The responsibility for embedding diversity into our industry’s culture belongs to everyone. So we asked leaders from two diverse organisations – Binyan Studios and the NSW Land and Housing Corporation – for their top tips.
In this era of globalisation, leading companies are searching for and supporting people with an array of expertise, ideas, experiences, religious and political beliefs, education and ability, socio-economic backgrounds and sexual orientation.
Binyan Studios, which creates architectural 3D imagery and animation, and NSW Land and Housing Corporation, which owns and manages a public housing portfolio of 126,000 properties, were applauded for their diversity initiatives at the recent Property Council of Australia / Rider Levett Bucknall Innovation and Excellence Awards.
We sat down with Andrei Dolnikov, Binyan’s founder and CEO, together with Anne Skewes, deputy secretary at the NSW Land and Housing Corporation and her colleague and director of human resources, Juliet Adriaanse, to find out how they’ve driven diversity thinking through their organisations.
- Broaden your horizons
Binyan’s rapid growth over the past five years has “been one giant diversity initiative,” Dolnikov says. His “non homogenous” team boasts people from different cultural backgrounds, genders and a range of ages from 20s to 60s.
“This means not only creative skill sets are enhanced by people bringing something new from their life and work experience, but even the way things are done is questioned and refined from multiple perspectives,” Dolnikov explains. This “constant influx of new ideas” results in better creative outcomes and more efficient processes. “Good ideas are refined and honed, and bad ideas questioned.”
At the NSW Land and Housing Corporation, or LAHC for short, nearly 40 cent of senior management positions are held by women. “And of course we are well on track – and likely to exceed – our target of 50 per cent by 2025,” Skewes says.
But this is just one of many important diversity initiatives. Skewes also points to work to “improve the way we recruit and support Aboriginal colleagues in the workplace; we have also invested heavily in terrific programs to roll out Aboriginal cultural awareness training”.
Cultural diversity is clearly important in an organisation that provides social housing to a broad cross-section of the community. Nearly 20 per cent of LAHC employees come from culturally-diverse backgrounds. “This has led to deeper insights into inclusion and diversity which supports our important work in genuine and active engagement with social housing residents,” Skewes adds.
- Display visible leadership
Adriaanse says her organisation’s leaders, notably deputy secretary Anne Skewes, are “front and centre” when it comes to driving the diversity agenda. Skewes chairs and champions several committees supporting Indigenous employees, those with disability, female leaders and young professionals. “Our executive leadership team regularly visits work groups across our Sydney and regional locations, listening to staff and seeking feedback first hand. It’s all visible, engaged and helps build trust,” Adriaanse adds.
At Binyan, Dolnikov’s own background – he calls himself a “quirky Jewish Russian immigrant who does not quite fit into a neat box” – sets the tone for the organisation. From the outset, Binyan has attracted people “based on talent and drive who can gel with our family culture that is driven by passion, egalitarianism and humility,” he says.
“When your leadership team meets – and everyone around you looks like you – be worried! You may be living in your own echo chamber,” Dolnikov adds.
- Learn to listen
LAHC’s senior leaders actively talk with staff from diverse backgrounds to understand their experiences in the workplace, which Skewes says has led to “more effective leadership in driving cultural change”.
“One recent program saw eight colleagues who live with disability sharing their personal experiences of working within the organisation – and not all the stories were positive. These insights have moved the organisation to positive change in diversity, inclusion and better adapted workplaces.
“Just having the conversations and raising awareness has led to rapid change and a more attentive and responsive leadership cohort,” Skewes says, emphasising that “it’s another great example of how diversity is working for us organisationally and for the community".
Another project supports paid internships that gives students living with disability valuable work experience while LAHC gains “fresh ideas and helps us better understand the needs of clients with disability”.
- Mine the data
Adriaanse emphasises the importance of “good data” to accelerate the diversity agenda.
“We have learned there is a need to look beyond whole-of-organisation representation of diversity groups to see what is happening in local teams and work groups. This more granular focus allows us to better target our initiatives and is paying dividends, particularly around gaining more balance in our regionally based teams,” she says.
- Celebrate difference
At Binyan, multiculturalism is celebrated in a host of ways, such as regular international ‘potluck’ lunches.
“People bring a dish from their home repertoire and everyone digs in. We do this a few times each year and it’s a real highlight. Not only is the food amazing, mostly, but people get to experience each other and connect in a different context. This builds team dynamics and trust.”
“Keep it natural,” Dolnikov adds.
“Don’t force it. Look for great people, wherever they may be, with a truly open mind – I guarantee you that you will be surprised.”