Diversity in the workplace is not only a pressing social concern, but is intrinsically tied to your business model. Having policies that are friendly to diverse backgrounds means that your ability to attract talent is greater, workplace culture is enhanced and you are more likely to outperform non-diverse companies.
However women still only make up 31.8 per cent of ASX 200 boards and Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander workers are more than twice as likely as non-Indigenous workers to experience discrimination or harassment.
This week we ask: how can we achieve real diversity in the workplace?
Lauren Crystal, Co-founder, Hassl
I’ve got a confession to make. I didn’t really know what diversity meant, or that I was planning for it. In fact, in true start-up style we saw the words “diversity” and “inclusivity” as buzzwords on the same shelf as “innovation”, “hub” and “ecosystem.”
In reality, our efforts to practice diversity have been driven by our founders’ experience. We’re from different ethnicities, backgrounds, sexualities, chronic illnesses and genders. We’d been excluded or marginalised in the past, and it made us less confident and less productive.
So for us, being different was never a policy. As leaders, we made a plan for growth, success and to create a workplace where people can feel included.
Fostering an inclusive and diverse culture can lead to positive business outcomes, and startups have a rare opportunity to get it right from day one. This is why I want founders and anyone working in startups to call out non-inclusive behaviour.
It’s important to have that conversation, in order to create an environment where people feel secure enough to raise a point, or correct someone, while ensuring the corrected party feels comfortable and more importantly – safe.
Weh Yeo, CEO and Co-founder, Umbo
The first thing is to recognise that diversity is not just about gender. Although gender diversity is still lacking in Australia, too often we see efforts promoting diversity that are entirely monochromatic, and this does a disservice to all the other forms of diversity – cultural, LGBTQI+, disability, age, socioeconomic – just to name a few.
Secondly, recognise that diversity is not a tick box exercise, but benefits companies because they promote diversity of thought, which is more representative of the customer base. It means decisions are not based on assumptions but lived experience.
Finally, in the spirit of “you cannot be what you cannot see,” a concerted push towards diversity means having clearly defined targets across the diverse lenses, and actively finding people who represent these lenses. It means no longer hiring through your network or hiring purely for “cultural fit,” which are sure-fire ways to establish groupthink in your team.
Ian Yip, CEO and Co-founder, Avertro
Leaders have to actively build a team with diversity in mind, and hire on merit. These are not mutually exclusive and must exist simultaneously to fully reap the benefits.
All too often, people think about diversity purely along the lines of gender. While this is important, cultural and age diversity matter too. When we recruit, we actively seek all these aspects.
Our small team of eight is culturally diverse, with ages ranging from 22 to 50. We benefit from the blend of life experiences and youthful enthusiasm that naturally flows during team interactions. In addition, half our team actively made decisions to switch careers to what they currently do. While this is not a prerequisite for success, we draw upon their varied backgrounds, helping us on our journey to be a truly diverse, world-class team.
Organisations might not always have the ideal state of diversity due to genuine circumstances. The most important thing is to continue striving to achieve the right balance. You have only failed in your pursuit of diversity when you stop actively trying.
Blaise Porter, Director of Responsible Business, Fujitsu ANZ
Organisations should focus on inclusivity in this conversation, and not just diversity. Some inclusion actions might look like diversity initiatives, but some are closer to traditional “culture” programs, such as ensuring that people can freely give and receive feedback, where performance assessment is objective and measurable, and where decision-making is clear and consistent. If organisations just focus on diversity as hiring initiatives, it won’t get the benefits, because employees won’t feel able to bring their diverse experiences and ideas to the table.
Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) are a great example of this approach. The RAP extends to how organisations work with communities, customers, and supply chain, so that collaboration with First Nations people permeates every area. This is critical; inclusion can’t just be achieved inside the organisation’s “four walls.” Inclusive organisations have to be involved and responsible members of their community, and operate with purpose.
Gordana Redzovski, Vice President APAC, Vend
With people at the heart of every successful business, the need for workplace diversity is overwhelming. We represent a diverse industry, so building a diverse workforce – where biases are challenged and a broad range of perspectives from multiple socio-economic and geographic backgrounds are heard – is imperative. In such an environment, staff feel confident that their values are aligned with those of their workplace, resulting in higher staff engagement, productivity and retention.
It takes real work, but creating this culture starts by attracting diverse leaders who understand their role in leading by example and fostering diversity, inclusivity and positivity. For instance, at Vend, we’ve introduced a formal diversity framework that has seen us hire senior leaders mid-pregnancy, schedule functions around family commitments and enable employees to self-create company initiatives around diversity issues that are important to them. However, achieving diversity in the workplace isn’t a “set and forget” process, so by continually reviewing and adapting initiatives and approaches we can ensure staff feel valued, welcomed and proud to come to work.
Branka Injac Misic, Co-founder, GigSuper
Often when people talk about diversity in the workplace, it’s in reference to traditional employment structures.
But as we move into the new world of work – recently accelerated by the rollercoaster of the pandemic – we also need to start observing diversity through an alternative mode of work lens.
For businesses looking to achieve deeper diversity, re-evaluating how they hire, who they hire, and where they find talent will be key.
Seeking out skills, rather than focusing on headcounts is a good place to start. And we’re lucky to have a diverse skill set amongst Australian freelancers (≈ 84% of whom are women according to a recent survey). This is a huge pool of talent that many businesses may miss out on if they are only looking for “full-time employees.”
Pia Chaudhuri, Group Creative Director, BMF
People aren’t fans of quotas, but my belief is that until actions are measurable, there will be no data holding businesses accountable. We should be aiming for representation that matches the general population at every level of a company, especially leadership.
While there are no official stats on the cultural make-up of Australia since the census stopped collecting this information in 1981, a report by the Australian Human Rights commission in 2018 estimated that 21% of the population are non-Caucasian and 3% are Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander. That’s a quarter of every workplace that should be diverse.
As we saw with gender diversity a few years back, until a largely quota-driven over-correction was made, women just weren’t being given the same opportunities as men. That’s not to say I think the only way to achieve diversity is through quotas. However, at this point in time, it would surely help.
Kelly Young, Chief Human Resources Officer, Isentia
If this year has taught us anything, it’s that the diversity of your people is your business’ greatest strength. By encouraging and supporting your employees to bring their whole selves to work, you can drive innovation and promote a culture of inclusion. This, in turn, can improve productivity levels, employee retention and overall wellbeing. At Isentia, we encourage our people to share their views and expertise to ensure we capture as many voices as possible and achieve the best results. For example, occasions like Harmony Day are a great way to experience diversity through food. My advice for business leaders is to create a workplace culture where employees feel comfortable to come together and celebrate the differences in heritages, communities and cultures that make their teams unique.
Amber Jackson, People & Culture Manager, Orchard
Diversity in the workplace shouldn’t be something that you are looking to tick boxes for to gain credits. It should be a natural progression based on the values you share with your people. While many companies have mission statements, at Orchard we have values that are lived and breathed by everyone. They are weaved into our KPIs, at the centre of events, and in how we work with our clients. We had our people put a pin on a world map to show their family origins one day too, and it was no surprise that 75% of the world was covered in pins! The best feedback I’ve received from an employee was, “what I love most about this team is that they accept me for me.” That’s what we are trying to achieve – acceptance and diversity – and it’s encouraging to see other businesses and leaders working towards the same goal.
Pieter Danhieux, CEO and Co-founder, Secure Code Warrior
To successfully champion diversity, it must be infused in an organisation’s DNA so that it becomes second nature and a business imperative. A business that operates with the voices and experience of varied backgrounds is one that is far better placed for innovative thinking, creative problem-solving, and ultimately, success. It is not enough to merely have diversity as a metric you need to tick. An ideal state is when everyone feels safe to speak up, and there are role models in higher positions that can inspire others to achieve their goals.
Building a workplace that is truly representative requires conscious and ongoing efforts to elevate and embrace people with diverse perspectives: people of colour, women, neurodiverse talents and any other minority group. From recruitment and hiring, to putting resources and programs in place to support and develop diverse talent, to setting the tone with leadership, it is the tangible actions that will help organisations break down barriers and create a stronger workforce.
Mike Featherstone, Managing Director ANZ & APAC, Pluralsight
Technology is one of the fastest evolving industries, however, it has historically struggled to diversify its ranks, which is preventing the industry from pushing the boundaries of innovation. A recent study by Boston Consulting Group found companies with more diverse management teams have 19 percent higher revenues due to innovation.
A traditionally male-dominated industry has an opportunity to make diversity a reality, and that can begin by democratising technology skills. Not only will this bridge the existing digital skills gap but also broaden the talent pool by levelling the playing field for everyone, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or socio-economic background. Business leaders and C-suite execs alike have a unique and welcomed opportunity to drive change from the top-down and come to the table with a concerted and proactive business strategy that acknowledges diversity as an imperative. A strong commitment towards executing diversity in the long term means having this embedded deep within a company’s core values.
Emma Pudney, Chief Technology Officer APJ, Rackspace Technology
As a female in the Australian STEM industry, I have a vested interest in seeing meaningful change when it comes to diversity initiatives. It’s about recognising certain advantages and biases while also celebrating our differences. Diverse workplaces have been proven to foster more creative thinking, problem solving and tangible business ROI. A lack of representation and female role models within STEM can be a deterrent to graduates. This also applies to other minority groups in STEM including BIPOC and those with disabilities.
COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of technology. The key to strengthening the tech industry is offering subsidised programs, training and internships for those with interest regardless of background or gender. It’s not enough to tick a box and promote diversity among employees. Change will happen when it comes from the top. It’s not enough to have a workplace that’s free from discrimination. Businesses must deliberately create opportunities for women entering the tech space and offer pathways for female tech leaders.
Garth Williamson, Country Manager ANZ, Shutterstock
For a workplace to claim they champion diversity and inclusion, they have to first build the internal foundations. This goes beyond just hiring a diverse workforce across age, gender, sexuality and ethnicity. Workplaces must go a step further and integrate their commitment to diversity and inclusion throughout all internal communications.
Visual communication in particular can be a powerful vehicle to enforce this commitment. Firstly, workplaces must proactively ensure all visual aids – whether it be onboarding videos, online learning or workplace signage – feature diverse subjects. Storytelling can also be a powerful way to educate and inspire employees. As humans, we are naturally programmed to resonate with stories over data, facts and figures. Workplaces can create content such as internal newsletters or external social media posts, that celebrate the backgrounds and cultures of your employees. It can be through a “Day In The Life Of….” type series or an educational animation video distributed on celebrations like Pride Month or religious holidays.
Joel Camissar, Regional Director of MVISION Cloud APAC, McAfee
To achieve diversity in the workplace, the goal must be as significant as any other business objective. The gateway to a truly diverse workplace is equal opportunity—which nowadays should be a non-negotiable. What must remain a priority for business leaders is creating a culture that embraces differences—and that means celebrating under-represented and neuro-diverse talent pools.
Companies need to embrace open-door policies and design initiatives that break down all barriers, such as unconscious bias, to pave the way for all talent to be equally, and fairly hired, developed and celebrated. Committing to gender pay parity, ensuring equal advancement and inclusive benefits, and providing practical resources and training programs are just a few other ways business leaders can ensure inclusion sits at the core of the company’s vision, and diversity is an ongoing, realistic practice.
Zoë Routh, Leadership Specialist, author of People Stuff
Just because your team looks like a box of M&Ms, with all colours, shapes and sizes, does not mean it is diverse in a useful way. Just because people look and sound different to the dominant norm, does not mean that their perspective is actually different. We might come from different countries, but share the same values. We might speak various languages, but love working the same way. We might move around differently, but make decisions in the same manner. Real diversity allows for cross-pollination of ideas. Real diversity enables a constructive grinding of divergent opinions. Diversity of human packaging creates unique life experiences with stories worth sharing for more compassionate and intelligent leadership. We also need diversity of cognitive processing to challenge default thinking and stale worldviews. When we have difference in both packaging and contents, we need strong leadership to hear all the voices. That’s real diversity.
Kat Warboys, Head of Marketing ANZ, HubSpot
Embracing diverse backgrounds opens the door to better problem solving, innovative ideas and fosters a more productive work environment. It isn’t enough to just talk about diversifying your team, company, and community. Change requires action. Businesses need to think beyond ticking boxes – true diversity runs far deeper in its intent and impact.
How you measure progress is an important place to begin. Our mission at HubSpot is to help millions of organisations grow better and our annual Diversity Report is a critical milestone in how we are growing better ourselves. We’ve published our diversity data, which includes demographic data on gender, age, ethnicity, parental status and gender identities, annually since 2016 to be transparent, track our progress and hold ourselves accountable to improving every year.
As a global brand, we’re acutely aware that diversity is unique in every region, country and community we are present in and we’re working to really understand what this looks like. One practice on this is asking our teams and individuals to take responsibility within their own work by setting goals around the area they control – for marketers, this could be setting goals and practices around diversity in speakers at events or representing the local community in brand creative and photography.
Recognising that building a diverse and inclusive workforce should be a whole of business priority, not just an HR or recruiting one, will help companies make a meaningful impact for a better future.
Ceri Ittensohn, Chief People and Culture Officer, TAL
Achieving real diversity in the workplace requires a culture that genuinely values the different experiences and perspectives that a diverse workforce provides. It is not enough to just have a representation of people with different identities, backgrounds and experiences. The real value comes from making the most of that diversity – when people have a sense of belonging, when there are opportunities for everyone to have a voice and to make a full contribution.
Leaders have a key role to play in bringing diversity and inclusion to life. HR policies and programs help, but ultimately the experience people have is shaped by the decisions and actions of their leader – the conversations they have, the behaviours they model and the visible and active ways they promote an environment for everyone to feel safe and supported to give their very best and to thrive in their careers.
It is when diversity and inclusion come together that there are real benefits for people and businesses
Simon Le Grand, Director of Marketing and Product Management, Lightspeed
Workplace diversity is important because it brings different viewpoints to the table. Different viewpoints provide insight, generate conversation, breed creativity and in turn create innovation – a crucial ingredient for business success. We are passionate about increasing diversity in our workplace, and the tech community broadly. The original team, including our CEO and founder, are members of the LGBTQ community, which cemented diversity and inclusion into Lightspeed’s DNA from day one. Internally, we share diversity statistics within our company so that we’re transparent regarding our BIPOC representation. We provide diversity and inclusion training for all managers and partner with organisations like the Black Professionals in Tech Network, Technovation and Black Girls Code to help make meaningful long-term changes. We’ve implemented a number of inclusiveness programmes, like dedicating $100,000 to organisations that help provide education, representation and resources to black youth and professionals in the tech industry. When a company recognises that there is work to be done, it’s the first step for positive change. Education and a desire to learn is imperative and the evidence of the benefits of workplace diversity are immense.
Caroline La Rose, Program Director, Hotwire
The first — and most often skipped — step to achieving real diversity in the workplace is to humanise this issue. Very often, companies are in a rush to come up with diversity metrics and percentages for recruitment, throw resources at initiatives or training, and to communicate these externally. While metrics and training are necessary to measure progress, they are unfortunately often applied in a silo. Instead, business leaders must first have diversity conversations with their teams and dig deeper into the human element that is at the foundation of this issue. The second step is to always tackle diversity in conjunction with inclusion. Diversity without inclusion will result purely in statistics and box-ticking instead of real change and progress. As Damien Hooper-Campbell says, “If diversity is getting invited to the dance party, inclusion is being asked to dance when you’re at the party.”
Alexander Dreiling, CEO and Co-founder, Clipchamp
Diversity is so important for us because it means people can challenge each other better, and they come up with better ideas. We have millions of users in every single country of the world. If we don’t actually resemble some of that diversity, it’s going to be impossible for us to really empathise with our users.
Diversity starts with hiring, and we strive to eliminate bias through interviewer training and our selection process. We believe that different backgrounds and perspectives lead to innovation, and do our best to build an inclusive culture through flexibility, transparency and openness.
Meredith Roach, Chief Communications and Sustainability Officer, Konica Minolta
A company’s commitment to diversity in the workplace goes well beyond having a policy or a code of conduct; it goes to the core of its values and beliefs.
This commitment needs to come from the top, from leaders who understand the value of diversity and from a leadership team who represents diversity.
The thoughts and qualities of people representing different ages, genders, disabilities, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds, sexual identities and orientations, and people from all walks of life, genuinely contribute to greater business success, and businesses that understand this benefit the most.
Companies with a welcoming culture that appreciates the value of diversity will attract and retain staff who are inspired and motivated to drive a successful company by having the freedom to be themselves.
Rolf Howard, Managing Partner, Owen Hodge Lawyers
Achieving diversity in the workplace isn’t as simple as just hiring a more diverse workforce. It’s about retaining that talent, providing career progression opportunities and driving a cultural change.
Law firms used to hire the same kind of people, who went to the same schools, with the same kind of backgrounds and ways of seeing the world. Luckily this has changed but we still have a long way to go.
Many of the up-and-coming young leaders in our industry are women. However, once they have a family, too often their career stalls or they leave the profession altogether. The way many law firms operate is completely at odds with having a family. This is robbing the industry of exceptional talent.
If we want this to change, we need to change the culture which creates barriers for sustaining diversity in our workplaces. We need to ask our teams what they need and adapt accordingly, not the other way around.
Kristie Twomey, Vice President HR APAC, Genesys
Achieving diversity in the workplace means recognising, appreciating and celebrating the unique differences among employees and prospects. These differences are multi-dimensional, offering diverse voices and ideas that open the door for innovation, collaboration and creativity.
The key is to start with making room for diversity and evaluating hiring practices. Recognise and eliminate the systemic barriers that come in the way of creating a level playing field for the marginalised. Focus on building awareness around cultural differences, equity gaps and educating teams on unconscious biases within the company.
Examine your workplace culture, make every voice heard, understood and valued, and let empathy take centre stage as your corporate mantra. At Genesys, we do this by fostering a culture of inclusivity and promoting it throughout the entire hiring journey. By moving towards achieving these balances, we can get our employees to bring their authentic selves to work and create a more equitable and inclusive organisation.