When you have diversity in teams, it opens up all these new talent pools...It’s not enough to simply have a diversity strategy. You have to have it as a management strategy
— Andy Lark, Chief Marketing Officer, Xero


New Zealand based cloud software company Xero has been rated at the top of Forbes Magazine’s list of the world’s most innovative growth companies. And one of the reasons has been its approach to making the most of its talent, says Chief Marketing Manager, Xero’s Chief Marketing Manager Andy Lark.

Lark says its not enough to simply have a diversity strategy. You have to have it as a management strategy and it has to be in the way you work and behave. It is so much more than a construct, you recruit to it.”

In the tech sector, talent tends to move in packs. And in a market where there is a limited pool of talent, competitive advantage.

Xero has 1200 employees in New Zealand, Sydney, the UK and US. It has a high proportion of women in its engineering area.

“There is a very scarce talent base to tap into in Australia and NZ. Our theory was that if you advocate to get heaps of women into that base, you build the richness of it. It’s been a key for us in building our team.

“Diversity builds a lot of stability. These people travel in a pack. You hire a bunch of developers and they become best friends and they tend to move in groups. So diversity insulates your business.

“It’s enormously powerful when you do this right - there’s the diversity of thinking and the style and way people approach conversations.

“When you have diversity in the teams, it opens up all these new talent pools. Women and diverse candidates turn up and say, ‘hey this is really different. I can feel comfortable coming to work’. And it gives you a recruiting advantage.

“It has always been this way for us, it is a natural way of business. You’d be nuts not to be doing it this way.”

Lark says a lot of people come to Xero to find out how it does it.

“They come into our business and say, ‘we can’t seem to attract people like that’. I say ‘ ‘you’re a bunch of white guys in suits’.”



Financial services group AMP has more than 4 million customers and 5400 employees and manages more than $200 billion in assets. In a finance sector now verging on dramatic upheaval, human-centred design is helping it respond faster and provide products and services that are more in tune with customer needs. For more than a decade it has run a regular innovation festival called Amplify to open up the organisation to new ideas and global trends.

AMP has trained more than 200 of its leaders in the principles of human-centred design with the Pittsburgh-based LUMA Institute.

What LUMA did was put the power in the hands of the individuals - the tools and techniques you need in a 21st century, agile, customer centric organisation.

LUMA (it stands for Looking, Understanding, Making), teaches a system of design methods and its clients have included Google, the White House, McDonald’s and Cisco and public authorities around the world. LUMA argues a basic knowledge of human design tools, just like a grasp of numbers, should be a core organisational competency. Sally Evans, AMP’s Head of Retirement says the approach has been an impactful change management activity. “To change an organisation like AMP...requires extensive structural, systemic and cultural change,” she says.

AMP’s Design and Innovation team lead Munib Karavdic (correct) has already scored a design award for its insurance services as a result.

Evans says along with internal collaborative tools and technology platforms, it makes for better product development. “It’s so we don’t have to design the Taj Mahal and put it in there for customers, then wonder why they don’t they want the Taj Mahal,” Evans says.



One company that is showing industry the way on diversity and sustainability is property group Mirvac. Chaired by former banking and property executive John Mulcahy, Mirvac has a gender balanced board. Once one of the blokier companies around, its culture has been transforming under CEO of three years, Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz. Since taking on the role in 2012, Lloyd Hurwitz has made diversity and inclusion a priority in its workforce of 1200.

A diverse workforce is no longer just something to talk about – we must all do what we can to make it a reality
— Lloyd-Hurwitz said recently

Diversity is not only a prerequisite for performance, it’s an invaluable lens for risk management, says Sam Mostyn, a respected sustainability practitioner and director of Mirvac.

“We tend to think about risk in the negative and be fearful, but it can be seen as an opportunity...The more diversity you have, the more perspectives to challenge some of the things that leads to blind spots,” Mostyn says.

In 2014, Mirvac adopted a new sustainability strategy, which used a systems thinking approach, called This Changes Everything. Adopting former GE boss Jack Welch’s advice: “Change before you have to”, it included setting targets for carbon emissions, reducing water intensity, achieving zero waste and investing in community development.



With a population of 12,000, Parkes in Central Western NSW, is better known as the home of a big radio telescope and for attracting thousands for the annual Elvis festival.

Set a firm goal of introducing flexible work arrangements to benefit employee and employer.

Northparkes Mines CEO Stefanie Loader (correct) now hopes to make the Chinese-owned gold and copper mine a leader in putting its human capital to work. She’s developing an inclusive and flexible organisational culture that extends to active engagement with the regional community.

Loader wants to create the kind of work environment that recognises people have families and a life outside their work. She has built a diverse management team and finds ways to break down work and re-piece it together to match peoples’ strengths.

The company is also well into trials of “collaborative scheduling” which allows teams to work more flexibly. “We’ve had some interesting experiences...including things like part time roles that really didn’t exist at Northparkes before except in admin roles,” she says.

The company’s management accounting team has a successful arrangement whereby they schedule longer hours during the month-end reporting period. In return they work one less day during the rest of the month. There are clear metrics and principles agreed.

“The arrangement works so well that we have improved our month-end cycle time by three hours overall,” Loader says.

A 24/7 operation, the company is also trialling working hours with another team that provide the business with some overlap of technical experts with night shift production crews in return for a 9-day fortnight.

“While the concept is easy to grasp, it is harder to put into practice – getting the metrics right is very important,” Loader says.



Dining with US management thinker and bureaucracy-buster Gary Hamel during a visit to Australia in 2014, Telstra’s then CEO, David Thodey, now chair of CSIRO, was struck by a simple thing. “We've got this new world economy, digitisation and so many things that are changing. The thing that hasn't changed is the art of management,” he recalls. “Yet the whole environment in which the way information flows, social media works is fundamentally different to what it was before. The structures that organisations have in place just don't work in this connected world.”

I don’t think we can work any faster, but we have to change the way we work

“I think the rate of change of ideas and information because of digital enablement and the speed of connectivity, so therefore it is critical that we respond. I don’t think we can work any faster, but we have to change the way we work,” he says.

A business with a strong public sector and engineering legacy Telstra has 34,000 staff and annual revenues of nearly $A30 billion. During Thodey’s six years, the company began a long term shift to an inclusive, values-based management culture. “We believe in an inclusive culturee that everybody has a voice and we want the best from everyone. We don’t care gender, race, creed or whatever, we want a broad group of people unified to a common cause.

In 2010, Thodey joined the Male Champions of Change group, pledging to drive systemic change to boost gender equality. The company also uses internal social media tools such as Yammer to boost information flows and collaboration and speed things up. “As the head of an organisation everything comes to you filtered in some way. You really want it raw and out there in all its gory details,” he says. Such tools speed up communications and connect people across organisations, “busting” traditional organisational “silos”. “It connects people in a way and makes them feel a part of something too,” he says.

In May, Thodey ended a stellar six year term, turning around the organisation and is now chairman of the CSIRO. His successor Andy Penn didn’t miss a beat in continuing the commitment to gender equality and an inclusive culture since his appointment in early 2015. Telstra has embedded a systemic approach to boosting gender equity, from pay equity to changing recruitment, development and promotion approaches to setting targets. It has become a case study of how a large organisation has taken a consistent approach.

One of the most powerful things the company did was introduce an “All Roles Flex” rule, which dictated that all roles must be done flexibly based on the needs of employees and negotiated with their manager. This can include part-time work, different working hours, or working from different locations, instead of the traditional 36 hour week. It is practised in different ways across many types of roles within both scheduled and non-scheduled environments.

Two senior Telstra employees have shared their experiences of working flexibly in the online micro documentary series the Equilibrium Challenge.

“This is a fundamental change in the way we lead and manage,” says Thodey. “You get the culture of a company right, that is inclusive, that is transparent that unites people and people are making a difference every day and focused on customers, it is just incredibly powerful.”



Josephine and Tony Sukkar run a construction business and a philanthropic foundation and are used to sharing the work load and supporting each other. They set up Buildcorp, an Australian construction company in 1990.

Buildcorp has almost 250 employees from a range of backgrounds and ages.

We put family first and our values
— Josephine and Tony Sukkar, Buildcorp

Its a family based business but run with the discipline of a public company.

“This is a famly based business. We put family first and our values,” says Josephine Sukkar. “There are employee’s brothers and sisters and partners and parents working here, and people of all ages and backgrounds.”

Yet Buildcorp also applies many of the conventions of a listed company. It has an advisory board and shares financial and business information with employees, its insurers and banks. Twice a year it has a State of the Nation to bring employees up to date on where things are at and provide feedback to the Sukkars. The State of the Nations works both ways. “Don’t worry, we get challenged and it means we have to really explain what we’re doing and why we are going that way,” says Sukkar.

Diversity is an important value at the company.

“You want diversity of thought but you can’t have diversity of values. You have to be clear on that and people live that.

“You can have a code of conduct but its the ‘aha’ moments when people see you live by that that are what count.

“At the end of the day we don’t make widgets, we employ people. Technical skills you can teach but you can’t teach people to fit in.”

“That means genuinely looking after your people and you have to be fair in all that. If there’s a perception at any point in time you’re treating an employee or a client differently it, it just doesn’t work.”

Being alert to issues and backing your team on those values is important, she says.

Sukkar recalls one time on a contract in the NSW Hunter Valley with a big listed company client. They were seeing some warning signs and things just didn’t seem right.

“It was a large client and there was high staff turnover. People didn’t stay. We couldn’t put our finger on what was going on.” On further investigation they were appalled at what was happening.

“People were getting heavily bullied by the client and they weren’t paying quickly. One man was locked in a shed, one was crash tackled. And they were told: ‘if you complain you will never get a job with [company X] again.” Sukkar recalls that the employees had sat on the issue for three months.

“It just made you want to vomit... we told them we don’t care we don’t work with people like that.”

The couple sat down and wrote to the CEO and the chairman of the company. “We said: ‘you won’t know us but we have signed up to your business code of conduct and its our belief your employees have breached it. And by the way you owe us $8 million’. We had evidence and we were fair in how we presented it.

“Within a day they were in our office and in the week they’d fired their team. They were terrific.”

It reinorced an important lesson for Buildcorp on the importance of standing up for what was right.

“We pulled all our staff together and said ‘here’s what happened and how people were concerned that they would lose the business’. And we said will always have your back.’

“You can have the best policies and systems - but without systems adherence it falls away. It is the systems adherence piece that is important and we build that into performance appraisals.

Buildcorp has been working on creating an environment that supports great gender diversity. It is working its way “down with pipeline”, extending to students in school and university to understand what can be done to make the sector more attractive for women.

“We are at the point where we need to make a deliberate change in gender mix. We have to understand how far down the chain we have to go to to change this,” Sukkar says.

Something going on at a Queensland project sparked also closer inspection. A construction project was going really well.

There were three women running the construction project and the manager at the client’s end was a woman also.

“I looked at how the GM was recruiting. Our HR person felt he was more open to different candidates and would say ‘I could throw some real wild cards in there’. It was having the courage to be a bit broader.”

It turned out his wife is head of Human Resources for a big mining company. The couple share child care.

“That’s how the world is now, so long as you elevate people who get the day to day reality of that.”

“Men whose wives are educated and work, they understand and value women.”

One other thing Buildcorp does is focus in on employee development more generally.

“We know its not all money. Most of it is around culture and ways of developing them,” Sukkar says. “Understanding how they want to be developed, particularly Generation Z and millenials. So we say, lets have a discussion about that. How about we train you to develop yourself and build that into our business plan. We be very clear on what they want themselves.

The company has a diverse workforce in age, gender and backgrounds but Sukkar reflects on the sense of inclusion that was evident when a young man with cerebral palsy came to work at the company and everyone welcomed him in. “It felt like a good place to be,” she says.