Conscious and unconscious bias needs to be recognised before diversity in the workplace can be achieved, Angela Workman-Stark says.

Having spent more than two decades in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Workman-Stark stepped down from her role as chief superintendent to implement an organisation-wide action plan to change the culture of the police force.

She has been visiting New Zealand as part of the Diversity Summit, held in Auckland last week, and working with New Zealand organisations to share her learnings.

As part of her speech, Workman-Stark discussed the challenge of building inclusive and diverse culture in organisations and particularly in industries that tended to be more exclusionary or "hypermasculine" such as the police force.


"Policing tends to be very hypermasculine and one of the key issues has also been that by its nature it's very reactionary," Workman-Stark said.

"The general first instinct is to look at something and say, well is it discrimination or bullying or harassment or whatever, and then make an action plan rather than dealing with the root of the issue," she said.

"The answer is to understand the perceptions of people and their conscious and unconscious biases - and that's the starting point."

Changing the view towards inclusiveness and diversity in the workplace was multi-faceted according to Workman-Stark, who said it involved looking at everything from an organisations demographic makeup, to its policy and practice.

Part of her role in Canada had also involved changing how the police department viewed itself.

"In policing there is very much a focus on proving masculinity - proving you're strong and powerful and don't show emotion or weakness," Workman-Stark said.

"But there is a cost to that, either with officers not coming forward to show they have post traumatic stress disorder or other challenges, and also where people who don't fit this mould become isolated. So it's looking at how organisations work to overcome that."

Sharing stories around this had helped, but she said organisations needed to be open about the rationale for change and highlight the benefits of having a diverse workforce.