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Working to make diversity and inclusion a cultural and practical reality changed my workplace for the better. Here’s what it will take to do the same for yours.
Too often, diversity and inclusion in the workplace get lost in translation. All the more reason why it’s both exciting and rewarding when you realise you’re getting it right.
In fact, the biggest sense of joy I’ve had since I joined Insignia Financial was when we launched our Pride group on Wear It Purple Day to acknowledge and celebrate our LGBTQIA+ community. There was just such a spontaneous outpouring of support and celebration from across the organisation.
True, most of our 5,000 employees were working remotely, so we were relying on computer backdrops and webinars, with the week culminating in a virtual DJ and celebratory party. But it worked: some employees told us the week had changed their corporate life – this from people who had been in the workforce for upwards of 30 years, across multiple organisations.
This one example goes to the very essence of why diversity and inclusion matter. Whether you’re a business of five or 5000, it brings people together by allowing them to be the best version of themselves. That’s good for your employees – and also for your business.
Consider research by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and Deloitte. It found that when employees feel included and think diversity is supported at work, their ability to innovate increases by 83 per cent, their responsiveness to changing customer needs by 31 per cent and their team collaboration by 42 per cent.
Or BetterUp research, which found that a strong sense of belonging is linked to a 56 per cent increase in job performance, a 50 per cent decrease in turnover risk and a 75 per cent reduction in absenteeism.
We’ve come a long way regarding diversity and inclusion and some of this can be attributed to changes at the corporate level.
For instance, the Workplace Gender Equality Act of 2012 forced companies to take a cold, hard look at their workplace practices. After all, data doesn’t lie. Certainly it made the organisations that I worked for shift gear on this issue more than any other, underlined by the fact women now make up 41.8 per cent of new appointments to ASX 200 boards.
But for all that, there are other, far less impressive, statistics that also bear scrutiny.
When it comes to people with a disability, for instance, only 48 per cent of those between 15 and 64 years are employed, compared with 80 per cent of the general population. Meanwhile, a recent report from the Jumbunna Institute of Indigenous Education and Research and Diversity Council Australia found that 65 per cent of Indigenous people felt they had to work harder to prove they, as an Indigenous person, could do their job.
Understanding people’s experiences of inclusion and what needs to change necessarily goes beyond statistics. It’s why, as an organisation, you need to consider your employees’ perceptions – to use your engagement surveys to find out what people are saying, how they are feeling and where your leaders fit in to it all.
Ultimately, diversity and inclusion require cultural change. You are trying to alter entrenched behaviours a lifetime in the making – deep societal perceptions and expectations that are some of the hardest things to shift.
So how do you go about it? At Insignia Financial, the success of our Wear It Purple Day was the culmination of many things.
To start with, diversity and inclusion isn’t considered an HR issue. Rather it is business driven, requiring buy-in from leaders across the board.
Our CEO plays an active role in any progress we make, chairing our Diversity Inclusion Advisory Council. He also reaches out to the company through his weekly webinars, using them as an opportunity to talk about diversity and inclusion in its various forms, whether that’s recognising Diwali or International Women’s Day.
In addition, we have members of the executive team or senior leaders heading our six diversity and inclusion streams: Gender, Multicultural, Life and family, Accessibility, LGBTQIA+ and Reconciliation. Importantly, they’re not simply leading but are highly visible in their ownership of the initiatives.
We also know it’s vital to hear from other voices in the workplace. That way you come to understand their distinct experiences (preferably their own distinct experiences), whether that relates to their identity, their socio-economic background or even their cognitive disposition.
Moreover, it’s by having those voices – that volume of passionate voices – that you achieve the necessary penetration of ideas and experiences throughout the company.
At the same time, you need the structures, processes and policies in place. In the end, it’s no good attempting to head in a direction that’s not supported by your everyday practices.
And while it’s important not to get bogged down in data, measurement does matter, helping us understand the context we’re working within.
Of course, we haven’t got it all right – as few businesses will. But by working on it together as a business and as individuals, we get ever closer to the truly diverse and inclusive workplace we’d like to be. Moreover, we remain true to our organisation’s underlying purpose when it comes to both our clients and employees: understand me, look after me, secure my future.
Chief People Officer