all call home.

The future

The future will see diversity as the norm. More and more, people are more prepared to partake in challenging dialogue, with an awareness of the positive results that ensue. Diversity and inclusion are crucial to creating a competitive corporate culture, which attracts the very best talent and subsequent outcomes. Seeing things from a different perspective is essential to innovation but can only happen when teams are made up of diverse individuals and that diversity should encompass all sorts of facets including but not limited to experience, age, gender, sexual orientation, ability and skills. Furthermore, the more organisations engage with diversity, the more likely society will benefit as a whole.






Denning, S. 2012, ‘Why is diversity vital for innovation’, Forbes.

 Greenwald, A. G., McGhee, D. E. and Schwartz, J. L. K. 1998, ‘Measuring individual differences in implicit cognition: the implicit association test’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 74, no. 6, pp. 1464-1480.

Hewlett, S. A., Marshall, M. and Sherbin, L. 2013, ‘How diversity can drive innovation’, Harvard Business Review, December, viewed 13 August 2016.

 Mind Tools 2016a, ‘Avoiding groupthink’, Mind Tools.

 Mind Tools 2016b, ‘Avoiding unconscious bias at work’, Mind Tools.

 Peretz, H., Levi, A. and Fried, Y. 2015, ‘Organizational diversity programs across cultures: effects on absenteeism, turnover, performance and innovation’, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, Vol 26, No 6.

 Phillips. K. W. 2014, ‘How diversity makes us smarter’, Scientific American, 1 October.

 Tinsley, C. H., Cheldelin, S. I., Schneider, A. K. and Amanatullah, E. T. 2009, ‘Women at the bargaining table: pitfalls and prospects’,Negotiation Journal, vol. 25, no. 2, pp. 233-248.

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PO Box 5192 Greenwich NSW 2065

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