Open cultures and genuine diversity are a shortcut to disruption and innovation

Rachel Tucker
By Rachel Tucker | 2 June 2021
Rachel Tucker

Rachel Tucker is a strategist at TBWA\Sydney.

Last month, I shared my (somewhat taboo) passion with my employer.

Sexology: The science and psychology of sexual life, pleasure and relationships.

As a strategist, I find the statistics, data and human insights fascinating. They empower me with a perspective on cultural challenges to do with sexuality and gender. Challenges such as the pleasure gap, the incompetence of sex education and the effects of stigma and stereotypes on sexual empowerment.

Challenges that present clear problems. Problems that I want to solve.

Of course, as a young woman starting off in the industry, I kept this passion to myself as I feared potential judgement of my colleagues. My friends encouraged me to keep it to myself because “no one will take you seriously in a professional context". 

My work, including the senior leaders, were so supportive. Impressed even. Being open and sharing something I was passionate about did nothing but open doors for me. In fact, I was offered time, budget and creative resource to explore these problems. Since then, I have been invited to write erotica as a part of a client’s campaign, led proactive ideas surrounding sexual empowerment and my work invited a sexologist, Georgia Grace, to come in and speak to the entire office.

I asked myself something. Why was I so surprised that my employer had been such advocates of my thinking and openness, although perhaps taboo in most professional contexts?

For many companies, claiming the practice of "diversity" is bullshit. Nothing but a buzzword inspired fabrication. Something to include in their ‘brand values’ and plaster all over the insular walls.

As a society, we fail to identify that diversity is multi-layered. It requires consideration of more than just inherent qualities - such gender, background, age, sexual orientation, race or ability - but rather acquired traits.

Acquired diversity refers to inviting differing experiences, thoughts, passions, ideas, cognitive processes and perspectives - and creating open spaces to fuel and support these. Acquired diversity is often not just overlooked as a diversity measure but may be used as a way to socially discriminate against candidates in a hiring process. In fact, Australia’s social inclusion rating is only 62 out of 100 (Inclusive Australia, 2019).

Genuine diversity, both inherent and acquired, and an open work culture is proven to drive more positive business results. A study found that businesses welcoming diverse thought generate up to 19% higher revenue due to innovation (Boston Consulting Group, 2018). Heterogeneous teams are proven to solve problems faster and more creatively (Diversity, Creativity, and Cognitive Conflict, 2015) and identify new market opportunities more effectively. In terms of work culture, acquired and social diversity is a leading talent attraction and retention driver for two thirds of staff (Glassdoor). For these reasons, I challenge recruiters and decision makers to consider what genuine diversity looks, sounds and feels like for their business and hiring strategy.

I often find myself thinking about how lucky I am to hold my first role in the Australian creative industry. At its best, it’s an industry that champions acquired diversity; an industry that supports and sells diverse thinking; an industry that is inherently curious and accepting; an industry that I hope does and will continue to support taboo passions and create open cultures for exploration; an industry that will continue to see creativity, disruption and innovation as a result.

I challenge employers to be explicit in welcoming and supporting diverse thinking. This can be done through writing acceptance of cognitive diversity, side hustles and passion projects into contracts and employment policies or redesigning the interview process to encourage more openness.

Creating safe spaces starts at the top. I implore senior leaders to be vulnerable, open and speak up about their passions outside of work to encourage staff to do the same.

Embrace discomfort. Having an uncomfortable conversation at work probably means there’s an underlying tension or problem that needs to be solved. Leaders, ask yourself what exactly is making you feel uncomfortable and what opportunities exist off the back of this uncomfortable feeling.

For staff, sharing is difficult. It’s in our human nature to assume the worst outcome when we feel vulnerable. But by bringing more of yourself to work, there is a higher chance of doors opening for you.

Language matters. How can we expect to foster open cultures if some employees show judgement through their language? When peers speak about their own passions, side hustles or thoughts, be empathic and use welcoming language: “Although I’m not interested in that, I respect people who are, and I’d definitely be open to hearing more.”

When being open, consider who, what, why and when you share information with. What do you want the outcome to be? How can you use your disruptive thinking to be involved in more projects? Who can help you achieve what you want to?

Yes, diversity is complex. And we can always do better. But small actions, conscious language, creating safe spaces and fostering open cultures goes a long way at work.

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