This week, I begin my tenure as the Chief Executive Officer for Diversity Council Australia, an appointment that I am simultaneously thrilled and deeply humbled by. I am proud to now be leading this very talented team that works so hard to improve the diversity capability of Australian businesses. This work is all about delivering productivity benefits as well as more equitable outcomes for people who represent the diversity of our community.
Although, in truth, it should perhaps be every diversity practitioner’s dream to one day render ourselves redundant. Despite abundant evidence for the business benefits of diversity, this still seems a pretty distant prospect. Although there’s certainly evidence we are moving in the right direction.
When I project managed the first-ever Women in Leadership Census at the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (formerly EOWA) in 2002, I recall sitting down with the Communications Director the day after the launch, scouring the papers for any signs of a mention. Now, the subject of women’s representation in leadership generates headlines, is debated in Parliament and galvanises social media. Even though the statistics have not changed greatly (the 2012 Census found women held only 3% of chair positions and 3.5% of CEOs in the ASX 200, and current figures show less than 20% of directors in the ASX 200 are women and 20% of companies do not have a woman on their board), the topic has now become a matter of business competitiveness.
Meanwhile, leading practice DCA member organisations have dispensed with the business case (because it has been proven), set ambitious targets and are charging ahead with aggressive campaigns to redress the imbalance.
Best practice diversity now views ‘flexibility’ as no longer just about providing support for young mothers, but as an enabler — supporting men and women at all stages of their work-life cycle to manage life’s ebbs and flows, whilst simultaneously improving productivity and employee engagement.
Some companies are making enormous progress on the flexibility front – Telstra’s announcement last year of its All Roles Flex initiative for example, shows just how much progress has been made. However, there’s still a long way to go with surveys indicating that close to a quarter of working Australians make requests for flexible working arrangements in any given year and DCA research showing that almost 20% of employees considered resigning in the past six months due to a lack of flexibility.
On other diversity fronts, progress is even less optimistic. The current public debate about whether or not we need to water down sections 18c and d of the Racial Discrimination Act is puzzling. DCA does not support the proposed changes and we made our opposition loud and clear to the Department of the Attorney General in our submission on the exposure legislation. Advocating free speech, without taking into account unequal power, means that some members of the community effectively have greater freedom than others. Even though we need to adjust for social context, Aristotle knew what he was talking about when he said, “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.”
An ageing population and workforce are providing new challenges for employers and it is necessary to eradicate prejudices of possibility. It is estimated that by 2044–45, almost one in four Australians will be aged 65 years and over with DCA research revealing that there is significant scope for businesses to better attract, engage and retain a high performing older workforce.
And no less important are other kinds of diversity – those who identify as LGBTI, Indigenous people, people with a disability, those with caring responsibilities or are in some way different by virtue of their birth or their choice. The enormous diversity of our community can – and should – be reflected in a workforce, which if valued properly, is so much greater than the sum of its parts.
Many of our workplaces expect people to conform to a ‘culture’ with narrow ways of thinking and acting. This means that many people are not able to openly reveal themselves or behave in a manner true to their identity – to bring their ‘whole selves’ to work. However, fortunately it is beginning to be much more widely accepted that authenticity is vital to employee engagement, to inspiring leadership and to motivation and productivity.
The new frontiers of social media offer fabulous opportunities for diversity. According to a recent Forbes article focusing on hashtag activism, the case is made that, “Women rule social media, dominate Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and stand click-to-click with men on Twitter.” A key outcome of such dominance has been a focus on gender empowerment and professional advancement. Movements such as #changetheratio #womenshould and #bringbackourgirls are just the tip of the digital iceberg.
So what I hope to achieve as the CEO of DCA is to work with member organisations to realise a new world of work where diversity is the norm. DCA is a not-for-profit organisation that walks beside our members, providing them with immense capability through thought leadership and leading practice research, a broad based knowledge-bank full of tools, the opportunity for thought provoking information and ideas exchange, and the capacity to assist members to transition to leaders who truly capitalise on diversity.
In the words of another great philosopher, Plutarch, “What we achieve inwardly can change outer reality.” I very much look forward to working together to change the world of work to make diversity the reality – and unlocking the benefits that will result!