Diversity and inclusion: 5 steps you can take today

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The evidence is conclusive — diverse workplaces outperform.

Great Place to Work® research shows that diversity and inclusion bring higher revenue growth, greater innovation, easier recruitment and higher retention.

A diverse and inclusive workplace is one that makes everyone, regardless of who they are or what they do for the business, feel equally involved in and supported in all areas of the workplace.

But what can you do — today — in your own organisation?

We asked Lisa Annese, the chief executive officer of the Diversity Council of Australia, to outline some actionable steps that anyone can take to improve diversity and inclusion at their workplace.

The Diversity Council is a member-based not-for-profit with more than 1000 member companies who between them employ some 20 per cent of the Australian workforce.

“What we do for our members is build their capability in diversity and inclusion across the spectrum of D&I dimensions — gender, age, disability, indigeneity, LGBTIQ+ identity, cultural and racial diversity,” says Annese.

“We develop evidence-based resources, we run webinars and events, we have a communications portfolio of blogs and newsletters and social media engagement — and all these things are designed to support our members.”

Annese outlined five steps to get you started today on bringing diversity and inclusion to life at your workplace.

5 steps to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace
1. Invest in your own learning — and collect real data

Annese’s first suggestion is to invest in your own learning.

“Be informed by the lived experience of the people for whom you are designing solutions — centre their experience in it. Don’t act or speak on behalf of people.”

She says a critical step is spending time understanding your individual environment and then designing where you want to be and why.

“This is important for you as a business so you can try and design change that will be effective,” she says.

Part of being informed is also to seek out accurate, timely data.

“You need to analyse — don’t become paralysed but you need objective information to help inform change.”

Annese says data collection is a vital – if vexed – part of diversity.

“You need to design surveys that give you the right information. Don’t assume you know how to ask questions in this space because it’s garbage in garbage out.

“You need to know how to ask a question.

“Don’t just get on SurveyMonkey and make it up.”

Annese says collecting information and being informed matter because “what will happen if you don’t have objective information is you are just hearing the loudest voices who will direct the path of the and you’re just hearing the loudest voices.

2. Don’t listen to the loudest voices

Which brings Annese to her second tip: don’t be captured by those loud voices.

Those voices may be in your organisation, but they can also be found outside.

“There are a lot of consultants in this space,” she says.

“Some consultants are good — but a lot of them get on board with trends and get on bandwagons.

“If you want to create gender equity in leadership it is more about understanding how leadership blueprints operate in workplaces and what are the ways in which you can disrupt that system and what kind of capability do you need to build in people.

“It’s not about what a consultant might sell like mentoring women, running unconscious bias training — doing all this stuff that doesn’t work.”

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3. Understand not just where you want to get to — but why

Too often, Annese says she hears organisational leaders say they want to achieve diversity without being able to enunciate why — what’s in it for the organisation?

Articulating the business case for diversity is a critical step to achieving it.
“Unless you can articulate in business terms what you’re trying to do and why, you are destined to fail,” says Annese.

“This is a really hard space to work in. It requires sophisticated knowledge, it requires an understanding of how change happens in organisations, and it requires a strategy to enable change, led by evidence.

“People massively underestimate the complexity.”

Being able to spell out the business case for diversity is essential for engaging stakeholders in the process.

“Not everyone is motivated by social good, or by the moral case, or by injustice or inequity. If organisations want to know where to start — this is where you have to start.

“I see organisations all the time set themselves up to fail.”

4. Align your leaders

Annese says setting out the business case is also important to ensuring that an organisation’s leaders are committed to diversity.

“Sometimes change starts because you have a really passionate group of people somewhere in the organisation.

“But for change to be effective, the leaders need to be on board. This cannot be driven by people without power in an organisation.

“It can be supported and energised by them – but leaders have to take it seriously.”

5. Watch for blockers

Finally, Annese advises keeping an eye out for the blockers that get in the way of diversity.

“If you are a change maker in this space you are up against a lot — even if people are not open and honest about it.

“This never used to be a very political space to work in but now that it has become mainstream there are commentators and movements that seek to undermine.

“The most widely-Googled term on International Women’s Day is ‘when is international men’s day?’” she says.

So, what to watch for?

Annese says an insidious opposition to diversity is growing and it’s important to call it out.

“Most people don’t know how to confront that kind of opposition.

“Comments like ‘this is political correctness gone mad’, ‘boys will be boys’, ‘you can’t take a joke’,” she says.

“But what we know is that if you don’t stand up to that kind of opposition, then it prevails.”

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Samantha Huddle

Samantha Huddle is the General Manager of Great Place to Work® in Australia and NZ. Sam has more than two decades of experience from the grassroots to the C-suite and helps businesses build high-trust, inclusive cultures that deliver tangible results. With experience across the government, philanthropic and corporate sectors, Sam brings a collaborative, values-driven approach and a passion for achieving social impact through business. Sam publishes a well-read monthly newsletter which can be read **here.**

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