VIEW: Diversity – the good, the bad and the money

The latest facts show that there is money to be made and retained by diverse and inclusive workplaces.

On making money, McKinsey’s ongoing and updated research in this field highlights gender diverse executive teams are 15% more likely to outperform in profitability, and ethnic and cultural diversity led to a 33% increased likelihood of outperformance on EBIT margin.

On keeping money, Great Place to Work recently revealed that “publicly traded companies with highly inclusive workplaces thrived before, during, and after the Great Recession, and gained a 4x larger stock return than the S&P 500.”

And yet, positions on corporate boards, executive teams and even leadership among startups are still largely taken up by men.

Future-proofing by diverse problem solving

Co-founder and COO of fast-growing ed-tech startup Practera, Suzy Watson, prides her team on being 70% CALD and 50% women, with 70% women on the leadership team. For Watson, problem solving was one of the biggest challenges she looked to overcome by proactively building a diverse business.

And she’s not alone. The World Economic Forum points to complex problem solving as the top skill needed in the workplace in 2020.

Watson explained, “The research is clear. Diverse teams, on as many factors as you can manage, perform better and particularly excel at innovative or ambiguous problems. As a tech startup this is a huge driver. All of our problems and opportunities are ambiguous.”

Making lemonade out of diversity challenges

Many point to complacency or over-saturation of discussion around diversity as reasons for why more significant progress has not yet been made in the corporate arena on this issue. Even Watson admits that investing in this area isn’t easy, though the returns are worth it for those who commit.

“Hiring people from other cultures comes with its own complexities,” Watson added. “Notably they often want to return home. With one of our rising stars and members of our 70% female leadership team, Megan Underwood, this has provided a fantastic opportunity for our business to expand to Canada, when she relocated earlier this year.

“In another instance, Xiao Ma one of our senior developers and his wife welcomed their second child, and after taking paternity leave, Xiao has arranged to spend some months remotely working from his home city in China. As well as completing his normal work, Xiao has added some language selection elements to our software product in this time.”

Hesitation is the enemy

Watson’s advice to business leaders feeling ‘stuck’ when it comes to building diverse and inclusive workplaces is simple.

“Just do it,” she says.

As a starting point, Watson says international students from outside the business can deliver significant value if approached properly.

Watson advises, “As a low risk entry point to diversity, engage with international students – there are huge number of them and they bring a unique perspective to problem solving. Practera Projects helps thousands of international students engage with Australian businesses and we’ve proudly recruited many of our own hires from these programs.”

She also emphasizes the importance of assessing internal processes and behaviours.

“Have inclusive work practices including flexible hours, remote working, non-gendered parental leave, and use of preferred pronouns. The workplace should be accessible. If you have fostered a high performance work culture, the fact that a person may need to do a daily school run will not impact their output,” says Watson.


About the expert

Suzy Watson is a Co-Founder and COO of Practera. She holds a Bachelor in Chemistry and a Masters of Accounting and has been 3 time startup CFO as well having roles in Strategy and Finance in banking, retail, mining, Ed Ustinov and technology. Suzy is also a Finalist in Austrades Women in Tech.