Covid-19 fell upon us in March. We were forced to lock down. I received some wise advice: ‘Use this time as a gift.’ Interesting, albeit unexpected, questions emerged from these six words, entrusted for my idiosyncratic interpretation: just what is this concept called ‘time?’ An illusionary construct? A finite resource? I asked myself what I consider a ‘gift’ these days? 

On the face of it, this directive seemed, to me at least, an effortless exercise. I would simply immerse myself in the normal activities in which I already invest a great deal of time – learning in its various forms; researching; reading; writing and collaborating, in short, responsibilities required by my profession, and through which I feel very fortunate. Yet, I asked myself, were these efforts adequate? Was I cheapening the opportunity to reflect? This was, after all, in my lifetime, an unprecedented pandemic.

After much rumination, I was relieved and thankful to see a partial resolution arise from the juxtaposition of ‘time’ and ‘gift.’ Settling upon an idea which emerged naturally several days later, I could apply the concept of ‘time’, a resource, and ‘gift’, a contribution, with a refined depth of authenticity. At least, this was my aim: to understand the life histories and stories of external others; in essence, to understand what made life meaningful through their eyes. 

I chose to document, as much as my conscious mind would allow and my experiences enable, my moment to moment feelings, thoughts, actions and reflections. It was clear that something important was shared through each encounter. Yet, as I read over my notes, at times, my thinking embodied over-generalisations, over-simplifications and, at the other extreme, thinking that went too far: over-theorising, over-intellectualising, in order to make sense of my encounters and the meaning others attributed to their life stories.


It was also I who cut stories short of their intrinsic value – not through dialogue, but through my own in situ or retrospective thoughts about their stories. In other words, perceiving and interpreting only partially what was on offer, not the entirety of what their story really meant to them. My writing further mirrored to me another significant insight. When my mind was immersed in daily hassles – mostly of my own choosing – I lacked a degree of responsiveness. The Covid-19 lock down reduced the long commutes, the fast-paced rhythms of life. 

Many of these encounters showed people’s concerns about the blurring of home and work boundaries. Others were forced to manage interesting challenges, one example - homeschooling three boys under ten as a single parent while managing expectations in a new job. As one person put it: ‘This is my eternal hell.’ Pleasantly, positive outcomes of lock down also emerged. On the good side of the great Corona divide, some lucky individuals seized the opportunity to start new projects or embark upon creative pursuits. Others utilised lock down to further enrich relationships with family members, dream up new careers or read unexplored, diverse genres. Overall, most seemed to enjoy the slower pace. The facts of life prior to, and during, Covid-19 appeared to offer some renewed perspectives on what it meant to lead a meaningful life and all the excitement that comes with the journey of conjuring up new adventures. 

However, pleasant stories of the utopian kind did not reflect the experiences of all those whom I encountered. Let me introduce Mark*: a homeless, middle-aged white man living in the nooks and crannies of North Sydney’s business district. Somehow, Mark’s life story made its way to me. We began to talk.

Here is Mark’s story:

I initially walked passed Mark. Yet, moments later, I felt that I had a duty to be responsive to him – a responsibility to return and provide help in whatever form the circumstances would allow. This time, monetary help was not enough.

Mark did not look up to see that someone was approaching, seeming somewhat comforted by his empty wine bottles, holding one, it appeared he had just consumed, in his right hand. ‘Have you had anything to eat today?’ ‘I haven’t eaten since midday.’ ‘Would you like me to buy you something to eat?’ ‘Yes, just a little sandwich if that is ok?’ A modest request for a man who apparently possessed very little. ‘Sure, wait here, and I’ll bring you something. I’ll be back in 10 minutes.’ How was it that Mark was living on the streets of the lower North Shore, an affluent socio-economic area of Sydney? What circumstances led to Mark’s state of homelessness? Did he have a family? Did he once have a job? In essence, why did this happen to Mark? And was it by choice?

It was cold, and Mark didn’t appear to be warm enough to get through the night. What warmth or comfort could a concrete slab provide, particularly on the Pacific Highway? Arriving with two bags of various foods: an assortment of breads, fruits, vegetables, two large bottles of water, snack bars, chocolate and the sandwich he requested, Mark seemed to be in his own world. He was whispering something to himself. Given Mark's facial expressions, it appeared this was an important and rather complex intra-personal conversation. An external other should think twice before interrupting. Mark looked up and took hold of the grocery bags. He temporarily paused, with a contemplative stare, seemingly processing something important, perhaps a distant memory? Moments later, Mark then began to scan the contents within each bag.

It seemed that Mark may have been suspicious at the outset, but he allowed our dialogue to continue: ‘I’ve been ou' here, on the stree', for over a year.’ ‘I have a frien' in the buildin', he lets me stay around here, so yeah, I stay around here.’ ‘If I am not around here, I am up there,’ Mark was pointing toward Walker Street, a busy street perpendicular to the Pacific Highway. Mark arranged then rearranged the items in the grocery bags, but would not go as far as to select an item to eat. Perhaps Mark couldn’t choose? Would Mark’s palate reject the taste of healthy fruits and veggies? Would they be a shock to his digestive system – accustomed mostly to his routine consumption of booze and smokes? Would Mark choose the carrot sticks over the chocolate? What did Mark’s body crave? His choice, in any case! 

Mark actually lost his job before the pandemic hit. I had previously learned, by reading over my notes, that it would be at precisely this point that my over-generalised thoughts might form. Suspending thoughts and persisting with the conversation, it was only retrospectively that I considered that maybe Mark didn’t want to share such personal insights with a complete stranger? Perhaps Mark wanted to be left alone? Did Mark feel uncomfortable because of the disparities of privilege? I had learned, through my work, research and through personal experience, that disparities of this sort can make those less privileged divulge personal information without wanting to. And, who was I to provide an empathetic ear, when I personally have not battled homelessness? In essence, I was critical of the degree to which Mark considered our dialogue worthwhile. Yet, here I was, asking, and here Mark was, answering.

‘Yeah, before I lived ou' here, I worked as a security officer.’ ‘There's a legal matter, it’s goin' on.’ ‘Yeah, a legal matter, it’s still on, goin' on, it wasn’t my fault though.’ A legal dispute drove Mark to live on the streets – he couldn’t afford the legal fees. Mark didn’t want to elaborate on the legalities of the matter. After some time, my sensibilities suggested that Mark appreciated the opportunity to talk. Sitting next to him, listening to his story, his endless challenges, his misfortunes. Mark looked apathetic and somewhat defeated. There was much more to Mark and his circumstances, however, to the best of my knowledge and to the extent that I understood him, Mark ended up a homeless man through no fault of his own. Who was I to say otherwise?

Staring blankly at his feet, Mark struggled to look up. As Mark listened to his very own story, it appeared his heart and mind were experiencing a disordered mixture of feelings - powerlessness, apathy and shame.


Mark’s fingertips were black, his round bloated belly uncovered, his pants ripped and his shoes frayed. ‘Life is hard on the stree', people harass me. Treat me badly, but I try and give it back, I try to defen' myself. I don’t deserve to live like this.’ 

Eventually, it was time for me to leave. Mark finally looked at me, his head raised a little, enough for his dull blue eyes to meet mine as we said goodbye. ‘Thank you, what you did for me is very kind.’ 

Mark’s story totally consumed my thoughts. Feeling compelled to make some sense of Mark, the meaning he attributed to his life, I realised I simply could not make an interim interpretation: the data, the facts, were too thin. However, I did realise that I had had to suppress my own interests for a while, to be able to answer Mark’s unspoken call for help. 

A couple of days later, observing from a distance, it appeared Mark was wearing a clean shirt and what looked like new pants and sneakers. Was this Mark? Metres away, however, spotting the familiar shopping trolley that carried his life’s belongings, it was in fact Mark, with what appeared to be a slightly renegotiated sense of pride.

Mark was slowly devouring the sweet flavoured popcorn he had found in one of the two grocery bags he received a couple of days earlier. He seemed to be savouring the taste. 'How are you Mark?'. ‘I’m doin' ok, I know I shouldn’t be livin' like this, I am goin' to see what I can do abou' it.’ Whether Mark aimed to impress me or to validate my efforts in trying to help, one will never know. However, Mark looked a little different. There was a noticeable change in Mark's demeanour. He even half smiled. I haven’t seen Mark since; could our conversation have had an impact? I couldn’t assume so, but I had hoped so. 

I consulted my notes again and contemplated that it was by recording the little details of my everyday interpersonal experiences and the underlying vulnerabilities – mine and theirs – held within each encounter that the advice I was given several months earlier had taken on a new meaning: ‘time’ is the ‘gift.’ 

And so the facts of life come back, full circle, to the concepts of ‘time’ and ‘gift.’ For the lucky ones, it seems, time is the gift – for imagining, planning, making inroads and fulfilling life goals, alone or with others. For people like Mark, to the extent that I understand life as a homeless person gained through my interactions with them, ‘time’ can result in dreadful experiences and be anxiety provoking in all its forms: ruminating thoughts - melancholic, manic or otherwise, sourcing food or shelter, staying safe, or taking any opportunity to preserve self-dignity.


What more can we do, individually, or together, around issues of homelessness - for those who find themselves on the unlucky side of the great Corona divide?

What does ‘time’ and ‘gift’ mean for you?


*Pseudonym


About the author

Theaanna Kiaos is an Organisational Anthropologist. Theaanna's research method of specialisation is ethnography. Her academic research spans several interconnected topics: the underlying systems of cultural and sub-cultural meaning, managerial ideology and normative control with a particularly strong focus concerning how these interconnected phenomena impact marginal cohorts in the workplace. Her research has been featured on SBS World News and she has also been interviewed as a subject matter expert by Women's Agenda and Shortlist.


Contact: Theaanna.Kiaos@diversityfirst.com.au


Full interview: Re-posted from Institute of Managers and Leaders

Leadership Matters Magazine | December 2019 Edition.

What is the prevalence of unconscious bias in recruitment and promotion decisions?


Both conscious and unconscious biases are prevalent in standard corporate activities, including recruitment and promotion. Unconscious biases are cognitively embedded, revealing themselves in everyday interpersonal interactions, most noticeably by an external other versus oneself and, let us not forget about conscious biases as well.


Recruitment and promotion activities in the workplace are obviously areas these heuristics play out frequently. This is quite obvious when we observe and interpret why particular layers of corporate hierarchies may have similar demographics traditionally associated with those layers. For instance, consider upper echelons versus lower rungs. It is obvious to most of us by now that we have major demographic imbalances in the upper layers of corporate hierarchies. We know that certain cohorts are hired and promoted for a multitude of reasons, notwithstanding culture fit.


Hiring on the basis of culture fit is one instance in the recruitment process where biases go easily unchallenged. The circle then closes in on itself. The same demographically-suited person is hired, the opportunity for bias transcendence is lost and the process continuously repeats itself. Conscious and unconscious bias is why gender imbalances in corporate hierarchies are prevalent, not to mention the many other problematic issues associated with workplace diversity disparities across industry sectors.


Firm size: does it play a role?

The size of the firm is of course relevant, however in comparison with the prevalence of highly problematic biases across industry sectors, the latter prevails. Also, in my experience as an organisational anthropologist, smaller firms appear to do less proactive work in this area in large part due to funding and resourcing issues. However, this is not always the case. Larger firms have the additional issue of synchronising training rollout. Typically, the upper echelons undergo training first. Then training is rolled out to middle management and then frontline staff.


Continuous improvement pressures surround the average organisational member, including, but not limited to: profitability, general productivity, cost reduction demands and the recent buzzwords to enter the corporate vernacular - generating creativity and innovation. Cognition is spread across all these workplace responsibilities causing competing demands upon employees.


Unconscious bias transcendence, in many respects, has to compete with those demands because KPIs are closely associated with role expectations. Those demands, of course, consequently challenge one’s mental space for transformative introspection. In my view, additional thinking time is needed. We only have so much attention to spare at any one time and KPIs, in the short term, seem to come first.


Industry sectors have their own problems and shouldn’t be addressed with the same approach. One can’t expect to have positive change in, for instance, the finance sector when the major biases associated with that sector are poorly recognised or understood. It is pointless to use the same training in every industry sector. Therefore, there is a need to correctly observe what the organisation in that particular industry sector needs and tailor training and programs at a much finer-grained level.


One way to address unconscious biases is to first ‘read’ collective behavioural manifestations and the problems associated with the thinking behind those collective behaviours. Therefore, the collective mindset of the organisation is relevant, particularly the collection of mindsets at the top. Who is running the organisation? What are the leaders up to? Do leaders intrinsically understand the need to fix some of the bigger social and cultural issues associated with heuristics experienced in the workplace? Are they trying to cover up biases and their outcomes or adequately address them? If they are addressing them, how so? Do those approaches seem plausible? Are those approaches working? What is the motivation behind addressing those issues? Is unconscious bias training exclusively the answer when we know it doesn’t work in isolation because of the many reasons I have mentioned above.

Does using a panel mitigate against unconscious bias?

Most organisations these days tend to have at least two interviewers, if not more. Of course, it depends on who you have on the panel. If you have individuals on the panel who are demographically similar, you are going to have pertinent blind spots preventing a clearer idea of the candidate’s identity, an interpretative process that is going on in the panel’s mind at the time of hiring.


Demographically similar panels typically result in hiring outcomes that succumb to demographically similar candidates often based on superficial qualities that seem to be centred on a risk reduction approach to hiring rather than putting the additional cognitive workload in to understanding those candidates who are obviously different, that is, where the observable disparities are evident. ‘Different’ here is an important word to interpret and think about. Underneath external facades, we are all fundamentally the same. An atypical candidate, thus, offers less comfort and more risk to the panel’s decision-making processes because similarities are more obscure. In such instances, it’s necessary to look beyond people’s superficial dimensions. Much can be understood when one is truly open to the curiosity of understanding those who are unlike themselves. Common ground can be found where one least expects it. The recruitment process is a perfect place to practice this mentality and interpersonal approach to life more broadly.

Which affinity bias is most commonly problematic?


There are several common biases. However, two biases that I feel are worthy of mention are: the false consensus effect and the self-serving bias. Both are truly detrimental in routine organisational life. In the workplace, organisational members may overestimate how much others they work with agree with their own way of thinking, their beliefs, their behaviours and attitudes and their overarching values.


Colleagues in the workplace often allow those with power and privilege to think that their ideas are better than they actually are in reality, allowing those with power and privilege to save face as a means to reduce the negative consequences resulting from authentically voicing an accurate opinion. However, underneath, perhaps a different truth lays dormant. The key for all organisational members, in my opinion, is to get to the truth of collegial opinions. Otherwise, we are just kidding ourselves.


Giving voice to those individuals who are keenly observant but who would normally choose to avoid offering an opinion is a worthy exercise. Also, look at what is being omitted from interpersonal interactions, both verbally and behaviourally. The key to understanding others is often present in the silences and omissions within interpersonal interactions.


The self-serving bias is problematic for different reasons. Consequently, this may lead to the overvaluation of one’s own opinions, a comforting of the ego per se. In this respect, individuals may give themselves undeserving credit for organisational success. When the antithesis occurs, perhaps through individual and organisational failures, for that individual, it may feel plausible to lay the blame on others or even outside causes. The ego aims to protect itself. It is a commonly experienced heuristic and a highly problematic one.


Are there mechanical processes that mitigate against unconscious bias?


One way to mitigate biases is to become as familiar with yourself as possible. Increasing one’s conscious awareness is a life-long process. It is part of a larger set of consciousness-shaping life experiences with internal and external agents.


Socialisation and self-development are some ways of looking at the evolution of conscious awareness, yet there are probably many more. Consciousness, then, is not a stable construct but an ongoing fleeting and perhaps fragmentary aspect of individual life. Consider that if you know yourself well, you are in a better situation to read others, particularly when retrospectively recognising your unconscious behaviours towards them through introspection. As mentioned, this is experienced most often as a delayed reflective experience—a retrospective and insight-delayed process. Intrinsic self-understanding and self-knowledge enable a clearer, less ambiguous and therefore more accurate interpretation of others. This is a good defence, or perhaps, the only defence for transcending unconscious bias.


What good are mechanical processes for intrinsic transformation at both the individual and collective organisational level? I would much rather those responsible for hiring think through the interviewing process in more evolved, humanistic ways than rely on applications that are seemingly doing the work for them. Consider the hiring process as an opportunity to evolve one’s thinking by becoming more aware of others and then rectifying one’s erroneous thinking patterns. This works in conjunction with the primary responsibility, which is, in this case, to hire someone for a role.


Those who keep their attention focused on themselves and others at the same time consciously experience a great deal of what is going on around them, their thinking, how others are thinking and the overarching behavioural patterns associated with those collective thinking patterns. At this point, mechanical processes, in my humble opinion, are simply unable to handle such complex matters.


Unconscious bias training is often not effective. Here are some reasons why!


It is difficult for people to cognitively process conceptual understandings of biases and relate them back experientially in their own lives. We are asking people to understand and interpret their behavioural implications, which are a product of their unconscious mind, that is, behavioural manifestations that sit outside one’s awareness threshold. For those who are emotionally and cognitively more aware of such things, there may be small payoffs for this type of training because the introspective process occurs more readily for those types of individuals, but for those who lack higher levels of intelligence, particularly emotional intelligence, this is like asking them to introspect aspects of their own behaviour which they cognitively cannot process. In other words, it might be too difficult to go there.


Introspection may challenge one’s identity and their conceptions of self and ultimately confront how one operates in the world that surrounds them. From this perspective, if insight is generated, discomfort can be felt. People generally move away from discomfort and therefore find it hard to address their own biases because of it.


I have written an article on this particular question. Here is an excerpt:


Of all the companies I know who have taken part in unconscious bias training, not one of them is able to tell us, with absolute confidence, that it has resulted in sustainable behavioural change. In fact, I asked a question at a Diversity and Inclusion conference last year to a senior manager who was in charge of Diversity and Inclusion in a large government organisation, as she put it, ‘we don’t even know how to measure it, if it is doing anything at all.’


Most people, and rightly so, see unconscious bias training as a 'tick the box' exercise because organisations have no other concepts or ideas on how to tackle it. When I have asked leaders about becoming more insightful through the application of the key learnings taken from unconscious bias training, often there is an uncomfortable silence that follows. Not many are able to experientially communicate to me how, under what circumstances, when and where they have become ‘more conscious’ in their working lives and how the perceived reduction of collective heuristics through training has benefited the overarching organisational culture. Also, the perception that an organisation is doing something in this space seems to be important from a public image perspective which is not the right motivation for anything, be it training or otherwise.


Unconscious bias training or programs can be counter-productive if they make people feel defensive and offended. How can this be avoided?


Unconscious bias training isn’t counter-productive if it causes a reaction triggered by cognitive defences. If someone has reacted due to some or all of the content, that is exactly where one should start introspection. Dive deep into the trigger points. That reaction is a gateway towards deeper self-analysis and understanding. A reaction suggests that there is something hidden in that person’s psyche that requires transcendence. However, bias conceptualisations mostly need an application for transcendence, in other words, applying what you are learning conceptually in real-time.


What is needed for training and a follow-up program to be successful?


Ongoing mindfulness training is valuable and a worthy consideration. Mindfulness training can be carried out before, in conjunction with, and post bias training. If an organisation can afford to do both, then do both. The mindfulness state allows one to observe their thoughts and behaviour more readily, hence it is a worthwhile combination to consider. Again, any training, particularly unconscious bias training, should be tailored for the industry sector, organisational culture, levels of corporate hierarchies, specific roles and other idiosyncrasies pertinent to the specific organisation. The one size fits all approach is not effective.

At the personal and cultural level, what are effective tools to overcome unconscious bias?


The personal level is simpler to conceptualise, but hard to overcome because it requires the individual to bring to conscious awareness difficult realities about themselves. The main thing to avoid is judging oneself negatively when an insight becomes conscious. Rather, accept the cognitive bias as is and carefully look where it plays out in everyday life, then, correct it by stopping the thought pattern that leads to that repetitive thought process or behaviour. Write it down, become objectively familiar with it - then stop it.


As mentioned, you can teach people conceptualisations of biases, however, it isn’t until people connect with insight and personal feelings associated with such biases in their own lives that transcendence of those biases may occur, resulting in reduced myopic perspectives of the world, the people in it and perhaps, more importantly, conceptions of self. Mindfulness meditation, journal writing or any other introspective practice is a good idea. Moreover, documenting decisions one makes coupled with retrospective analysis concerning the outcomes of those decisions are some ideas to address biases at the individual level.


From a culture perspective, heuristic transcendence is a much more challenging issue to address. There are more variables associated with bias problems at the collective level—more people are involved in the process with different levels of insight, motivation and intellect, at different stages of their lives and careers more generally.


Cultural dynamics are complex in and of themselves. There are not only layers of culture, which should be, at the very least, loosely identified and understood, but also divergent cultural perspectives that should be taken into account. For instance, how does the leadership team view and create culture? Leadership biases will undoubtedly play out in how the leadership team aim to control or engineer culture. However, there are other cultural perspectives as well. Different departments or sub-groups, for instance, also shape culture through their biases.


Simply put, heuristics play out within all layers and levels of culture creation and moment-to-moment re-creation. It’s important to pay attention to the micro details of organisational life and interpret details of finer interpersonal exchange, those fundamental microstructures of interpersonal relations in order to better observe our biases.

About the author

Theaanna Kiaos is an Organisational Anthropologist. Theaanna's research method of specialisation is ethnography. Her academic research spans several interconnected topics: the underlying systems of cultural and sub-cultural meaning, managerial ideology and normative control with a particularly strong focus concerning how these interconnected phenomena impact marginal cohorts in the workplace. Her research has been featured on SBS World News and she has also been interviewed as a subject matter expert by Women's Agenda and Shortlist.


Contact: Theaanna.Kiaos@diversityfirst.com.au


An award to be won every other day


The many accolades tempting practitioners within the diversity and inclusion space to build their perceived professional legitimacy in the corporations by which they are employed could be seen as excessive; are they driving practitioners down thought-deprived, short-term, incorrect pathways in terms of focus, activity and output? In reality, such pathways disconnect and disengage the marginalised further while potentially placing the authority of the profession at risk. In these processes, the actual impact of diversity and inclusion work - work that is thoughtfully crafted for real impact upon marginal organisational members on the ground - is not appropriately measured. This includes life-changing outcomes for organisational members at different layers of the corporate hierarchy, sub-groups, functions and departments. Unfortunately, the complexities and ambiguities of marginal organisational members and their daily working life experience are not observed accurately or closely enough to warrant the excessive praise given to diversity and inclusion practitioners. The cultural ambiguities and complexities of those who are marginal in workplaces cannot be unearthed so easily: yet, in most cases, awards are bestowed without due consideration for the authentic opinions of those whom the profession is supposedly representing – marginal workers.

Short-term self-serving drivers versus long-term professional suicide

It does not take long, scrolling through social media channels like LinkedIn to find a practitioner in this field who has won either a local or international diversity and inclusion award - usually based on superficial (and rather basic) work practices, such as writing policies and developing simple frameworks. The industry could be perceived as polluting itself with over-simplistic metrics and misleading outcomes. To the trained eye, this indicates that failure may often be dressed up as success in the corporations for which diversity and inclusion practitioners work.

Diversity and inclusion cultural incongruence: what the organisation claim itself to be versus what it really is

As an organisational anthropologist, I have researched and also consulted in this field. I have no hesitation, though considerable regret, in stating, that a significant number of organisations are at odds with their own espoused diversity and inclusion values and policies. Some would argue that the profession is still in its infancy: in my view, that makes it critical now to course-correct the profession in order to make worthwhile progress in cementing its professionalism.


When organisational members at middle and lower levels of the corporate hierarchy are presented with diversity and inclusion policies and procedures, they seek to observe the everyday diversity and inclusive values of the organisation enacted by those who are morally and ethically charged with the responsibility of developing those policies. When such values and behaviours are not reflected in the daily realities of organisational life, there is a failure to execute what the corporation is claiming itself to be. This causes significant disengagement and, more problematically, disconnects the employee from trust in the values claimed by the corporation. When organisations can espouse a culturally diverse and inclusive workplace, primarily aiming to generate publicity through diversity and inclusion awards, yet, concurrently display incongruent realities on the ground, such disconnection foreshadows serious problems for the profession.


When the marginalised see themselves reflected in the demographic profiles of the upper echelons; when they are comfortable in providing unreserved commentary; when they are heard and understood in their workplace; when the espoused diversity and inclusive culture that is written in the policies, standards and procedures and values of the corporation are congruent and consistently observed in the daily realities of organisational life, only then can organisations proclaim that they are progressing from a diversity and inclusion perspective. Any award received before such time is probably a PR exercise in a profession aiming to build its legitimacy while delivering little but cupcake parties or other pointless celebratory gatherings that achieve very little of substance for those marginalised in workplaces. PR activities designed to boost the profile of award-winning practitioners and the companies they represent generally do little to produce ground level impact and they should be recognised as cosmetic. Perhaps it is time to look behind the façade of unnecessary accolades and examine more thoroughly what is actually changing, or not, in the daily realities of those marginalised within corporations.

Redefining Diversity and Inclusion impact

Drafting up and rolling out diversity and inclusion policies are very basic steps in diversity and inclusion work and it does not warrant awards or official recognition. It is the most rudimentary part of a practitioner’s job, preceding the really important responsibilities required of diversity and inclusion managers – albeit responsibilities that are rarely accomplished. That is, work that shifts the collective cognitive processes of organisational members, including those of upper echelons, to consistently demonstrate an organisation’s espoused diversity and inclusive culture, unfailingly enacted, carefully observed through behavioural interpretations indicating that the organisation’s culture is reflecting what it is preaching.


Another difficult, yet vital, component of diversity and inclusion work for which the practitioner is responsible is shifting the power dynamics within organisations to reflect greater equality. This is achieved by moving the rigid psychological and physical boundaries of organisational privilege. In my professional opinion, few have managed to execute thoughtful strategies to achieve this successfully and this is why the dial has moved very little on gender pay gaps, board compositions and cohort heterogeneity within the upper echelons of ASX organisations.


To summarise, diversity and inclusion awards should be based on the impact that diversity and inclusion work has on the marginal worker and their membership role within the organisations wherein they work. This should be measured through the observable, direct and indirect daily actualities of organisational life. From this perspective, the ethnographic approach to organisational research is the most appropriate method of analysis.


About the author

Theaanna Kiaos is an Organisational Anthropologist. Theaanna's research method of specialisation is ethnography. Her academic research spans several interconnected topics: the underlying systems of cultural and sub-cultural meaning, managerial ideology and normative control with a particularly strong focus concerning how these interconnected phenomena impact marginal cohorts in the workplace. Her research has been featured on SBS World News and she has also been interviewed as a subject matter expert by Women's Agenda and Shortlist.


Contact: Theaanna.Kiaos@diversityfirst.com.au

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