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Not long ago we were discussing workplace culture on our Let’s Talk feature, and it brought to the surface how important it is to have a culture ‘add’ rather than just a culture ‘fit’, meaning that it’s important to seek alternative value from new employees – different in some way from the talent you already have. 

This naturally leads to conversations of diversity in the workplace.

Diversity is often talked about in the context of work, but rarely specifically defined. We wanted to change that slightly today, and get into the nitty-gritty of what true diversity actually looks like for teams right now according to our business leaders.

Employees of different backgrounds, ages, ethnicity, gender, skills and so on are largely considered to be an asset for businesses; a diverse team and environment can create greater opportunities for creative thinking and fosters an overall company value of inclusion.

Is this true for today’s business leaders? Let’s see what they believe “true diversity” is at work, and in what ways it may be helping their business.

Carrie Kwan,Co-Founder, Mums & Co

For a start-up like Mums & Co which is a business network, a think tank and resource centre to help mothers succeed in business; diversity is of utmost importance.

Diversity in our workplace is considered both an asset for the business and the employees and helps foster empathy, creativity and innovation. However, diversity can mean different things to different people.

A healthy and diverse workplace should offer the following:

  • Provide inclusive experiences to both the employees and customers, regardless of gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disabilities, neurodiversity, physical appearance, body size, ethnicity, nationality, race, age or religion.
  • Have a diverse management team, board and teams with diverse cultural backgrounds who have unique experiences and perceptions that strengthen productivity.
  • More than policies – which are also important; daily actions that cultivate inclusive everyday experiences for all employees. This includes having regular discussions where we solicit input and feedback.
  • Being kind and respectful to each other. Not tolerating harassment. Speaking up if you see or hear something and being empowered to politely engage when you or others are disrespected.
  • Making all employees feel comfortable being themselves because the things that make them different are respected. Flexibility and family-friendly practices in the workplace is key for our employees, who all have young families and caring responsibilities.
Melissa Hyland, HR Manager, ipSCAPE
Diversity is driven by an organisations CEO. At ipSCAPE, we believe that diverse cultural perspectives inspire creativity and drives innovation. Different opinions, views and life experiences are imperative to ensure our Customer Experience solution, which is designed and developed in Australia, can meet global requirements. Diversity in a workforce can mean many things; race, nationality, age, language, and gender – to name a few. Female representation in technology is increasing, making for a more diverse industry as a whole. Our employees come from all over the world and speak over 28 different languages. Diversity in the workplace celebrates our differences and we do so through events such as International Women’s Day, Chinese New Year, Diwali and St Patrick’s day.

Shirvani Mudaly, Chief People Officer, Vend

We are committed to developing a diverse workforce with inclusive workplace practices. With a diverse team we are better able to understand our retailer’s and stakeholder’s needs, and respond effectively to them. An inclusive environment means that diverse teams and perspectives are given the platform to be expressed, heard, and – perhaps most importantly – acted upon.

Inclusion is not a natural consequence of diversity and, as a result, we are considering the end end-to-end employee experience and are focusing on initiatives that create an inclusive culture in the first instance, and we will then look at targeted recruitment and development initiatives that will drive diversity improvement. As a result, we have developed an inclusion and diversity committee who represent our business across different functions, levels and geographies. They are the collective voice for inclusion and diversity opportunities.

Jane Bianchini, founder & CEO, Alcami Interactive
Having a diverse range of employees adds great value to every individual and the overall culture of the business itself. Workplace diversity is not just a tick in a box for a department or a company, it’s a serious competitive advantage.
It is widely reported that companies with diverse workplaces outperform competitors and achieve greater profits. True workplace diversity produces greater innovation through a combination of unique perspectives. If an organisation is looking to improve its overall employer value proposition and brand, there is no better way than by improving diversity and the far-reaching benefits that come with it.

Bindy Edelman and Jane Nosworthy, Joint Heads of Diversity and Inclusion at Xero

Ask 100 different people how they’ll solve a problem and you’ll likely get 100 different answers. That’s because we each look at the world through a unique lens, shaped by our age, culture, language, life experience and ability. By hiring people who look at problems and possibilities through a different lens, we get a diversity of thought across the business that allows us to better solve our customers’ problems. This helps us create a culture of inclusion, where people feel safe to contribute to their team and share their ideas because they know they were hired for their unique perspective. At Xero, diversity looks like a workplace where people feel valued and respected for being who they are. It looks like a team who are empowered to challenge the way we think and work. And it looks like a place where everyone can do the best work of their lives.

Jen Jackson, CEO of Everyday Massive and co-author of How to Speak Human

Increasingly, businesses are recognising that innovation and problem solving requires diversity, and with it comes workplaces filled with a wonderfully broad swath of humanity — representing different thinking, worldviews, cultures, genders, generations, and areas of expertise.

The catch is diversity doesn’t produce naturally harmonious environments. Whenever you bring together people from different backgrounds, with differences in opinion, unique perspectives and very different beliefs — friction is inevitable.

So although diversity is essential for solving complex problems, it also requires more effort to build an environment where people are comfortable being themselves, accepting of differences, work together effectively, and challenge each other while striving towards a common goal.

Megumi Miki, leadership specialist and author of Quietly Powerful

True diversity in the workplace is achieved when organisations minimise (eliminate would be great, but unlikely given the unconscious nature of our cognitive biases) visible and invisible barriers for people to join, stay and contribute their best. Having a diverse looking team is pointless if people do not feel included and listened to. This requires not just positive diversity and inclusion policies and practices, it requires organisational leadership and culture that enables everyone to thrive.

In addition, diversity is not as simple as having people who appear different. You won’t get the benefit of diversity without people who think differently or have different backgrounds and styles. The challenge for organisations is to expand their definition of ‘fit’ to be open to a larger talent pool, while also ensuring that they fill their capability gaps.

Colin D Ellis, culture change specialist and author of Culture Fix

Diversity is not a ‘nice to have’, something to ‘work on’ or a policy that’s required ‘to be followed’. It should be inherent in all working cultures around the world in order to move to an environment that centres around networks, community, shared learning and strong values. Diversity is not just about representation; it is about belonging and respect. Respect for people’s life choices, their personality, their communication preferences, their thoughts and ideas. It is about giving all voices an opportunity to be heard and to create safety for those perspectives to be shared. True diversity will require courage, determination, a willingness to do things differently and lots of listening. In truly diverse cultures, happiness and equality reigns.

David Pich, CEO of the Institute of Managers and Leaders Australia and New Zealand (IML ANZ) , author of Leading Well

Our workplaces should be a mirror of the makeup of our society; Australia is an incredible kaleidoscope of people with varying genders, races, cultures, religious beliefs, abilities and lifestyles. Truly diverse workplaces think outside the boxes of gender and race, they must reflect all these “differences”, and this starts with leadership. It’s about examining how you hire, retain and promote people within your organisation. It’s also about culture and it’s about data – measuring your programs against the business goals that count in your organisation. It’s about constantly reviewing, reworking and improving your processes and policies as well. True diversity is about embracing and meaningfully engaging in all things that make each of us “different”.

Dr Mat Donald, management specialist and author of Leading and Managing Change in the Age of Disruption and Artificial Intelligence

As change today occurs from so multiple sources, management may no longer the source of all information, nor may it be responsible for all ideas. Disruption emerges regularly in this new age with great uncertainty and risk, be that from a presidential tweet, a trade war or new technology. Solutions to all this disruption will not be simple, so organisations will likely need staff with a broad range of skills and opinions.  Modern workplaces are already very diverse, some spanning work place ages from 17 to 70, staff of diverse cultures and first languages, often across multiple locations. Whilst all that diversity is no easy feat to manage, significant benefits may emerge if managers create open, flexible and inclusive environments. Organisations that ignore the demographics and status in the assessment of new ideas will likely yield significant benefits over those that are unable to foster diversity, openness and inclusion.

Ben White, Managing Director of Business and Wholesale, Optus

For many businesses, diversity is about hiring more women and people from different cultural backgrounds. While gender and cultural diversity are paramount, inclusion should embrace and celebrate all kinds of differences. It should incorporate building a multigenerational workplace, provide support and accessibility initiatives for people with disability, allow for flexible working arrangements, as well as fostering differences of opinions and ideas.

Taking steps to make it a reality is key to encouraging respect, acceptance and inclusion amongst teams. Having clear goals and supporting policies and initiatives will help bring diversity to life.

Inclusion needs to be a company-wide commitment, embedded in the core business’ vision, the values and culture.

Perhaps most important, an inclusive culture allows employees to be themselves, forges stronger connections within teams, customers, business partners and helps drives innovation. By embracing the individual, workplaces and business are enriched.

Lee-Martin Seymour, Co-Founder and CEO of Xref

We all have unconscious biases and even if our own preconceptions don’t impact a hiring decision, those of the people we work with or report into might.

Technology has a huge part to play in encouraging workplace diversity. But it’s not there to shift the balance. The role of tech is to challenge these biases.

If a candidate is rejected on the basis of their gender, ethnicity, physical ability or similar, bias is clearly in play but recruitment professionals don’t have the evidence or power to expose it. The best talent might not always shout the loudest and we must work harder to find those people and ensure they have a chance to shine regardless of their background.

Technology has no emotion, it will expose and challenge bias and back up its reasoning with data. Aussie businesses should leverage technology to find these facts quickly and efficiently — to challenge discrimination and create diversity.

Harley McLean, the Director of HR & Operations at Halcyon Knights

Achieving diversity means removing barriers so everyone can fully participate in the workplace. Inclusion is about empowering people to contribute their skills and perspectives to the team’s shared goals.

This is no small feat, and very few businesses execute inclusion policies correctly all the time.

In our workplace, we make sure we are always improving diversity and inclusion in practice. We identify what our team – and potential hires – really want to feel welcomed and supported. It’s about leaning in, listening to what people need and working to provide it.

There is no one size fits all. For us, inclusion means flexible working for all, a brand-new parental leave policy, down to making sure we have vegan, gluten and alcohol-free options at our Friday afternoon drinks. For others, it might be spaces to breastfeed or pray or ensuring there are the right communication tools in place to support different needs.

Valeria Ignatieva, Co-founder and co-CEO of jobs platform WORK180

It’s important for diversity not be thrown around as a buzzword; as we all know, actions speak louder than words.

Without inclusion, it would be hard to create a diverse business.

Inclusion and diversity in the workplace means taking account of people’s circumstances and ensuring everyone can bring their whole selves to work. When an employee tells you that they feel like they belong, or have found their ‘tribe, that’s when you know you have created a safe and inclusive workplace.

It’s extremely important to get your HR Policies right, as a start. At WORK180, we have worked with employers to help create some incredible examples of policies and initiatives that support employees through all stages of their lives.

For example, have you considered including a provision for stillbirths into your paid parental leave policy? With six babies stillborn a day in Australia per day, many families are left to struggle when there is no coverage during the most tragic time.

Also, are your policies gender neutral? Are your flexible working arrangements mostly available to mothers? Or are fathers taking these up, along with women and men who may need flex outside of caring duties? This could be for sporting commitments, personal hobbies, mobility. 

Jasleen Kaur, Principal Advisor, HR Practice at Gartner

Gartner research found that Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) has become the #1 talent management priority for CEOs globally. However, only 36% of D&I Leaders report that their organisation has been effective at building a diverse workforce. So, despite all the attention, companies are struggling to build a diverse workforce across all levels and areas of their organisation.

It’s often said that Diversity is what you get, and Inclusion is what you do. So, if we want diversity as an outcome then we need to equally prioritise creating an inclusive environment for that diverse workforce. This is supported by Gartner’s finding that ‘being discriminated against at work’ is the most important moment that matters to Australian employees.

Therefore, instead of asking what Diversity looks like, shouldn’t we be asking what Inclusion looks like and more importantly, how to improve it? Most progressive organisations are starting by building sustainable D&I strategies which increase inclusion by 20%.

Melinda Sheppard, Pureprofile Chief Operating Officer

In a global world, we can’t afford not to be diverse. This means encouraging and enabling collaboration between people in different geographies and timezones, all of whom can learn from one another.

Age diversity is often overlooked, to the detriment of both older and younger workers. Having a workforce entirely composed of millennials, or “dinosaurs”, isn’t desirable. Mixing seasoned, experienced individuals with those newer to the workforce encourages knowledge sharing and learning in both directions. It’s also important to welcome people of all abilities, including the hearing and visually impaired.

Diversity is challenging. Different opinions and work styles can lead to clashes. This is where diversity training can be important, and having an ongoing process to educate employees about how to treat and interact with people of different backgrounds.

But embracing diversity boosts morale and productivity, as people feel they are included and valued, rather than excluded. Ultimately, businesses that harness a wide range of talent and diversity will create the most collaborative environments.

Scott Cooper, GO1.com VP of Marketing

Having a diverse workforce brings a wide range of benefits, from better performance to higher profits. Racially diverse workforces outperform industry norms by 35%, according to McKinsey, and increased gender diversity correlates with higher performance and profits. Teams where men and women are equal earn 41% more revenue, according to a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and George Washington University.

But diversity is about more than just gender or ethnic background. It’s also about experience, personality and skills. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has used the phrase “cognitive diversity”, and this is vital for problem solving and innovation. Having different perspectives on an issue leads to much productive solution-finding. Different types of people bring different perceptions, experience and approaches. This is valuable.

Businesses should assess the diversity within their organisation, and see how they compare with peers and competitors. Is there room for improvement? If so, set targets and work on a strategy to achieve them, for the sake of your business and your staff.

Stacey Kennedy, President South and South East Asia, Philip Morris International

As a business leader, I’ve always believed that equality, fairness and respect are essential. For me, an inclusive workplace is one where diversity is celebrated – of background, culture, gender, ethnicity, opinion and skills – so you can leverage this diversity as a strength to drive creativity and innovation.

As we transform our business to become a science and technology leader in smoke-free products, we’re focused on delivering vastly better products to our consumers.  To achieve this, we need the utmost consumer empathy, creativity and innovation, which means we need to tap into the best of the entire talent pool, and so we are increasing our diversity and improving our gender balance as a strategic priority.

Becoming the first globally EQUAL-SALARY certified company in March 2019 was an important first step toward the bigger goal of closing the pay gap and improving the representation of women in senior leadership. Following this, we started offering female talent the opportunity to join our management meetings on a rotating basis as a development opportunity and to bring more diversity of thought to our discussions; because dimensions of diversity go beyond gender. It’s also about values, skills, abilities and attitudes.

So apart from being the right thing to do, the business benefits of diversity resonate at PMI even more today than ever before as we strive to achieve our smoke-free vision.

Heath Fitzpatrick, Chief Operating Officer, ebroker

Diversity in a workplace is all about finding the correct parts to build your workplace into a positive, productive and progressive environment. A truly diverse workplace is inclusive, mixing all types of experience, backgrounds and ability levels together to maximise the goals and outcomes of the workplace. It is about ensuring there are no preconceived ideas as to who and how people should be, and allowing all people to input their thoughts, experience and creative drive into the business. Respect and awareness are key to developing this.

Jodie Taylor, Head of Marketing, Communications & Stakeholder Engagement, International Towers

Businesses with a genuine commitment to diversity understand that workplaces need to reflect society, with people from all walks of life contributing to the culture of the organisation. The key to success is fostering an inclusive community where people feel safe, valued and supported, regardless of their social, sexual, religious, ethnic or political differences. For example, celebrating key milestones like NAIDOC Week in support of our Indigenous culture, wearing rainbow colours for our LQBTI community, or recognising sacred cultural events. It’s not about spending money, it’s about making people feel valued through connection. I strongly believe that fostering an exceptional culture is the key to business success, as people are everything.

Sarah Liu, founder and director at diversity and inclusion consultancy agency, The Dream Collective 

True diversity in the workplace shows itself in a variety of ways. Firstly, mindset: is your organisational culture one of collaboration, curiosity and fairness? These are the cornerstone characteristics of a business that fully promotes D&I.

Next is metrics: You can’t improve what you don’t measure. If you’re already measuring things like employee engagement, sense of belonging, group composition – what then, are you doing with this information? A surprising number of organisations keep data locked away in People and Culture or HR. To truly, drive culture-wide diversity adoption, get the entire business on board

Lastly, values: similarly to mindset, what are the internal and external values that you align your business with? What is your unique employer brand voice and is it one that invites diverse talent (external) and encourages inclusive teams (internal)?

Dr Manisha Amin, CEO of Centre for Inclusive Design

In the workplace, diversity is important, but even more so is inclusion. Designing for inclusion opens the door to a wider recruitment pool. Employees within an inclusive workplace can benefit from the diverse talent, experience and views, which results in higher employee retention. However, an inclusive workplace is just as much as providing a safe and accommodating space as well as hiring people from diverse backgrounds – a space that reflects the culture and values of staff allows them to perform at their best.

Everyone can benefit from inclusively designed products and services, not only those who are experiencing difficulty. Inclusive design is one way to help address the gap faced by the new industrial revolution, how we can create jobs and workplaces we want to be in and how we can have edge user communities, who are currently unable to access or use products and services, able to work at their full potential.

Sarah Moran Co-Founder & CEO of Girl Geek Academy
Ideally our businesses should be as diverse as the population they are serving. As the new generation of startups, we should be building initiatives that tangibly drive change and tackle pipeline diversity issues in the sectors.
For example, the gender inequality in the games industry is staggering. 52.1% of players identify as women and non binary – however, that same demographic only reflect 22.9% of employees in the same industry.
There really is no down-side to diversifying our workforces and Gender Equality is one of the best preventions for family violence, and one of the best solutions for most environmental crises including the climate.
You will often attract a wider, more authentic and dedicated brand audience, a broader employee base and you also have a hand in creating a healthier, safer planet.

Jessica Everitt, Senior Talent Manager, Employsure

Plenty of studies show that a diversity and inclusion in the workforce leads to business gains, either in engagement, profit or efficiency. For many HR leaders and talent acquisition professionals, hiring a diverse array of employees is a key objective, but it’s only half of the job done right. The other half is easy to forget – what happens after the employee joins the organisation? It takes the entire organisation to create a genuinely diverse and inclusive workplace.

Here are three forward-thinking ways to improve diversity in your workplace:

  1. Ensure your leadership and executive team portray diversity and inclusion

The composition of your management team is an enormous indicator to the rest of your workforce (not to mention customers, partners, and other stakeholders about your diversity and inclusion culture). Accordingly, it is essential to have diversity among top management that is diverse. Are men and women equally represented? What about people from various cultural and religious backgrounds?

  1. Foster and Encourage Diverse Thinking.

People from various backgrounds and generations sometimes have extremely different perspectives on all sorts of matters, from what they choose to wear to work, to how they compose an email, to what kinds of ideas they pitch in meetings. So, it’s not just important for individual employees to understand differences in opinion; it’s also important that they understand how other people across the organisation think.

  1. Prioritise Employees the Way You prioritise Customers.

Kasper Hulthin, the co-founder of Peakon once stated, “Treat people metrics with the same priority as finance and customer metrics if you want to get the most out of having a multigenerational workplace.” That’s a bold demand for some leaders to take on. However, if you want satisfied customers, you may want to start with the source, your employees.

Alex Zaccaria, Co-Founder of Linktree

For us, diversity within the workplace is the broad range of skills and background that a person brings to the team. Our team is curious, brave and vocal and they each bring different ideas, skills and perspective to Linktree.

We quickly learned that the most important element of growing a business is hiring, and ensuring that the people you are bringing on board that add to the culture and ethics of the business you are trying to build. I am conscious that there’s always more that we can do – it’s something we’ll keep working towards – but I’m super proud of the team we’ve grown here – we’ve achieved some incredible work. I’m endlessly grateful that they’re as passionate about building a world class product as I am.

Nir Gabay, Managing Director, Elsight

The key to a successful team culture is cultivating a diversity of skills, perspectives and views that can be nurtured and encouraged through greater collaboration. What this diversity looks like is finding the right mix of incredible talent and professionals in your team who are passionate, hard-working, and always willing to push the envelope to help come up with innovative solutions to challenges facing your business. At Elsight, we pride ourselves on having built a team culture that is centred on diversity through fresh ideas and challenging traditional perceptions on what can be achieved when it comes to real-time connectivity.  Our management team has over 50 years of diverse experience that spans across technology, engineering, sales and operations. Having those diverse insights and expertise underpins the company’s ambitions for growth. It is also an integral part of our company ethos of challenging the status quo when it comes to creating powerful solutions for real-time data accessibility and connectivity through a diversity of thoughts and creative thinking.

Georgina Drury, CEO and founder of Springday

True diversity to me is when we can all stop talking about it, when we seek different and conflicting views as habitual innovative process, because healthy conflict comes from diverse thinking – and I believe conflict is not to be avoided, but instead embraced.

I am wary of diversity programs that speak to the need for it based on things no one can control. As a female CEO/Founder I’ve never felt the need for a program to help me do what I do – I just do it. But now that I am here, I recognise the need for diversity in the company I run, through honouring differences and valuing them to play to all of our strengths.

To me, true diversity doesn’t focus on one, two or three groups; it broadens to several groups based on different experiences, skills, knowledge, perspectives and attitudes.

Whether diversity is cultural, educational, gendered, experienced or learned, it talks to different ways of seeing a problem or solution, and at Springday we seek out difference and cultivate diverse perspectives.

Regardless of the colour of your skin, birthplace, sex or gender – diversity to me is about the different thinking you bring to the table. We always aim for balance, and sometimes that includes conscious thought on immutable characteristics (such as those above) but mostly that happens organically for forward thinking organisations. Striving to have diversity of thought organically trends towards a balance in all other characteristics without needing specific programs.

Peter Nguyen-Brown, co-founder and CXO for LiveTiles

Australia’s tech industry has for far too long had a deep-seated problem when it comes to diversity and this urgently needs to change. Diversity in the workplace should be something that all companies have in their DNA; it’s something they should be actively working on day to day. There’s no reason why it should not be an integral part of the broader planning for all organisations, as it can allow them to incorporate a wider range of perspectives within the business. Diversity in the workplace can promote faster problem solving, better innovation, increased creativity and a more engaged workforce. It also creates a more tolerant and open-minded workforce, which in turn allows for more ethical and empathetic approaches to how software in particular is designed and consumed by people from all over the world.

Anastasia Massouras, CEO of Work Happy and author of the new white paper Small Business Matters

Diversity increasingly impacts many workplaces. The term diversity includes an understanding and acceptance that people have their individual characteristics, inclusive of ethnicity, religion, gender, age, physical and cognitive abilities and life experiences. These characteristics allow unique contribution to the workplace, creating a wealth of options and solutions. The diverse perspectives and ideas often lead to innovative concepts for growth and changes. However, many people find it difficult to appreciate these differences, causing disruption and change fatigue. Another concern lies with having the quality of qualified and talented personnel when recruitment of a skill set fails to align with the company culture and its mission. What if companies approach diversity from a different standpoint? – What happened to our workplace diversity? What can we do to improve it (rather than increase it)? Can we challenge it (rather than blindly adapt to it)? Can we measure it (rather than fully endorse it)?

Dirk Steller, founder and managing partner of Seed Space, a fintech-focussed VC firm

To create diversity in the Tech sector has always been a struggle and in FinTech it is even worse than other sectors.  That is why we need to do more.

It’s pleasing to see Australia’s FinTech industry having more conversations about supporting diversity and encouraging more opportunities for female entrepreneurs. Today, there are more programs than ever before supporting women in technology which is a positive sign, as more and more take up careers in STEM (the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics). I think that’s fantastic and is something we should absolutely look to build on.

It’s important to remember that diversity comes in a whole lot of forms – whether it’s about achieving a greater balance in gender, ethnicity, cultures and views. But encouraging greater diversity is a structural issue that has its roots in education from a young age and encouraging a greater interest in maths and the sciences.

Addressing gender diversity issues in STEM requires collaboration from all parties. It’s no secret that Australia ranks poorly in science and mathematics when compared to other OECD nations. According to figures from Actuaries Digital, girls make up 38% of advanced mathematics and 53% of intermediate mathematics enrolments at a secondary school level. But a study conducted by UNSW last year shows equal performance in the subjects among boys and girls. What this means is that because of low female participation rates in STEM careers, there is a lack of role models for girls, which in turn causes even lower female participation in STEM careers and this is a vicious cycle that must be addressed.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen a collective effort among industry associations, government, and private organisations to support female founders in FinTech, whether it be through active support from female-focused VCs, female focused accelerators or awards programs. This is vital for helping shift the dial in favour of our next generation of exciting female entrepreneurs but we need to do more if we want to build the right foundations for a successful and innovative FinTech industry in Australia.

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Loren Webb

Loren Webb

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