Experience has taught me that diverse teams have a competitive advantage

Recently one of my colleagues described our team as a set of puzzle pieces – different shapes and sizes that fit together as a perfect picture.
Maddie Sumner · 29 July 2021 · 4 minute read

Recently one of my colleagues described our team as a set of puzzle pieces – different shapes and sizes that fit together as a perfect picture. I thought that was a really good way of putting it.

We’re a very diverse group with different expertise, passions and backgrounds, and to me, that is what makes us so successful.

Diversity and a genuine ‘team’ culture go a long way

There are a lot of important factors that go into making a team awesome, including believing in your work's purpose and having good processes. But in my experience, a variety of perspectives, genuine collaboration and a great team culture produces the best results, hands down. Without team members who really complement and bounce off each other, you miss out on so much of the creativity and innovative ideas borne out of those conversations we have when we’re prone to spend time together in a less formal setting (like a ‘Zoom lunch’, or a coffee in the office kitchen) and speak more casually.

I’ve learnt so many skills and behaviours by simply working with colleagues who bring their diverse experiences and perspectives. In fact, I’ve learnt the most from working with people who I have very little in common with, and they’ve enabled me to contribute effectively as well, with my own set of skills and life experience.

Collaboration is both addictive and rewarding, and helps strengthen everyone’s innovation skills. Some of the coolest work I’ve done has happened because I was eager to try something new and driven by a great team culture.

How I cultivate a diverse, inclusive team environment

If you want an inclusive, cross-functional team, you need to strive for as much diversity as possible, without losing sight of the appropriate expertise and experience needed to meet your team’s objectives. This means considering someone’s professional skills and experience, along with their personal passions, goals and experience. You also want to create a team environment where everyone feels comfortable having their say, so demographic diversity can be really effective: it helps to ensure no one feels like they’re the odd one out.

Of course I'm not perfect at it, but one way I promote inclusion is by making it a point to go around the room and ask for each person’s opinion. It ensures everyone is heard. I also often divide a big group into smaller ones to engage everyone, and then have each group return with their findings.

Encouraging social catch ups is another way I help teams I’m in to connect and build relationships. This of course includes a lot of virtual parties these days – thanks technology! It helps us work better together and I find it makes people more comfortable speaking up – it’s important that everyone on a team has the confidence to voice opinions.

"Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance"

Have you heard this saying? Well, here is an even better one: "Diversity is going to a party; inclusion is being a member of the party-planning committee."

Telstra's value, 'We are better together', captures our approach to diversity and inclusion, and we are simply better for it.

We have many employee representative groups striving for equity and education, including Spectrum (LGBTQ+), Mosaic (culturally and linguistically diverse), Brilliant Connected Women (gender), Dharrang (Indigenous) and TelstrAbility (disability and accessibility). All of these help members feel more comfortable at work and able to be their best selves. 

As a transgender woman, I always try to be as inclusive as possible. I speak up when language should be altered to avoid excluding people and I hope it has a ripple effect with others doing the same. It's little things like this that anyone can do which add up to create a truly diverse and inclusive culture.

Interested in joining us? Find out more about our approach to diversity and inclusion at Telstra, and how you can be a part of it.

By Maddie Sumner

Cyber Influence Analyst

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