The Business Of...Inclusive Leadership

About the Episode

To successfully lead an organisation or business, it's important to have access to a wide range of perspectives. As this podcast continues to explore how leaders can see the world differently, we turn our attention to the subject of inclusive leadership.

In this episode, we explore diversity in leadership from the perspective of people creating new business models that reflect evolving market demand and the opportunity to contribute to a more progressive society. For organisations, diversity initiatives not only have important social benefits, but pursuing inclusive business practices is key for innovation.

Host Emma Lo Russo is joined by Professor Nick Wailes, Director AGSM and Deputy Dean at the UNSW Business School. Nick shares his perspective on how leaders can adopt a more inclusive mindset and unlock new perspectives and a richness of ideas within their organisations.

We also hear from Belinda Sheehan, Senior Managing Consultant and Manager of the Neurodiversity program at IBM, who shares her insights into the organisational and societal impact of programs designed to tap into the unique benefits of neurodiversity.

Emma is also joined by Quentin Masson, CEO at Wandering Warriors, an organisation providing support to returning special forces personnel. Quentin speaks to the value veterans can bring to corporate life.

Speakers:

  • Nick Wailes, Director AGSM and Deputy Dean at the UNSW Business School.
  • Belinda Sheehan, Senior Managing Consultant and Manager of the Neurodiversity program at IBM
  • Quentin Masson, CEO at Wandering Warriors

Emma Lo Russo:
Welcome to The Business Of…

I’m your host Emma Lo Russo, and this leadership podcast is brought to you by the Australian Graduate School of Management at UNSW Business School.

As we continue to explore how leaders can see the world differently we turn our attention to the subject of inclusive leadership, and explore diversity in leadership from the perspective of people who are creating new business models that reflect evolving market demand and the opportunity to contribute to a more progressive society.

To successfully lead an organisation or business, it's important to have access to a wide range of perspectives. Diversity initiatives not only have important social benefits, but pursuing inclusive business practices is key for innovation.

For this episode, I’m joined by Professor Nick Wailes, Director AGSM and Deputy Dean at the UNSW Business School. Nick shares his perspective on how leaders can adopt a more inclusive mindset. We’ll also hear from Belinda Sheehan, Senior Managing Consultant and Manager of the Neurodiversity program at IBM. Also in this episode, I speak to Quentin Masson, CEO at Wandering Warriors, an organisation providing support to returning special forces personnel.

Emma Lo Russo:
Welcome, Nick, today to The Business Of.

Nick Wailes:
Thanks for having me.

Emma Lo Russo:
I'm really curious, I'm sure there's so much for you to share, including not just for leaders, but also reinvention of education with this lens. But let's start with the AGSMs purpose, which is to equip a new generation of leaders to make an impact in the accelerating world. What do we mean when we say new generation?

Nick Wailes:
So Emma, I think you know, and most of your listeners know that there's hardly an industry or a sector where we're not going to have to do things differently in the future. What made us successful in the past is not going to be enough to make us successful in the future, our world's changing too rapidly. And a new generation of leaders are going to have to lead this change. They're going to have to innovate, they're going to have to think of new ways of doing things, but they're also going to have to take people with them.

They have to take their societies with them, and they're going to have to unlock all of the resources available to them in an organisation. I think today we're going to talk about diversity, and I think that's one of the great resources that organisations have. And their ability to unlock that will set them up to be successful in the future.

Emma Lo Russo:
So really when we say new generation, it's not so much age or a period of time we go through, it's a mindset, including how you think about diversity?

Nick Wailes:
Yeah. It's definitely a mindset, but it's also the time we're in now. So if you came into a managing role in the 1950s, you could be reasonably certain that the next 10 or 20 years were going to be similar, and there was going to be consistency. But I think the environment we're in now means that that's not true. And it's our adaptability and our resourcefulness and our ability to lead people through change that's going to make a real difference.

Emma Lo Russo:
So where does diversity play in our ability to lead and manage this change, and where are we missing voices in that platform?

Nick Wailes:
So I think despite efforts in the past, too many management and leadership teams are male, pale and stale, and they're really missing out. Organisations are really missing out when they don't take advantage of all the resources and all the capabilities they could have. I don't know if you remember back to your MBA studies, but the best classes were the ones where you had students from lots of different backgrounds, with lots of different perspectives.

And you got a richness of ideas, different ways of looking at a problem, and an incredible cross-fertilisation. And I don't know about you, but I think any organisation that can unlock that capability, have more than one answer to a question, new ideas and different perspectives, they're going to do a lot better. So I think diversity is critical. In many ways, I think it's going to be organisations’ superpower. But the challenge is, how do you unlock it, and how do you make sure you get the most out of it?

Emma Lo Russo:
Which is my next question. How do organisations unlock that capability?

Nick Wailes:
I think they have to do a couple of things. So firstly, it matters who's in the room, or who's in the organisation. So you need to make sure that you actually recruit broadly, you bring in different perspectives. There's been some emphasis on gender equality and there has been some improvement there, but many organisations haven't really done a great job on culturally or linguistically diverse people from those different backgrounds.

So you need to actually consciously bring diverse people into the organisation and give them leadership roles. But we all know that just bringing different people together is not enough. You've got to work quite hard at unlocking that connection between them, and getting those people to feel comfortable and included in working together. So I think for organisations, it's not just a matter of changing who your workers are or who your leaders are, it's also having strategies and practises in place that allow you to get those groups connected, feel comfortable with each other and working together effectively.

Emma Lo Russo:
So given we do have this new generation of leaders and take this on board, from getting that diverse thought and space to have those voices, what do you see are those practises?

Nick Wailes:
So firstly, I think leaders need to know themselves. So they need to understand their own biases, and there's a lot of work being done on unconscious bias. But it's really important for leaders to understand that they have taken for granted or things that they don't really realise that they do, that might exclude others. So that's a really important point.

Second is create opportunities. So lots of organisations, their progression and their promotion paths, really reward a certain type of person or create certain types of outcomes. And diversifying that and ensuring that there are lots of opportunities for people from different backgrounds to get into leadership and important roles is important. And the third one I think is creating connection. It's actually thinking to yourself consciously as a leader, just because I have a diverse group here, doesn't mean that they're automatically going to get along, or they're automatically going to understand each other. So you actually need to programme that into your decision making.

Give people the opportunity to connect, to build connections with each other, to understand that that person from that different background has great things to offer at decision making, and really think about it as a development process in the organisation. If you put the right amount of time and effort into that development process, the business place is really clear. More diverse organisations are more successful. If you look at the global financial crisis, there's a clear line between organisational diversity and performance in that organisation. And in the world that we're going into and we're operating in, having the ability to be able to unlock new ideas and new perspectives is going to be critical to our success.

Emma Lo Russo:
I'm curious about the bias. I mean, I'm a big believer, I've tried to build diversity into Digivizer's culture here in my own work practise, and I think it's absolutely an advantage, particularly in going global and talking to different customer audiences, having that empathy, natural empathy. How do you build that confidence that the voices that are being brought, there's something to learn and that unconscious bias is being either recognised by each of them, and also removed by those that are listening?

Nick Wailes:
I think one of the most interesting experiments that I saw run was run by Deloitte, where they had their senior partners and they set up reverse mentoring with young technology savvy hires into their business. And they knew they needed to shift their senior partners' technology capabilities, and the way to do that was to partner them with young hires. But the real benefit they got out of that was not just the technology skills transfer, but was helping those partners understand this new generation of consumers, and the new generation of decision makers. That was an example of where you can use a specific programme or a specific way of doing things to build those connections or build those bridges.

So I think the challenge is, how do you think about ... how do you bring that older generation's perspective and show the value of it to your younger workforce? And that means, as a leader, you have to craft that situation. It's not going to happen automatically, and you've got to think about, are there instances where you could do it?

Emma Lo Russo:
I think particularly in challenging times like this, experience starts to have greater value to those that might not have seen it. The other aspect, which I'm curious to hear your views on is when you're going to a global audience. Where do you see diversity play in, giving you the advantage if you've bought that thinking in, or when does it not work?

Nick Wailes:
I think it's critical, and actually Australia has got an enormous asset. If you think about our population, we have people who've migrated from all over the world. And particularly thinking about where we are, Australians with an Asian background or recent migrants from Asia make-up a significant percentage of Australia's population. Why wouldn't you tap into that resources if you wanted to be successful in those markets? I think there's a really clear imperative around that. And I think once businesses understand that, they then need to think about, how do I take advantage of that?

So there's a large financial service's provider in Sydney that has support for it's Asia business here, because this is the only place you can find 26 different language groups. And the cost of labour is high here, but the quality of their assets and the quality of the capabilities they can bring in. And I think for any business thinking about operating globally, and operating in new markets, if you can go in your own backyard and find some insight and some expertise around that, why wouldn't you do that? So I think there's really clear, particularly for globalising businesses, diversity and the ability to be able to work across cultures is critical, we know that's critical to their success. You need to build that into your organisation in all parts of it, and all stages of it.

Emma Lo Russo:
When we look at technologies like AI and Machine Learning, where does digital transformation, diversity, being able to adapt and consider this come into play? What are you seeing and where do you think the caution and opportunities are?

Nick Wailes:
For most industries, technologies have critical paths that they've hit their way forward. So most industries are being eaten by software, and technology plays a part in them being successful in the future. But there's a real problem there, because the technology industry has a massive diversity problem. Even if you just look at the workforce dominated by young white men. So I think the statistics are that, even in Silicon Valley, in some organisations, less than 10% of the workforce are female. If you look at other markers of diversity, African-Americans are less than 4% of the workforce in some of those large tech firms.

That's going to have a big impact because it's the life experience of those people who are building the products, who are making decisions about what the software should run, and what the experience should be. It's only going to represent a very narrow slice. And that's a profound problem, if as a business you want to just serve a diverse customer base. But your core products and your core way of reaching that customer base is built by this very rarefied unusual group of people.

Even more problematic, I think, is the growth of AI. So increasingly, the technology that we will rely on will have AI built in. So this will be automated decision making where the computer makes a decision, rather than a human, about a whole range of important things. And AI is inherently biased. Most AI is based on a logarithm, and a logarithm is in effect a simplification of reality to make decision making easier. And in simplifying the reality, the biases are going to get built in.

One way that AI is problematic is that, the wider you train a bot, build a logarithm or get an AI to work as you give it old data, you feed it old data, and then it learns how to make decisions, and then you use that to then go and make decisions in the future. But lots of the old data that we're giving these machines has got a whole lot of biases built into it. So really, simply, you might feed in text or examples of customers, and the machine might learn that teachers are women and doctors are men, because that's the data that has been fed into it.

Nick Wailes:
And then it's going to make assumptions in the future where, if it comes across a case someone says they're a teacher, they'll ascribe a gender to it or they'll make decisions. And these systems, their influence is profound. So they will determine whether we get a job, whether we get a loan, whether we get an insurance policy, how are we going to be treated as a customer, all these types of things. And they have this inherent bias built into them. And we need to think very carefully about that, and what we can do about managing that.

Emma Lo Russo:
Have you seen any successful examples where the bias has been removed in those learning sets?

Nick Wailes:
There are some examples. I think the important thing is that organisations that are aware of this are actually ensuring that they have processes in place to take out bias. They'll run testing, they'll retrain and they'll run a whole series of critical incident reports, so that they're aware that bias is built in. Lots of these things are quite privately held, building a bot and those types of things, so it's hard to find examples of that. There are high profile examples where, Google for example, has had to pull facial recognition software because clearly it had bias built into it, and they realised.

But I think for all of us, we're going to have to think ... in business, when we're thinking about these incredibly powerful tools, we're going to have to think about, what are the strategies we're going to put in place to manage that bias and ensure that it doesn't derail our business or produce terrible outcomes. Part of that is going to be transparency. Actually being clear about, where we're using AI, how we're training it. And so that people can look at it and externally audit it, so that they can raise questions if there are problems.

Emma Lo Russo:
I'm curious in the role of education, which I feel like I can ask you, right? What does the future of education look like when you're needing to build in this ethical diversity, unbiased thinking, but also highly adaptable to this change? Needing that balanced reflection of thought, what are you thinking about and what has to happen?

Nick Wailes:
Two ways to think about that. So one is, what's the content of education, and what's in our curriculum? I think there are really positive development over the last 15 years. And something that I hope will continue to develop is a movement away from just technical knowledge, to getting people to think about the broader context in which they make decisions. It's not enough to be able to solve an equation or come up with a clever solution to something, it's also about thinking about how that solution will play out in a real world, where there is multiple stakeholders and lots of complexity and those types of things. So in our education, and I see this across a lot of management education, there's just a movement away from that narrow technical knowledge to a broader contextualised knowledge.

Nick Wailes:
And that then brings in important considerations about, what's the social impact of the types of things that I'm considering? What's the sustainability impact? How does that set the business up for the long-term? All of these types of questions need to be raised. And you know from being in business that you don't just get to make a financial decision. You make a business decision, which has got multiple layers, and you always have to be thinking about these things. So that shift, I think is really positive because it's equipping people to make better decisions in the real world and to be more effective leaders.

The second change which I think is incredibly positive is, how more diverse our classroom is, and the backgrounds of the people that are coming into our programmes. Long gone are the days where MBA classes are mainly people from banks and consulting and resource industries. We now have people from a really broad set of sectors, from startups, from not-for-profit, for purpose organisations, from fast-growing technology firms, from banks and all those other areas. And it's actually that diversity, the range of different experiences and the range of different perspectives that people have, that's incredibly valuable education experience.

We all know that you can learn a lot from your industry by looking at adjacent industries and what's going on there. And seeing how that might play out in your industry, whether it's disruption or those types of things. The education now, we're actually bringing all of those experiences together, so you get insight into lots of different perspectives. And I think it makes the classroom a great place to teach in, but it's a fantastic learning environment and a big improvement on what might've been there 20 years ago.

Emma Lo Russo:
What steps would you recommend to a leadership team or to an individual leader, to check their bias or ensure that the environmental culture they're building is diverse right from the outset?

Nick Wailes:
I think something that's critical to our programmes and I think it's important in all leadership is self-awareness. So really first and foremost, investing in an understanding about what you're good at, and your areas for development. And there's lots of different ways of doing that, but I think that all good leaders are people who are always working on themselves, in some way or other. They've got an area that they want to get better at or a strength that they want to build on. So I think that mindset is a critical foundation. I think a second thing is really actively seeking feedback in your organisation. Not sitting in your office and making decisions, but by engaging with people, getting feedback and really building that into how you think about your organisation.

And then third is, it's the behaviours you signal. So if you're really clear yourself that you ... certain decision you made, or something you did exhibited bias, is calling yourself out. If you do that as a leader in your organisation, then it gives other people permission to do that as well. So I think these are things that are inherent to good leadership. That self-reflection, feedback and behaving and walking the talk that you want. But I think now they're becoming even more critical.

Emma Lo Russo:
Nick, thank you so much for your time today. I feel like I've learned a lot. I feel there's probably questions to build into 360 degree feedback, to really get that feedback at all levels..

Nick Wailes:
Well, thank you, Emma. It's been a pleasure.

Emma Lo Russo:
Thank you.

Some fascinating insight there from Nick Wailes as well as some practical advice for how we as leaders can unlock new perspectives and a richness of ideas within our organisations.

Belinda Sheehan manages the neurodiversity program at IBM and shares her insights into the organisational and societal benefits of programs designed to tap into the unique benefits of neurodiversity. I hope you enjoy our conversation.

Belinda, welcome to the Business Of.

Belinda Sheehan:
Yeah. Thanks, Emma. It's fantastic to be here. It’s a topic I’m very passionate about so I’m very happy to share.

Emma Lo Russo:
I'm really curious to hear, how has diversity changed at IBM over the past 22 years that you've been there?

Belinda Sheehan:
So in my 22 years, I have been seeing huge amount of changes because IBM has a long history of diversity and inclusion. It's been going for over a hundred years. The small change that I've seen is now that we're also encompassing neurodiversity. And when I'm talking about neurodiversity, that's the concept where neurological differences are to be recognised and respected like any other human variation. And these differences we're talking about are autism, dyslexia, ADHD, and a few others. So that's the change in the journey for IBM. So we've got that long history and now we've just extended it into neurodiversity.

Emma Lo Russo:
Before I dig deeper into the programme and learnings and you've led this in particular. I'm curious, do you see this as something for technology and technology helping neurodiverse people play to their strengths or is this something universal?

Belinda Sheehan:
So in terms of roles for people who are neurodivergent, they would be encompassing many different roles, not just technology. As I've seen people who are neurodivergent being able to be successful in the arts and in music and even in the trades. So I think that we shouldn't just pigeonhole them just into technology. Definitely, we've had an advantage, but that's only one small part.

Emma Lo Russo:
Well, let's unlock that advantage. So tell me more about the programme that you've been running since 2016.

Belinda Sheehan:
So the neurodiversity programme in IBM is a global programme. I'm working with global leaders in other countries to expand our way of hiring neurodivergent people. In terms of the way we started here in Australia, because that's a particular importance to us, and that's the part that I'm running, is that we started in 2018 and we partnered with Specialisterne. Specialisterne are a third-party dedicated to help source, assist and ongoing support of autistic people into the workforce. And they've been doing this around the world for the last 15 years. So we partnered with them and last year we did our sourcing and assessment and we brought 10 people on into IBM. So our 10 new colleagues are in things like SAP developer, blockchain developer, cloud engineer, we've got testers and also automation specialists. So again, understanding their skills, understanding their interests and actually looking at what their knowledge is and aptitude and placing them in those roles accordingly. It's been a great journey.

Emma Lo Russo:
What are some of the outcomes that have happened since they've been placed?

Belinda Sheehan:
So we have seen some huge things that are happening in terms of some of the characteristics that neurodivergent people are known for is attention to detail, unique problem solving, thinking outside the box, dedication and huge focus. Now we're seeing all of those things. So we've got people in automation coming up with unique ideas to solve the problems that our clients are facing. I was hearing from the team leads that they just could not get enough work to this person because they were just powering through the work. They're just dedicated. And I only recently in this week, I was talking to one of the leads and he said he's got a couple of people in his team doing two different roles. And they're doing a great job. And that's because they've got this huge focus. So we are seeing the benefits are for the client.

Emma Lo Russo:
What did you have to teach or how did you bring this across your colleagues so that they could understand those benefits and to bring this programme alive?

Belinda Sheehan:
That's a good question. So when we engage with Specialisterne, besides during the sourcing and assessment and ongoing support, they also did some training. So our first cohort here for Australia, we dedicated some training for all of the 450 people there in Ballarat. And there was a couple of sessions where they talked about what it is to have a neurodiversion colleague. We've also in IBM developed a training course online that anybody can view and have a look at. And there was also a lot of time I spent in sort of coaching team leads, project managers and other team members about the differences in how to work with each individual. The other interesting thing that we also found, was as we were sharing the stories and talking about what we were doing, so many people came out and shared their story about their son or their daughter or their sibling or niece and nephew.

So it was a lot of sharing of those stories. And even as I was placing people in different roles, in different teams, people were continuing to share their story. And what that meant is we already had a lot of awareness and acceptance in our IBM family. That was about awareness and acceptance. In terms of making sure each individual felt safe and secure and in a positive environment, we also understood their unique sensory characteristics that we might've had to attend to. We made some adjustments. Each individual's different, so they all had to be different. Then some of the things we did was we purchased really good noise-cancelling headphones for people with a sensory of sound. We created quiet spaces where they could work and we balance it out with some work at home.

We also had some people that were a bit challenged in communication styles. Now that's one of the sort of a trait that is associated with autism, that social skill, having that social anxiety. And for this particular individual, he found it very difficult to communicate verbally. So we just coached his team and he would use the chat. So he would maybe have a WebEx or a Zoom like this, but he wouldn't be on the Zoom. And he would just chat in the chat and ask his questions there. But the great thing as we've seen over this last year, so it's just over a year anniversary when they started, he's able to talk on calls and talk to people. So he's come a long way in this one year. So they're sort of the things that we did in terms of helping people settle in after they started.

Emma Lo Russo:
What have you learned in that 12 months from say someone coming in and the recruitment and at awareness? Where do the benefits start to play out and how do you imagine it's going to change over time?

Belinda Sheehan:
Yeah. So in terms of some of the benefits we've seen is we've got this amazing talent. Now, bear in mind, we've got... There's 1 in 50 people out there is neurodivergent and the unemployment rates can be as high as 70%, depending on where you are, which is pretty high. So we've got this huge untapped talent pool. Now IBM's all about hiring based on aptitude and knowledge. So that's what we will need to think about. How do we hire people into those jobs we've got in terms of the business benefits. There's business benefits because those people are delivering for our clients and delivering great work.

And the other benefits we have is besides the client and the business was also seeing the team benefit because our managers who are managing these people are starting to think differently about how do I get the most out of each individual. And that's where it's important. We want to foster an environment where everyone's rights and that's not just our neurodivergent colleagues, that's everyone. So as we would manage and work towards it, that's how we will end up achieving that goal. And as we know, if everybody's thriving, you've got a high-performing team and high-performing teams mean great results for our clients.

Emma Lo Russo:
So if you were giving advice to an organisation around launching a similar programme, what advice would you give them? What's the right way to approach this? What are the must haves and the things that you would recommend?

Belinda Sheehan:
Yeah, there's quite a few, I think it's important to partner with someone like Specialisterne, so you're getting the right advice and some professional advice. Because there is some challenges. And I think that we need to have the awareness and the acceptance will come from awareness. We need to think differently how we interview. Now with IBM and looking at that now and looking to change the way we interview, so we don't exclude people who are neurodivergent. We need to think differently. So other organisations need to start looking at the way they hire, see if they can change the model they have, partner with someone like Specialisterne, so they can help with sourcing and assessment. And it's all about finding the right person who's got the right skills for your role. So I think that's important.

Emma Lo Russo:
And Belinda, if you take that further, what do we need to know about if they are the right person, that we've got that right match. And we're open to that for these organisations, how do we help make sure the candidate is also ready and integrating?

Belinda Sheehan:
So there's two parts. I think that's why it's good to partner with someone like Specialisterne because they've got a comprehensive programme about how do we source and assess. And some of these individuals, one of our new colleagues, he'd applied for over a hundred jobs and wasn't able to get any job. And he's only a young person. And he's been doing some wonderful things. So I think we need to do something different the way it's not just that standard one-hour interview, because some people, they've got maybe social anxieties or issues with social communication. So they're not able to be able to sell their skills and abilities. That's why a programme like with Specialisterne allows them to demonstrate them. So that's where the difference is.

I think then there's also your need to make sure there's some people who are aware and understanding, so they know how to make sure that we get the most out of each individual because at the start, there's a little bit of, like most people coming to a new job, there's a lot to understand. You've got to understand the politics. You've got to make sure they've got a buddy and a mentor. And we do that with our grads anyway. And I think that's what other organisations need to do. Maybe it's a little bit more and there's a little bit more touching base with them and to make sure they're okay because they're not always going to share because they're not always sure about things.

One example we had is one of our young men, he just feels that he's not doing good enough. And until they’ve sort of done enough of the work. And then they start to grow their own confidence. And we had that at the start with a couple of the others and they came at a little bit different times, but one person now is one of their key testers. Whereas the other young man is just so conscious, he just wants to do it a hundred percent right. So, but yeah, so I think at the very start, you just need a sort of gentle and supportive environment to make sure they succeed.

Emma Lo Russo:
So where do you see your programme going for the next 12 months or 24 months taking the learnings so far?

Belinda Sheehan:
So we've already got working with Specialisterne to expand our programme here in Australia and also in the U.S. The organisation is all on board for it. So that's what we want to do. We're seeing the proof is in seeing the success of the individuals that we've already got. And the other fantastic thing you have as you develop your programmes and we continue to do this and we want to just include it as the way we do things is your current cohort are there to help buddy and mentor the new cohort and they're already putting their hands up to do.

Emma Lo Russo:
That's fantastic. Yeah.

Belinda Sheehan:
That is. And that's really good. So we are onwards and upwards, it's going to continue. And it's a global programme, so I'm working with many other countries around the world to increase our hiring and then change our hiring, so it just becomes a way we do things.

Emma Lo Russo:
With those successes and seeing it empowering the team and the learning and probably the skill of the leaders as well. You've got a great platform to continue to grow that out . So thank you very much for sharing the benefits and commend IBM for rolling out and investing in such a programme that I think we can all do, right?

Belinda Sheehan:
Well, that's right. I think as leaders, that's what we should be doing. Remember, we've got 1 in 50 that we should be having our teams mirror the community, particularly as we develop our technology. Our solutions need to have all types of people thinking about that solution.

Emma Lo Russo:
Well, thank you, Belinda.

Belinda Sheehan:
Thank you, Emma.

Emma Lo Russo:
It’s an amazing initiative from IBM, I love how Belinda really reinforced the point that neurodiverse people needn’t be pigeonholed into technology, there’s a broad range of skills that can be applied to arts, music and many other fields. It’s important that other organisations think about how to get these initiatives and practices, recognising the benefits of neurodivergent thinking, off the ground.

My final guest for today is Quentin Masson, CEO at Wandering Warriors. Quentin speaks to the value veterans can bring to corporate life and how military personnel can diversify your hiring efforts and introduce powerful skillsets to your organisation.

Quentin, welcome to the Business Of.

Quentin Masson:
Thanks, Emma. It's a pleasure to be with you

Emma Lo Russo:
Can you provide an overview of Wandering Warriors and your work supporting veterans transitioning back into the civilian life?

Quentin Masson:
Wandering Warriors has been around now for about seven years? It's a national veterans charity. It's almost entirely run by volunteers nationally across Australia, and our primary focus is on education, mentoring, respite, and it runs around the terraces that support veterans as they transition out of the military and just civilian life, and we're really trying to give them the tools and education to support that transition and making sure that the families are supported throughout the process.

Emma Lo Russo:
For those who might not be aware, what are those challenges that face veterans when they're transitioning back?

Quentin Masson:
Look, every individual is very different and depending on the background, the circumstances of every single veteran, they all need an individual approach and support. Some people don't need any support whatsoever and are quite able to transition back out and may already have a range of business interests or other skills that they had prior to joining the military. But others that have served for a long period of time, ranging from five, 10, 15, 20, 30 years, sometimes transitioning back into civilian life, leaving the network that is really solid and is really been a mainstay for their entire military career, leaving that network can sometimes be very daunting. So what we aim to do is provide the tools and the education and a range of other support services, mentoring, to help that transition.

Emma Lo Russo:
And you yourself are a war veteran if I understand. What was it like for you?

Quentin Masson:
Yeah. So I grew up in South West Queensland, transitioned straight from school, high school, straight into the military, went through the Defence Academy. And whilst I was at the Defence Academy, I spent three years there, the Royal Military College Duntroon and straight into a career as an officer in the military with most of my time being spent in special operations. I was very lucky to serve with some of the most outstanding and amazing group of men and women throughout my career, just under 20 years. But transitioning out, I found it hard just like everyone does, and you've got to find your path into corporate life and what you're going to do next and with four young children to support going through school, everybody needs to put food on the table. So the challenges vary and you have your ups and downs, but the idea is to try and have that network on the outside as we transition to help that process.

Emma Lo Russo:
So having gone through it yourself and knowing this is how you're supporting other war veterans transitioning, what are the types of things that we need to think about in helping them make that move into corporate life or civilian life?

Quentin Masson:
It's just truly understanding the value that military people and veterans as they transition out, what they can bring to the party for corporate life and the civilian sector, whether you're in a small business or a large corporate, there's a lot of knowledge and skills expertise that the military provides throughout the career, and it's really challenging in some cases to try and capture that, understand it, and translate that into an environment with a new language in business or whatever field of endeavour that that veteran chooses to transition to.

Emma Lo Russo:
Are there core skills that are common to everyone that's come from a military background that do apply into corporate and what about the specialist areas? So if you can just talk to me about what is transferable, what's the most obvious?

Quentin Masson:
Operational management leadership, they're some of the mainstays and you're selected throughout the military for those skillsets initially as you go in. So it's quite a high selection criteria you're pulling from the top, the central, the population of Australia typically. But if you think about the military operates internationally with some of the most technically advanced capabilities and platforms that are even in the world across the board, and typically that technology transfers at a later point, at some point into the commercial sector or into corporate society internationally. So what you have is essentially a well trained, highly disciplined, typically good leadership skills, really good understanding of working in teams and how to work in close proximity with small teams right through to large dynamic task force, especially if they've seen operational service working under pressure.

But I think some of the key attributes there is really working with some of the latest technology and what we try to focus on is that language and helping the lexicon military and helping convert that into a lexicon of business and helping that transition a little bit smoother and hoping both sides can get a better understanding because sometimes it's the veteran or the military person that has no experience in business so you need to give them a new lexicon language to help translate their skills.

Emma Lo Russo:
Is that something that you think organisations can do better, how do organisations help them or what else could be done to help that transition so that they can articulate, find that lexicon?

Quentin Masson:
Yeah, well I think one of the key mechanisms that we offer is our scholarship through Wandering Warriors with corporate Australia. And that mechanism allows, almost all organisations today have a corporate social responsibility or a philanthropic perspective to their business where they're giving back to the community. That's a bit of a mainstay in most corporate entities in Australia. Wandering Warrior's obviously the opportunity to partner with us to find an individual for a scholarship and it might be a additional training and the cost of a project management course or an MBA or a technical course, and that allows corporate Australia to, one, help select an individual that might be interested in working for their business, but also giving them some formal education instead of just tipping money into a corporate social responsibility bucket and never seeing again, the return on investment is a lot more bang for your buck and everybody needs to get something out of the equation, we understand that so that's a really good opportunity.

And what we see in that particular circumstance is the corporate and the large, corporate even smaller, medium enterprise building a relationship with the veteran and building the relationship with the network. It's a very large base of human capital in Australia. That's almost in many cases untapped. If you're in the Defence industry, then that's where they draw most of the human capital from, but other parts of corporate Australia I think are largely untapped.

Emma Lo Russo:
How would a business or corporate go about actually saying, "I want to now engage this untapped resource." How would they actually go about hiring or looking for some veterans that are looking to transition?

Quentin Masson:
Look, there's a number of really fantastic organisations that do that transition placement. So if there's positions that are specifically available now for jobs, that can be advertised. However, where I've found the most success is where we form a partnership with a number of ex-service organisations, us for example, we have a very broad network. And then we sit down with the individual company or corporate entity and sit down and say, "What is it you're after? Are you looking for an executive? Are you looking for some sort of technical expertise?" And once we understand exactly where the human capital deficit is, we can then tailor a targeted approach within the veteran community. So if you say that you're looking for somebody who's cyber, IT background, project management, we know where in Defence within that network to then go and approach people later on the transitioning path already within that space.

And then I think it's trying to capture that veteran population and make it attractive for them to look at a business that they may not have seen before, and a pathway. And sometimes we set up long channel pathways where over a number of years, it's a series of courses, education pathways, but at the same time they've got a full-time job, they might be studying part time or it may be a more reduced period where they want an NBA completed within 16 months for example.

Emma Lo Russo:
Have you got some examples of some great transitions?

Quentin Masson:
Yeah, sure. So we've had quite a number of people go through our scholarship programme and across a range of training institutions, universities nationally. First it was Christmas Eve, I was on holidays with the family and I got a call from the Australian Graduate School of Management, UNSW, and we found that there was a particular MBA scholarship. We put out a message over the Christmas holidays and a month later that individual had literally started the programme and is doing really, really well.

And I spoke to that particular individual who was a veteran, had done multiple tours to Afghanistan, was a senior NCO, a Sergeant, and basically has been told his 20 year career was coming to an end. And he was sitting there at home scratching his head, trying to work out what he was going to do. And then all of a sudden this opportunity came up and then now he's got a pathway to a completely new approach to how he's going to put food on the table, which is the fundamental, but more so a sense of self worth and direction.

Emma Lo Russo:
That's a great example. I've seen firsthand, I've got military relatives that have made the transition, had they created a whole career and then transition into corporate and civilian life. And one of the things that I've seen is that great ability to plan and strategically move resources very fast. Something that I haven't actually seen say in just the corporate world, right? This is a real skill. I also was lucky enough to hear Peter Cosgrove talk about leadership in military and how that could apply to corporate and organisations. I'd love to hear your perspective. What do you think are the really great exposures or the leadership lessons that can be considered by business?

Quentin Masson:
I'll give an example. So one corporate that I worked for when I got out after a few years, I was lucky enough to get an executive role and I was put on a leadership course, and it was a trade test day where it was billed as a leadership course run by the entity as a third party came in and we spent all day in front of the computer. I think I spoke to somebody twice for about 10 minutes for the entire day, but the rest of the day was literally problem solving on a computer, responding to emails, doing financial analysis of the company. It was a technical assessment of how you responded and it was basically via keyboard for the entire day. So from 7:00 in the morning, until 6:00 at night. It was a long day.

And at the end of that, I went back to the training team and they said, "How was the leadership course?" And I said, "Well, you might call me old fashioned but that's not my idea of leadership?" And then in contrast you put that into perspective how military veterans are trained in leadership. It's a very formal process, it's operational, it's hands on - if they've had some military service overseas, they've done an operational environment where the dangers are quite significant and the operational imperative cost people lives if you get the wrong approach. So I think in terms of what military veterans can offer corporate, unless you're into really specific traits, typically you'll get somebody who has got a great general overview and a good operational understanding of many different skillsets.

And if they haven't done it in the military, they probably heard about it or they've got a good sense and overarching view of how to pull together really complex tasks and understanding the challenges in delivering that, especially if that's all operational service. But leadership in particular, I think having done that overseas in teams and actually delivered it, that's one of the strongest attributes I think that, particularly Australian veterans, because we treat every single individual - airman, sailor, military army personnel across the board, soldier - as individual leaders, and they're taught leadership formally the entire way throughout the spectrum. Some of the Australian veterans and the military personnel have a global reputation for finding novel solutions to wicked problems and you can trace that all the way back through military history. And that's not some officers sitting at the top telling people how to do the job, it's ingenuity and innovation and thinking and pushing the directive intent to the lowest levels to get the best solution.

So that comes from careful planning, making sure that everyone has team has a clear understanding of the intent while you're there in the first place, because no plan survives first contact as I sat in the military and no plan in corporate life that I've seen goes to plan. And in many cases, a lot of corporate entities I worked for actually don't do any planning. It's very reactionary. And the planning that does occur is more one dimensional. It's people saying, this is what we're going to do, as opposed to having a leadership team sitting, assessing options. Because as soon as you make a decision as a executive leader, as part of a broader leadership team, you're essentially just scanning a range of options that you might not have already considered.

Emma Lo Russo:
I loved that phrase novel solutions to wicked problems. It's an interesting kind of thought around that whole diversity of thought and perspectives for an organisation. In what ways do you think veterans are contributing to that which is something we need more of?

Quentin Masson:
Yeah, I really think across the board the ability for small teams to pull expertise from individuals where the expertise lies and remove the layers. So if you think about a corporate entity with a very large leadership team, and then there's several layers before we actually get down to the people, it could be 10 layers or even more in large corporates before the actual person doing the job is actually pulling the leave, or actually doing the job on the ground, in the factory floor or doing the actual task that the company is asked or being paid for. So where I think military veterans have a little bit more background and a little bit more insight is that they've done a lot of those operational tasks.

They've dug holes. Everybody digs a hole. Everybody does all those mundane tasks that when you join, and they may not done them for 20 years or 10 years, but they've done them. So they do have an insight, and a lot of those operational activities. I think one having the ability to have insight all the way up and down the span of command and control, being able to communicate effectively up and down the chain. I think that's another really good attribute, and as a leader or as a manager in either organisation listening to your people, because very rarely do you as a leader, have the answer and you'll sometimes be quite surprised by that. You might think you have the answer, but in my experience, if you ask the question and you're willing to listen, you'll often be surprised.

Emma Lo Russo:
Would you like to see more of corporate Australia help veterans wanting to make that change maybe as early thinking about what that transition could be or practical help like you talked about? Where are all the different ways they could support you in the organisation?

Quentin Masson:
There's a number of mechanisms. The first one is where a corporate entity or a large commercial organisation or small medium enterprise decides to sponsor or provide a scholarship. And that can be with any training situation in Australia, we have a straight pass through so the money comes to us. We have that on the MOU with the corporate entity, they get a tax write off because we're a fully registered charity. We pass that money straight through the training institution and then we go through a series of candidate selection processes which then allows the university to guarantee Wandering Warriors and also the entity, the corporate entity, to jointly select who will be awarded that scholarship, and each one's different. So if the scholarship is awarded by the corporate entity and they want to offer a job at the same time that's where we've seen some of the most success.

The second is whereby the charity itself, so Wandering Warriors provides the scholarship, or the third mechanism is the training institution or university such as AGSM provides the scholarship free of charge. Our long term plan is to build a fund that will provide free education to every single Australian veteran as they transition out. That's our long term goal, managed by Wandering Warriors, backed by state and federal governments, but essentially run administered and supported by corporate Australia.

Emma Lo Russo:
It's one I'd love to encourage organisations to think about how they can support that goal because that is an amazing one.

If there was one thing you'd say to CEOs, business leaders, someone looking for their next hire - what would that be?

Quentin Masson:
I think if you're not actively engaged with an ex-service organisation, a charity, the first thing I would implore all of corporate Australia is to support veterans across the board in any capacity, be it with Wandering Warriors or anybody else. I think that's just our national obligation. That's the first thing. Secondly, I think transitioning veterans across the board, a huge untapped resource that is really a great opportunity for corporate Australia. Australian businesses, manufacturing, you've got some of the smartest men and women in Australia that have seen service typically operationally or in the world, multiple countries dealt with multiple, cultural differences and think on their feet. It's really a truly high end technical organisation that's delivering capability at the highest level possible.

That's the second thing, and the last one would be make sure that you give each of the veterans the chance to actually learn lexicon because you're not going to get somebody who knows it overnight, but the lexicon of business is challenging in the best of times the people who have been in it for all their life, but somebody who's been in the military, give them a little bit of slack and think about it as a journey and think about it as a pathway to success and you won't be disappointed, I guarantee you that.

Emma Lo Russo:
Quentin, I want to thank you for your time today. There's so much opportunity for businesses to unlock what is going to be a growing demand, and as you said an untapped opportunity. Thank you for your time today on the Business Of.

Quentin Masson:
Thanks Emma, I really appreciate the opportunity today to discuss all the opportunities as you said that the veteran community can provide corporate Australia, and in closing, thank you very much to yourself, the team and also AGSM for the partnership, the ongoing support and we at Wandering Warriors really appreciate your ongoing commitment to the veteran community so thank you very much.

Emma Lo Russo:
That really opened my eyes up, to have Quentin share the opportunity for business to incorporate these amazing veterans who are bringing so much experience in operational management, technological skills and leadership, to bring them into the workforce. But as leaders we do need to recognise that those who come from different backgrounds may need mentorship and recognition around language and other forms to make that successful transition.

Some fantastic perspectives shared by today’s guests. As leaders, it’s important to remember we have an ability to create dialogue, and diversity of thought helps us avoid groupthink.

Change is the one constant for all organisations, and inclusive thought, perspective and opinion is crucial for managing it. As Nick says, what made us successful in the past, is not going to be enough to make us successful in the future.

One of the ways organisations adapt is by noticing what’s going on in the environment and trying new things. We have to ask ourselves, how do we come up with innovative ideas, unless we have a spectrum of ideas to examine?

We’ll talk more about inclusive leadership on our next episode of The Business Of… I’m Emma Lo Russo, thank you for listening.

Inclusive Leadership - Part 2

About the Episode

Inclusive leadership is a critical capability in helping organisations adapt to diverse customers, markets, ideas and talent. Inclusive leaders create the space for others to contribute, and recognise blind spots within themselves and the organisation.

In this episode, we explore three key elements of inclusive leadership: equity, diversity and - of course - inclusion. Although sometimes conflated, each is distinct and it’s important for leaders to understand the differences.

Host Emma Lo Russo is joined by Professor Eileen Baldry, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Professor of Criminology at UNSW. Eileen defines each element of inclusive leadership and suggests frameworks leaders can use to embed inclusive leadership throughout organisational processes and culture.

Also joining Emma is Kristal Kinsela-Christie, Owner and Managing Director of Indigenous Professional Services. Kristal shares her insights into the organisational and societal impact of programs designed to help Indigenous businesses and individuals grow their leadership skills.

Finally, we hear from Mark Tonga, a disability advocate and active Chairman of the Disability Council of NSW, Chairman of the City of Sydney Inclusion Advisory Panel and Inaugural Chairman of the State Library of NSW Accessibility Advisory Committee. Mark speaks to the value those with disabilities can bring to every aspect of business, at every level.

Speakers:

  • Emma Lo Russo, (AGSM MBA Executive 2013), CEO and Co-founder of Digivizer
  • Professor Eileen Baldry, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Professor of Criminology at UNSW
  • Kristal Kinsela-Christie, Owner and Managing Director of Indigenous Professional Services
  • Mark Tonga, (current AGSM MBA Executive student), a disability advocate and active Chairman of the Disability Council of NSW, Chairman of the City of Sydney Inclusion Advisory Panel and Inaugural Chairman of the State Library of NSW Accessibility Advisory Committee

Emma Lo Russo:
Inclusive leadership is a critical capability in helping organisations adapt to diverse customers, markets, ideas and talent. In this episode, we explore three elements of inclusive leadership: equity, diversity and — of course — inclusion. 

Although sometimes conflated, each is distinct and it’s important for leaders to understand the differences. To lead an inclusive organisation, leaders must make these elements a personal priority, create the space for others to contribute, and to recognise blind spots within themselves and the organisation.  

To discuss these topics I’m joined by Professor Eileen Baldry, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Professor of Criminology at UNSW. Eileen breaks down each element of inclusive leadership and suggests frameworks that leaders can use to embed inclusivity throughout organisational processes and culture.     

We’ll also hear from Kristal Kinsela-Christie, Owner and Managing Director of Indigenous Professional Services, a management consulting company. 

Finally, I’ll speak with Mark Tonga, a disability advocate whose goal is to improve the narrative around the way people with disabilities are perceived in the community, and how this narrative informs policy. 

First, let’s go to my conversation with Professor Eileen Baldry. 

Let's unpack where people sometimes conflate, right? Equity, inclusivity, diversity, where do these converge and what are the differences?

Eileen Baldry:
So equity, diversity and inclusion often are talked about together, but they're different concepts, but they feed into each other. So equity is different to equality. Equity is about getting to equality. So if someone is born into a poor family in an area where there aren't good services or where there's poor schooling, for them to get to the same ability to participate in society, as let's say someone who goes to a middle class school in a well-served suburb, there is a gap between that person who comes from a poorer background and the person who goes to a better off area.

Equity is about trying to ensure that we support people to get to the same opportunities. Equity's about, it's more than opportunities, but that's one way to think about it. So you have to have equity before you can get to equality.

Then if we think about diversity. Diversity is the fact that we are all different. And we know from all aspects of the globe and our lives and society, that the more monochrome, the more singular things are, the less interesting they are, the less innovative they are. And eventually, it leads to no change. Diversity is about all of the ways in which humanity is expressed. It's also of course, in the flora and fauna of the world, and the more diversity we have, the more vibrant is life. So diversity is about one, recognising that. Two, recognising that everybody, everybody has a right to be who they are, within the law of course. But everybody has a right to be themselves. Whatever colour, whatever belief, whatever intellectual capacity or physical, wherever they live.

Then thirdly, inclusion. Inclusion is about ensuring that we include the whole diversity of humanity, of our community, of people. So in a sense they all fit together, but they are different concepts. And you need all of them to have a vibrant, innovative, fair, and just world.

Emma Lo Russo:
I love how you've actually pieced together the relationship between them as opposed to converging them or conflating them together. What happens with bias in organisations, where they might not recognise that they're thinking in this way, operating with those goals in mind? Do you have some examples of where this comes to play, where it's danger ground for organisations?

Eileen Baldry:
Yes, very sadly. There are many examples of bias. Bias can be both conscious and unconscious. Bias is about people playing to something they feel comfortable with. A way of being, or living or behaving that they have taken into themselves as being the right way.

Now that might come from all sorts of things. It might come from our childhood, from school, from media, television, from all sorts of places. On the whole, bias can be positive and negative, so they can be positive bias. So I'll talk about that in a minute. But the main thing that we see and experience in organisations and at universities like mine, is a bias against people who don't fit our stereotype of what a woman is, what a man is, what a scholar is, what sorts of ways in which you behave in the world are. And these biases, as I say, they can be on the surface. They can be conscious. And one can sometimes hear people say oh, we don't want that sort of person in our organisation.

Now, sometimes there's a reason for that. And that can be around positive bias saying, well, we want someone who is inclusive and open, not somebody who is closed. But where it becomes extraordinarily negative and highly counter productive is where there are people being interviewed for a job, for example, and the panel might see a list of six or seven people, and then do a short list. If this is in an area in which, for example, women are unusual, engineering comes to mind or some areas of engineering, or where LGBTIQ+ people are unusual to have in those positions, then when the panel looks at that potential shortlist, bias is very likely to come into play unless we make sure that we're aware that it might be there. Because people will often go for someone who looks like them, or sounds like them, or behaves like them. And therefore excludes people who might actually be far better for the job.

And there are such clear examples of this in all sort of forms. I was just listening to a programme this morning about the way in which artificial intelligence is being now used to do things like face recognition, and to sort people when people are applying for a job. Now, one of the things that has become quite clear is that many of those computer programmes, and the artificial intelligence, have been programmed with old ways of thinking. And this means that the data that is being put in is only about what used to be, or what people saw was the case. So they end up choosing more men, they end up choosing more white men, they end up choosing white women, or whatever it is. So we can see that even in areas where you would think oh, it's objective. So this is a computer programme, which is sorting through this, the programme was programmed by people. And if people have biases, they add those biases to the programme, or they can add those biases to the programme.

Emma Lo Russo:
So Eileen, you've created the framework for the Uni of New South Wales. What advice can you offer leaders who are thinking about creating these policies or frameworks to remove that bias?

Eileen Baldry:
So we have an equity, diversity and inclusion website. We call it EDI. So the EDI website has a whole range of things on it, including the EDI framework. The framework that we've created is more than about inclusive leadership, but it includes inclusive leadership. One of the reasons for creating this framework was to give leaders, and particularly at this time in COVID, as people are making decisions about how to change things. It's about being conscious, thoughtful, recognising what we are doing. So if, for example, I'm a leader in a faculty or in a school, and we are needing to restructure, I have to be conscious and think carefully about, is this going to impact more negatively, let's say, on young women? Or on early career researchers? Or on those who are the least paid? 

And so we sort of have this framework to help leaders to think through how they are leading, particularly in a time of change. So, flexibility is a really important aspect of being an inclusive leader. Some people need different kinds of flexible work arrangements than others. If somebody has a disability, they might need to start earlier, have a bigger break in the middle, finish later, or the opposite. They might need at various times to go on to part time work. Now, all of these are things that a leader needs to consider in terms of that person, but also of the whole team, because the diversity in a team, is so important for that team to be innovative and creative and to function well. And so ensuring that we don't exit all the same sort of people, but then there are other aspects of being inclusive. And that is listening.

If we think that we know, and we don't listen to what the staff in our unit are saying to us, then we are not being an inclusive leader. Now it might be that I'm listening and I hear what someone is saying, and I come to the conclusion, “well, look much as I understand what you're saying, we can't do that, or we can't agree to that for these reasons”. But that is being inclusive. Because what that is saying is “I respect you. I consult you. I listened to you. And what we want out of this is to come to the best arrangement for our division or our faculty or our school or our group”. So those are just some of the things about helping people to think outside of their biases and to be conscious of what they're thinking about and deciding.

Emma Lo Russo:
And then if we just connect this to the impact or the links between inclusive leadership, diversity of thought, to mental health, what's the relationship there? And again, as leaders, what should we be aware of?

Eileen Baldry:
So we've become far more aware over the last couple of decades of the importance of people's mental wellbeing and their mental health. One of the things that is really important and continuously gets one of the highest ratings by people, staff members anywhere, not just at a university is my wellbeing in this group. My wellbeing in this place. And your mental wellbeing is a huge part of that.

When people are excluded, discriminated against, when they are bullied or harassed, these mean that their wellbeing is in jeopardy, and it can often lead to mental unwellness. And so ensuring that as we lead, we are acutely aware of the impact that the way in which we lead, but also the way in which other people behave to each other, affects people's mental wellbeing. And if we are not alert to that and support our teams, a number of things happen. One, there will be turnover, because staff will not want to stay in a place where their mental wellbeing is not being taken care of. 

Two, they might stay because they fear that there's nowhere else for them to go, although there might be, but they might fear what am I going to do? And their capacity to work will reduce. And that will affect everyone in that group.

Then the third thing is if we don't address all those sorts of things that I just mentioned, like discrimination, bullying, harassment, disrespectful behaviour, all of these things, if they are allowed to continue, one, create a really bad culture in workplace, and create the circumstance in which many people will have lower mental wellness than they should or could have. And so we need as leaders to recognise that being an inclusive leader also means that we do not tolerate any of those things and that we encourage everybody in our group or our unit or our university, to call it out when they see it. And sometimes a person who is an inclusive leader might not actually know that this is happening somewhere in the organisation. And so to have a what we tend to call ‘bystander’ being included in these things and calling things out, that is very important. And that is a way of supporting other people in our university, our group, our corporation, whatever it happens to be.

Emma Lo Russo:
Eileen, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and it's great to hear it be so alive and checked. And I think that's the point, right? Ask and make sure you are listening.

Thank you, Eileen, for joining us today on The Business Of...

A fantastic overview from Professor Eileen Baldry, and so helpful to have each element of inclusive leadership so clearly articulated and defined. As Eileen says, inclusive leadership is about inviting others into the debate, and a diverse range of perspectives is so important to creating an inclusive culture in organisations. This has huge benefits to decision-making.

Next up, I speak to Kristal Kinsela-Christie, owner and Managing Director of Indigenous Professional Services. Kristal talks us through her company’s role in providing guidance around organisational development and much needed supplier diversity across government, corporate and not-for-profit sectors.    

Emma Lo Russo:

Hi, Kristal, welcome to the Business Of.

Kristal Kinsela-Christie:
Well, thanks so much for having me. I'm really excited to be talking to you today.

Emma Lo Russo:
I'm really excited to hear the story of the Indigenous Professional Services. What makes you unique? What do you do?

Kristal Kinsela-Christie:
Well, I think what's made us really unique is that, although we're a certified majority owned indigenous consulting firm, we provide a number of mainstream services, which is a real point of difference to us in the market space. It's actually flooded with a lot of indigenous consultants. But they don't do some of the things that we do. Having mainstream service offerings, I think is a really big point of difference. I've had a long trajectory career through government and not for profit sectors. When you're an indigenous person in the workforce, you tend to get pigeonholed to work in indigenous identified roles or indigenous focus work. We knew straight away that we had skillsets and capabilities that were different, and we wanted to, I guess, build a brand and build a reputation off the back of those particular skills and capabilities that sits separately to us as indigenous people.

Emma Lo Russo:
What are those advantages and the things that you're bringing awareness to?

Kristal Kinsela-Christie:
If I think about some of the services that we provide. We have a service line on organisational development and leadership. We have many big clients that are national and we provide all of their management development training. That's a mainstream service because it's management and it's leadership, but what our little point of difference is, we're able to also embed some cultural competence in that journey, which makes it a very unique service offering and provide coaching that supports that as well.

Emma Lo Russo:
Can you give me a sense of who are the organisations that you're helping, because this is relevant to everyone, right? How far up, down, wide, industries?

Kristal Kinsela-Christie:
I work with some of the most iconic big brands in Australia. I work with a number of major banks and a number of other international major corporations that have national and international presence. But I also work across Commonwealth government and state and territory governments as well. I also have quite a number of tier one suppliers that are in the Defence sector as well. It's a very broad portfolio. 

Emma Lo Russo:
It would be good for our listeners to understand the reconciliation action plans that you've been working with. What are organisations looking to do and how are you helping them? What should they be thinking about? What should be the core of those plans?

Kristal Kinsela-Christie:
A reconciliation action plan is a really great way for an organisation to demonstrate their commitment to a journey to go on in regards to reconciliation. It's not a destination, it's something that's an ongoing journey. There are four tiers to a reconciliation action plan. I work with organisations that are at varying levels. Some at the very early level, which is a reflect wrap and some at the higher level at an elevate wrap.

There are some particular focuses within those RAPs. The areas I spend a lot of time working with my clients is in procurement. I supply diversity and also around employment. Getting them to really think about, from an employment perspective, how they attract indigenous people to come and work in their workspace. What does that look like? The environment? How would they support mentor, retain, develop indigenous staff? From the procurement perspective, it's really thinking about their internal procurement processes. Is it really conducive for indigenous businesses? What might they need to change or modify? Then really opening up their eyes to the breadth and the diversity of indigenous businesses that are out there.

Unconscious bias is a big, big challenge still that exists across, not just indigenous business landscape, but for indigenous people in general, and that is something that I'm always constantly taking my clients on that journey around understanding what it is, that it actually does exist in workplaces, and how can we navigate through that.

Emma Lo Russo:
Does this period of, I guess, crisis or, with COVID help organisations rethink those things? Is it actually causing a moment to pause, even if the programmes themselves, when they're being implemented, need to maybe change the way they were going to be implemented? Not the purpose of changing, but is it giving you new opportunities to have those conversations?

Kristal Kinsela-Christie:
It most definitely is. We saw the Black Lives Matter protests and that really bringing to home that there are issues around the globe that are in relation to people of colour, and it's really real here on the ground. I think that that helps spark a conversation for a number of clients and organisations that I do work with and really get them to really think about how genuine are we in our commitment? Have we done everything we can do? What else do we need to do?

I think, this time also has opened up the opportunity. An organisation that I do work with, a big major corporate, their suppliers ran out of stock of hand sanitizer. Where did they have to go? They went to four indigenous businesses. Now, what this opportunity has proven is that an indigenous business can supply, well, four indigenous businesses can supply, just as well as these other mainstream suppliers.

That started a real conversation for people internally in this organisation to go, "Hey, wow, there are some indigenous businesses that can provide the volume, the scale and the capacity of what we need, and maybe we do need to rethink how we go to market and how we might engage with indigenous businesses." I've done many talks over the last few months and I've done quite a lot of advocacy and blog posts around the Black Lives Matter and unconscious bias because I think once everything goes away in the media, things start to die down and people just move on and we need to keep these conversations progressing and keep it front of mind for people.

Emma Lo Russo:
I think that's a really good point. It can't just be a moment, it needs to be sustainable. There's a responsibility for us as leaders and businesses to really think about the unconscious bias and the opportunities, and what does equality mean? How can you keep this top of mind?

Kristal Kinsela-Christie:
I just keep it as part of the dialogue and the discourse when I'm talking to my clients and make sure that it's front of mind all the time. They know that I have lived experience and I still experience racism, discrimination and bias in my daily life. That, I've got young kids as well that go through that. I'm really open with my clients in sharing, that's just not something that's going on in the media, that's something that's happening, it's real life, it's part of my daily thinking, living, breathing all the time.

That's why I do a lot of facilitation in my work, because it's an education and awareness piece and you've got to start at the top and cascade your way down. I feel like my clients work with me for that very reason because they want to go on that journey. They know that true reconciliation is not a destination, it's a journey. It's something that's ongoing. It's not going to happen overnight. They've just got to continue to invest and bring their staff on that journey. 

Emma Lo Russo:
You talked about starting at the top, but then making it live through the organisation, what are some of the most successful outcomes you've been able to deliver? When does it start to become sustainable and what was the programme and ongoing approach or thinking the things that actually took it from maybe being ignorant to actually being empowering?

Kristal Kinsela-Christie:
Where I’ve seen the greatest successes is where you've got the most senior person in your organisation that owns it and says, I'm making a commitment, it's going to be part of my personal charge and I'm going to champion it. It's the top down and the bottom up, if that makes sense. Getting those people on the grassroots and meeting in the middle, I sometimes call that sometimes the frozen middle. If we can infiltrate that frozen middle from pressure from the top and pressure from below, from the bottom up, we can have some really great success.

Lots of good internal communication, lots of opportunities for professional development and training, strategy and a plan that supports the way forward so people know this is what we've committed to, this is how we're going to get there. KPIs are really important, but when you put KPIs in people's performance development plans, you know that they are going to buy in because that's coming back on their own performance, and they're going to have some skin in the game around that as well.

I think, just constantly having champions and advocates drive it. You're getting those people to start to then become the people that push more and more people through it. I've seen some great success. I've worked with a major government department, Commonwealth government department. I saw them go from, around a $6 million spend with indigenous businesses to a $32 million spend with indigenous businesses, and that was through a dedicated team, but also ongoing multi-pronged approach around communication and training and just keep pushing it and having a senior indigenous champion. Not someone that was indigenous, but somebody that was very senior, that was the indigenous champion championing it and pushing forward.

Emma Lo Russo:
How do we grow this awareness? How do they actually unlock this in their organisation? Think about what might be possible, where do they go? How can they be part of this conversation?

Kristal Kinsela-Christie:
Look, you've got to start to, I guess, do a bit of your research first. You've actually got to define your why. Why are you interested? Because if you want to try and do this for the sake of doing it, it will have no meaning, it'll get no traction. You actually truly have to believe in the power of reconciliation, the power of indigenous business, and the benefits and the role in social value that can be created.

If you don't believe it, you'll bring no one on the journey. That's the first thing is really unpacking your why, getting to that place where I know that this is my business case for doing this. Then, start to really build relationships and start to understand the sector, understand the key players and stakeholders, and then start to think about what might be the opportunities back in your organisation where you want to start?

A reconciliation action plan is a great framework or tool for people who are not quite sure because you can get support from Reconciliation Australia. 

I think just you've got to celebrate success. You've got to start with maybe some quick wins. I would say to people, start with some low hanging fruit. What's something that you can do that's simple, easy, and quick, gets you a win, and then you can celebrate it. When you celebrate that success, then you've got some momentum. People go, "Actually, you can do that. That's possible."

From an indigenous business perspective, Who do you buy stationary from? Can you use an indigenous business? Stationary is low risk. It's a very low risk. Why can't you do that? Can you buy some indigenous catering to start off with? Can you buy corporate gifts? They might be seen as quite transactional, but they're a good starting place.

Then you need to start to think about, okay, well, what does my business model look like? What does my supply chain look like? Where are there indigenous businesses who may be able to meet my needs? Then start to progress conversations that actually really are looking at the indigenous marketplace and what businesses might be able to support your supply chain and then start to build some relationships with them. Start to introduce them back into your business around that.

Emma Lo Russo:
What are all the benefits? We're talking about the benefits to the organisation, but there would be these benefits of this much bigger ecosystem and the stories and the... There's so much richness that is being unlocked here. What are your favourite stories of where these partnership on both sides come together?

Kristal Kinsela-Christie:
By going on a journey of reconciliation or engaging with indigenous business or having indigenous employees, the things that you would put into place to support that and to leverage that and make it really successful would be things that would have a flow on effect. It's going to make your staff more culturally competent. It's going to make you a really good corporate citizen. Having something that's really unique, that essence, that voice of 60,000 years of culture and history within your organisation. Now that can only add value, it can only add value from niche and interesting and innovative perspectives, energy, connection to country, all of that sort of thing. From a benefits point of view for an organisation.

But if we flip that over for an indigenous person or an indigenous business, we always talk about self-determination. When you buy from us, you're empowering us to be self-determined, you're empowering us to be able to employ our own. Indigenous businesses are 100 times more likely to employ other indigenous people. Creating a sustainable employment opportunity, pathways training and a generation of wealth.

I'm a first generation business owner. I've been on welfare. My mum was on welfare. Do you think my kids will ever be on welfare? Not in your life, because I've broken that chain. If their business is successful, you are breaking the chain, you're breaking that cycle of disadvantage, and it will have that rolling on effect to future generations.

It's those really powerful role models and that really powerful legacy that's being created. Just those aspirations of what is actually possible and being able to demystify the stereotypes and myths that exist around what an indigenous person is, what they can do, their future, all of those sorts of things.

Emma Lo Russo:
How do leaders bring a focus? If they wanted to introduce that thinking or a different approach, this cultural advantage because here's a methodology that's been proven that could actually benefit. What's your advice to those leaders? How can they think about what they could be doing differently?

Kristal Kinsela-Christie:
take the lead from first nations people around them or other diverse minority groups around them and learn by leading and walking together. I think that's probably the first thing you need to really listen and understand. I think just have a really open mind and an open heart to doing things a little bit different. I guess to trust in that sometimes when you feel a bit uncomfortable, then that's where you actually have your greatest moments of growth.

These new ways or these innovative ways, or these diverse ways might feel a little bit different, but just trust in the experience and trusting the potential outcomes and what it could bring. Don't be too prescriptive, listen and learn to those around you, and be guided by those that are around you. Let them take the lead. You don't necessarily need to lead at the front all the time. Sometimes, you can lead from the back.

Emma Lo Russo:
The goal should be the thing that guides you, but the journey is one of learning. How can we bring greater awareness to start that journey? Is it to engage someone like yourself or your business? Is it to hear more stories? What else could we do to really bring about this change?

Kristal Kinsela-Christie:
There's no silver bullet and what a lot of organisations do if they've got the resources to do it, and they want to make an investment, they will engage consultants. But that doesn't need to be the starting point. The starting point can be just really pausing and looking at the community that you live and work in and looking around and going, "Okay, do I know who the first nations traditional owners are here? Do I know who the local organisations are?"

Like I always say to everybody, it starts with your own learning, but it starts with relationships. Because what I see, it's like the cart before the horse, they've been many organisations that I've come to start to work with and they've gone on the reconciliation action plan journey, and they're doing, and they just want to do.

For them, it's about if we do this and we're successful... They're not actually really... That's great, but to me, that's a bit tick a box because you're not actually thinking about it being a journey of cultural competence and reconciliation, and the actual impact back for the indigenous people and the indigenous community. It's not about your output, it's about what impact are you going to have in the longer term?

It's got to start with relationships. I always say to people, you might have the greatest, brightest idea, but you can't put that onto a black fella, I'm sorry, no one wants a white saviour. You have to walk with us, and get to know us and get to understand what we might need your help with, what you can do to help our plight.

Emma Lo Russo:
I love that you're encouraging this, make it personal. You can't understand if you don't actually really invest yourself and try and understand. But I guess there has been a role for government in policy buying. What's the role in government in also helping create the environment, not withstanding the fact that we want change to come from individuals, right? Those little changes that you said.

Kristal Kinsela-Christie:
Government has been incredible. I have to say that the Commonwealth introduced an indigenous procurement policy in July, 2015. For me, personally, as an Aboriginal woman and an Aboriginal business owner, for me, I think it was the single handed or most best piece of indigenous policy that had ever been implemented. Because for the first time there was a mandatory target to buy from indigenous businesses which puts so much focus on and put demand and really shone a light on, hey, there are actually indigenous people in business. Which I think has been really incredible.

It's been through that indigenous procurement policy that I've been able to build my own business and be really successful through that. The Commonwealth has one of the largest purchasing powers. They spend $50 billion a year. Committing to 3% of that, it's a small proportion of what they're already buying. They're going to buy a quality product or service, but why not buy it from an indigenous business where you can have that flow on social value and impact back to indigenous people's lives and their communities?

Emma Lo Russo:
Has that... You said it's created these amazing opportunities for you. Has that fostered more innovation? Is there more businesses and opportunities that have created from that as an outcome that might actually be something that we haven't seen before as well?

Kristal Kinsela-Christie:
There are more than 2,500 indigenous businesses on Supply Nation's directory now, which is incredible. That's grown. Supply Nation tells me that they are verifying 13 new businesses a month. There's a greater breadth and depth of businesses now, and there are businesses like mine that have been around for five years that have moved from the small to the medium end of the stick and have got the proven track record now, and growing in size and growing in the number of employment numbers.

We're pathing that way for these other businesses that are coming new into the marketplace. Then, there's this transfer of knowledge and mentoring and support to help bring and guide those business and uplift those along the way.

I think it's been really, really positive and it's just the way forward. I think now that there's been people like myself and there's a whole number of other indigenous business owners that have done more incredible things than me, but that's given aspiration and it's given a sense of inspiration to these other indigenous people to say, "Hey, guess what? There's a market for us. People want to buy from us and you can do it. It is absolutely possible." Which is really, really incredible to see.

I always say to people, I've got a 15 year old daughter and when she's saying to me, "Mom, am I going to take over your business one day?" That gives me a fire in my belly that I'm creating something, and then she actually sees herself that she could be a business owner, that she has got this legacy in this business that I've built for her. That's just powerful. That is really powerful.

Emma Lo Russo:
Yeah. You can't be what you can't see, right? The more that you pave the way, the greater the possibilities are. I think the greater the organisations you get to help too, right? To get this benefit of inclusivity and diversity and cultural pride that I think you talked about. That's a real advantage. It'll be really interesting to see what this looks like into the future. If you do look into the future, what's your hope? What would you love if you could say, "If I could fast forward and know I could make this amount of change happen." What would that look like?

Kristal Kinsela-Christie:
Look, I would love to see the growth of our sector continue to grow. There'd be 10,000 businesses on Supply Nation's directory, and many of them being tier one suppliers to government, to Defence, to big major industries. That we're big business, we're big business. We're no longer seen as the small... Because we're quite often typecast with a demographic of we're small, we're micro, we're incapable. We're not scalable, and we don't have access to capital or investment, but that we flip that over, we flip that on its head, and we're going, "Oh my gosh, look at how big and capable and, brassy and strong these indigenous businesses are." We've got more market share in particular industries and we just continue to grow.

That would be my vision. Then the other thing, if I just think it from a personal point of view is that, any little Aboriginal kid that's at school can say, "I'm going to be a business owner one day." That... As you said, you can't be what you can't see.

I grew up in the streets of Mount Jordan, Blacktown in Western Sydney. I was that little Aboriginal girl living in housing commission. My mum was a single mother. Did I ever think that I would be running a successful indigenous business? Not on your life, not on your life. I never saw images of that and the expectations that were really placed upon me were, I was going to get the next housing commission house, and I'd end up on a pension with a few kids.

I've broken that, obviously, that thinking and that trajectory and I want that to be the same for any other young Aboriginal kid that's growing up now. We have one of the youngest demographics that a majority of our population is under 24. There's all these young, budding, bright Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids that I just want to see be successful to realise that they can be successful.

Emma Lo Russo:
It's exactly what needs to happen as you say. I'm impressed by already, if it's 30 businesses a month, it's like one a day. Like you said, at least four times that in the near future is your goal. I think that's something that I want to encourage our listeners to think about, how do they make these steps? This personal investment, the start of the journey, like you said, there's resources and things available, but just to think differently and maybe use this moment of time and change to think about how you can actually use this as your moment for change.

Kristal Kinsela-Christie:
Most definitely. Yeah, just Dr. Google is always great fun to have a look at, but have a look at our ecosystem. There is a number of key players that I would encourage the listeners to have a look at. Reconciliation Australia, Supply Nation, the National Indigenous Australians Agency, the Indigenous Chambers of Commerce that exists in each of the States and territories, and Indigenous Business Australia. To have a look at what all of these partners are doing to help our sector just becoming more aware.

Even in your own little transactional things, if you could consider an indigenous business can go a really long way. Ever since COVID hit, every week, I buy something from another indigenous business. I've got all different kinds of things. You imagine if all people listening, that all consumers did that same thing, it would go a long way in building the indigenous business economy as well.

Emma Lo Russo:
Kristal, you are such an inspiration. Thank you for joining us on the Business Of, today.

Kristal Kinsela-Christie:
Thanks so much for having me and remember it is, it's all about hearts and minds. It has to be personal.

Emma Lo Russo:
I left my conversation  with Kristal feeling very optimistic about the future of indigenous businesses here in Australia. She brought focus to the responsibility we have as leaders, to move beyond the way we’ve always done things, embrace change and create new opportunities in our processes, procurement and supply chains and help these businesses thrive.  

My final guest for today is an active Chairman of the Disability Council of NSW, Chairman of the City of Sydney Inclusion Advisory Panel and Inaugural Chairman of the State Library of NSW Accessibility Advisory Committee. Let’s hear my conversation with Mark Tonga.

Can you tell me Mark, about your story.

Mark Tonga:
Oh yes. Look, 10 years ago, I finished uni and I was starting to... a commerce degree in accounting, and I was looking to start my professional year, my CA. And while I was doing that, playing rugby. And in 2008 in May, just carrying out a normal routine, playing sport, something I love and still love, rugby, unfortunately, I sustained an injury, which left me with a medical diagnosis of tetraplegia, which is I cannot move my arms. I’ve got no feeling from my neck down.

The first two years, just trying to reset my thinking was complicated. We talk about depression, we talk about finding yourself and the first 18 months was a very testing time for me. You've been operating a certain way for so many years, 30 plus years, and then your life just changes over in a millisecond and then you've got to redo, it's as they say, born again. You just got to reset the whole, how you operate and liaise with people. But now, 12 years post, I'm starting to get a nice stride now, humming along well. And found my groove. A bit disappointed it took me more than two years, I would have been the first six months if I had to rewind back. Life's too short. We need to crack on.

Emma Lo Russo:
So your experience in terms of the insights of going through that, how have you turned that now into your vision and where you are spending your time?

Mark Tonga:
Yeah, look, falling into the world, going through that reset period, you have a lot of doubts. You feel you don't have any value to society. Your dignity, everything just collapses. So for me, I had to find something that's worthy that I can be contributing to our society. So initially it was just volunteering work. I did a lot of local volunteering for a, not-for-profit organisation council. And somehow I got good at it, really good at it. And I'd just been appointed on a federal government council, doing the same thing, which is providing advice. 

Emma Lo Russo:
And then first, congratulations on your appointment because you are now able to bring your experience and positively influenced many, much broader in terms of the people that you're helping. So do you want to just share where and how you're helping those that are living with disability?

Mark Tonga:
I was transitioning out of rehab into a nursing home, waiting for my house to be fully accessible so I can return to it. And while I was in a nursing home, I was one of 40 people, and I was the only one who could speak. And I looked around and all 39 of those people were either dumped there by their families or the system has put them in there and they were hidden away and they were just left there. So I couldn't have a conversation with anyone. And I thought, okay, my arms don't work, my legs don't work, but at least I've got something. And through that two month period, I was stuck with these people and they really taught me a lot. They really taught me the value of finding something in yourself that you have, that you can... and that moment was a life changing... I didn't see myself as having arms, I saw myself with something I can give to the community.

And so my work has been trying to fill that void, trying to fill that gap between policies in our community.

Emma Lo Russo:
So you would have seen the benefits of creating a more inclusive community through building awareness and engagement. Can you talk me through what are those benefits and how do we be more mindful to create a more inclusive community?

Mark Tonga:
We're not just targeting those whingy people on wheelchairs. It makes economic sense to just look at it in a wider lens and say, look how can we make things for our community that benefits all of our society? 

So that's something I've seen, and I frame it like that when I talk to governments. This is not about just disability. This is about just community, making it accessible for all.

I'll give you a classic example. Now, I lobby for access into buildings. Now, people will think, okay. We'll get an access to a building to let a wheelchair person in, so I can drive into the building. But you got to look at it. This is a community thing. I've seen mothers with prams struggling with bags, trying to get up stairs, and putting all the kids down. I've seen elderly people with walkers, trying to navigate four or five stairs. And I've seen delivery people trying to pull up a trolley with boxes upstairs. I was like, this is not just about inclusive for one cohort. This just makes sense, this is a community. Inclusive benefits the whole society of all.

Emma Lo Russo:
So let's now take that lesson into business., what do we need to do there and why is it important to think about inclusivity?

Mark Tonga:
Look, business has got to change their mindset that we are an island. Business is a community. You rely on your customers who are the community.

Emma Lo Russo:
How can leaders ensure diverse voices are being heard? What do you think they need to do to build that empathy and understanding?

Mark Tonga:
Maybe we can just do away with the model of experts and just go down and talk to the ordinary people and get their thoughts, and how their actions and their service and their products affect the ordinary people. I think they're the experts, they're users. I'm a conduit to those in the community. I’m a conduit for 40 people in the nursing homes.

Emma Lo Russo:
Do you think more needs to be done at the education level to build that muscle, to actually have the conversation with the people that you're serving and to think about diversity, inclusivity, those living with a disability?

Mark Tonga:
Education is one component of it, but it's not the only component. I think it's our community, I think. Our attitudes and being not united as a society. You can't blame everything on education, but it does feed into the whole machinery of trying to shape our leaders for our community to go out and change the narrative, influence a narrative of what we have in our community. 

It's time for us to move. It's time for us to evolve. If no one asks us these questions and has these conversations, we're not going to grow as a community, as a society. 

Emma Lo Russo:
Because you've had so much exposure, I guess, through community groups and creating that conduit and being that voice, and to your appointments where you are actually advising government, can you give or think or share of any examples where you think this has been done really well? 

Mark Tonga:
I think, Australia has come a long way and I stand on the shoulders of others who have forged the way for inclusivity in all areas, not just disability, but gender and indigenous. I think I'm really, really grateful to be in a country for a government and a community that are open to this conversation and open to change and open to try to have a better life for our people in our community.

So I know there are some other countries that don't even have these conversations. But while this conversation is, in the air, I feel it's time for me to contribute and to step in and fill that gap. For me, from my personal opinion, I think disability is probably one of the last frontiers we're trying to address. We've looked at gender, we looked at indigenous, race and all those. It hasn't been solved, but it's brought up into the open. So we have had that hard conversation to find ways to look at ourselves and find solutions for it. And now there's disability in my mind. So to bring it to the table and air it out. Because there were times that people like me were just stuck away in nursing homes and out of sight, out of mind. But now with NDIS and amongst other programmes, we're able to highlight that.

Emma Lo Russo:
Do you think technology has helped bring a voice so that we're having conversations we might have found easy to ignore in the past? 

Mark Tonga:
Technology is a game changer for people with disability,. I read an article the other day where access to... One of the things I do is find access to our culture centres like museums and library. And then with COVID shutting down, people in these museums are starting to film and put all their stuff online. You've got people in disability to who can't fly. But with technology, they're able to visit the British Museum and see all the great stuff in there.

And that's a great example how technology is able to improve people's... Like this big gadget I'm sitting on is a wheelchair. And I drive it with my chin. 10 years ago, they didn't have that construction. They had to be pushed around by another human being. But now I can blow that closer to me and then just get out and go for a walk by myself and not have one follow me around, and I can be more independent. I love technology and I have a big interest in technology, not only for myself, but I see how it opens worlds up for people in my situation.

Emma Lo Russo:
If we come back to business and seeing the benefits or having that conversation,, how can leaders create a culture of advocacy around issues like disability rights or inclusivity in their organisations?

Mark Tonga:
Well, I don't have the answer to that, but for me personally, we just got to wake up and see the unfairness in our community, in all areas. So I'd just encourage leaders to be leaders, not only in your chosen expert area, but also in our community. There's plenty of work to be done. And it's not like we're going to go live in a gated community and we're separated from the whole world. No. When the lights go off and you walk down the road, you are part of the community. That could be your mom, your dad, someone in your family, someone in your cousins. We're not islands in this world. So those who have expertise and talents, whatnot, just look around and find something. There's plenty of things to do.

Emma Lo Russo:
There's a real kind of human thinking element to this too, that you're encouraging that thought, that discussion, have the conversation to work out how to make it more inclusive. 

From where you were when you suffered your injury, it's a long way forward. You went back to uni, what did you study? What are you studying?

Mark Tonga:
Well, I'm truly blessed to be able to be able to join an organisation that's considered the best in the country. And I'm able to undertake my executive MBA at the AGSM.. And I met some terrific people in the programme and also people supporting the programme. So growing that leaders for the future,. And putting some of the things we're talking about now into it, I can see it in the modules, I can see it coming through. And it's pleasing to see that it's putting that option out to candidates to consider. Like I've heard candidates have cycled out and it's been like a side step in their thinking. So you come in with some ideas and you leave changed. So that is good.

Emma Lo Russo:
It's that lovely saying, the mind once stretched, can't go back to its original size. And I think that's probably true of anyone thinking about those with disability or thinking about creating more inclusive workplaces. Thank you so much for sharing that part of your journey, and I think the opportunity for everyone. 

You've got a great voice for people who need to be listening, let alone those that you're advocating for. So thank you very much.

Mark Tonga:
Thank you Emma, I really appreciate your time. 

Emma Lo Russo:
Mark shone a powerful light on the way perceptions of those with disabilities can affect and influence policy. We learnt just how much we can benefit from incorporating their skills and insights into our businesses. 

I’m sure you'll agree that there were some fresh, and powerful new perspectives shared in my conversations with today’s guests. As leaders, becoming more aware of these unique perspectives is critical to self-development.

But our commitment to inclusivity can’t end here. By exercising humility and  empathy, and listening to those with alternate points of views, we can identify the nature of our blind spots - and grow ourselves and our businesses. Importantly, doing this will make those we work with and those we lead feel more included themselves. And that is, of course, the objective.

I’m Emma Lo Russo, thank you for listening.