When it comes to diversity and inclusion, Australian businesses have come a long way. Can you believe the Sex Discrimination Act was only passed in 1984? That’s less than 40 years ago. While there’s still room for much improvement, a lot has changed over the last 40 years, including the need for businesses to become more transparent about their core values and beliefs.
While it was once frowned upon and avoided by most business owners, times have changed and these days ‘getting political’ and publicly championing diversity and inclusion in the workplace can provide positive benefits for businesses, business owners and their employees. With a strong business case being able to be created around why embracing diversity and inclusion can set you apart from your competitors.
What is diversity and inclusion?
Diversity and inclusion are more than just implementing programs, rewording policies and employing a ‘good mix’ of different people. Employing a diverse group of people is great but who holds the power? Whose thoughts and opinions are valued? If the voices of just one or a few are the only ones that are heard, that’s far from inclusive.
The following definitions are attributed to the Diversity Council Australia, Diversity & Inclusion Definition, Sydney, Diversity Council Australia, 2017.
What is diversity?
Diversity is the mix of people in your organisation. Diversity refers to all the ways in which we differ (e.g. Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background, age, education, gender, profession).
What is inclusion?
Inclusion is getting this mix to work. Inclusion occurs when a diversity of people are respected, connected, progressing and contributing to organisational success.
At the Diversity Council Australia, they describe diversity as being the mix of people in your organisation, and inclusion as being about creating a workplace environment that enables that mix to work – for organisations and employees.
How seriously does Australia take diversity in the workplace?
Guided by the principles of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), the following Commonwealth Acts are currently in place to protect from discrimination against diversity in the workplace:
- Age Discrimination Act 2004
- Disability Discrimination Act 1992
- Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986
- Work Health & Safety Act 2011
- Racial Discrimination Act 1975
- Sex Discrimination Act 1984
- Workplace Relations Act 1996
It’s unlawful to discriminate, either directly or indirectly, against someone based on a range of attributes including:
- mental or physical disability
- sexual orientation
- gender identity
- relationship status
- family or carer responsibilities
- pregnancy and maternity
- political opinion
Why is diversity and inclusion in business important?
It’s important that everyone involved with a business – whether a sole trader dealing with subcontractors and suppliers, or a director managing a workforce of 5000 – feels valued, involved and supported. If they don’t feel truly valued, they’ll eventually leave. It’s as simple as that.
For example, what does it say about a business whose workforce comprises 70 percent females and yet not one woman holds an executive position?
It’s clear from recent social movements, such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, there’s a strong social and moral argument for diversity and inclusivity within the community. So it makes perfect sense these views would make their way into workplaces across the world and people would begin to hold businesses accountable.
As a matter of fact, a 2016 Weber Shandwick study found that 47 percent of Millennials believe diversity and inclusion is an important factor when looking for a new job. Their older colleagues, the Gen Xers and Boomers came in at 33 percent and 37 percent respectively.
What are some of the business benefits of diversity and inclusion?
There can be no doubt there’s an obvious business case for diversity and inclusion well beyond social or moral implications.
47 percent of people aged between 25 and 40 years are looking to work with businesses who embrace diversity and inclusion. That’s a huge chunk of prospective employees, with unlimited potential, who will bypass a business not mirroring their own core beliefs and values. And it’s worth remembering that Millennials now make up approximately 40 percent of the global workforce.
Employees who don’t feel comfortable or valued will eventually leave. In fact, a 2019 NBC news article noted that 33 percent of employees reported feeling disengaged at work. On the plus side, 60 percent said they’re more motivated by recognition than money. A person who feels comfortable, valued and recognised in the workplace is more likely to stick around for the long term (and not just for the money).
If people are viewing inclusive companies more favourably, it makes sense word will get around about who’s great to work for and/or do business with. A company can also continue to build on a decade’s old reputation.
Take Westpac bank for example. In 1961, Westpac became the first bank to hire a female teller. It continues to mandate 50 percent of women on recruitment short lists and offers flexible roles and working hours.
Think about it. 1961 was 60 years ago and that little nugget of information still makes its way into press releases because it remains topical and impactful.
Other businesses may also choose to work with you if you’ve fostered a positive, productive and inclusive workplace environment.
Companies embracing diversity are opening themselves up to opportunity, not only in Australia but across the globe. Multilingual employees and employees who intrinsically understand other cultures can be a boon for a local business wanting to move into international markets.
They’ll also attract the best of the best, creating space for creativity and innovation. Business can flounder if it falls prey to ‘groupthink’. Diversity makes way for greater input and the critical decision making that can propel a business forward.
There’s no denying business has been tough in Australia the last couple of years. A long summer of bushfires quickly followed by a global pandemic and rolling, ongoing lockdowns. Throw in great social upheaval and you have a country ready for change.
You can lead the charge by being a business embracing and fostering diversity and inclusion.
Kelly+Partners is proud to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace environment.