HRINZ HR Conference 2012 Student Ambassador Highlights – Colette Wood
Peter de Jager’s early morning pre-conference workshop woke me up faster than an espresso could have. This interactive change management workshop quickly emphasised how similar humans’ reactions to change are, regardless of their nationality. Yes, there are differences between cultures’ expectations, but there are core aspects to change in organisations that we all share. Through a participatory exercise, our group realised that human beings don’t resist change, but rather resist being changed. Peter de Jager has conducted this exercise in cities across the world with the same feedback from a multitude of cultures. Peter also emphasised the need for celebration of success during a time of change, having a sense of humour and an ability to trust. Through this workshop I realised the importance of being comfortable with a state of chaos, as this is inevitable in a change process and yes, creating a more diverse workplace can be a massive change for some organisations. In order for innovation to occur, we need to be okay with making mistakes and creating an environment that supports this is crucial.
Tones of innovation and change also grasped my attention in Professor Robert Wood’s seminar. While the main emphasis of his discussion was on gender diversity, I quickly realised just how broad diversity really is. I suppose, much like our expanding universe, one could focus on the outer galaxies or on a single atom. This session made me aware that my very own mind-set could be the greatest barrier to creating a diverse workforce. Again, our similarities as human beings were reinforced, as so many of us are reluctant to ‘own’ the problem, simply believing that ‘others’ have issues with diversity. We all possess unconscious biases and perhaps a good first step is to become aware of our own biases. I gained a great practical tool from this session, this being consciously slowing down my own thinking processes. I have already implemented this metacognition in my everyday life which I feel is expanding my own awareness of diversity.
The plenary panel, chaired by Julia Stones wove many of the themes of the conference together and was a particular highlight for me. The creative way the panel presented themselves, in a dimly lit theatre with a spotlight that moved from speaker to speaker, created an intimate atmosphere that matched the messages of the speakers. The panel spoke with honesty and integrity about existing biases within human resources and challenged the audience to think more critically about their own cognitive diversity. By hearing human resources professionals acknowledging that barriers do exist, my own motivation to be in this field was further strengthened, as this indicated to me that these professionals are open to taking responsibility and to driving change. Diversity was positioned as arguably, the source for all learning, as well as a manner of future-proofing our organisations. I especially appreciated the belief of these professionals that we really can make a difference by being the driver of change, but that we do need to take some risks to do this.
This cognitive awareness was then echoed in Nigel Latta’s captivating session regarding our own unconscious biases. This session accentuated the importance of asking questions and not merely making quick assumptions. I realise that as human beings we group things together and use stereotypes in order to reduce cognitive effort, but perhaps we need to slow down these ‘automatic responses’ to increase diversity and quality.
This vibrant, diverse and captivating HRINZ conference influenced me to start increasing diversity and organisational change by reflecting on my own thought processes and changing my own perceptions. As the poet, Rabindranath Tagore says: “Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add colour to my sunset sky.”
HRINZ Student Ambassador
The University of Auckland.