It’s not often we take time to take stock and think about how far Australia has come in terms of understanding and respecting the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion to our workplaces.
But there’s little doubt the workplace of today is vastly different from even the recent past.
We spoke to Lisa Annese, chief executive officer of the Diversity Council of Australia, to hear where Australian workplaces are up to on the road to true diversity and inclusion — and to understand what more needs to be done.
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.
And its report card — by and large — is positive.
“Australian organisations understand diversity and are committed to it — that has not always been the case,” says Annese.
“What we have in Australia is an awful lot of organisations who are really committed to creating diverse and inclusive workplaces because they understand that it’s good for their business.”
“They understand their shareholders expect it, their clients and customers expect it, that there are government regulations that are asking them questions about it and that it materially influences their ability to function, do business and attract and retain talent.”
- higher revenue growth
- increased ability to recruit
- higher employee retention.
Australia is one of the few countries where 30 per cent of board positions of the largest listed companies are held by women. There is however, still work to do to improve this figure as we continue to push toward 50 per cent.
“We’re seeing more and more women moving through the pipeline into more senior levels of management,” says Annese.
“We’re seeing more and more men understand that workplace flexibility is an important part of their work-life commitment and has benefits for their well-being and their connection to their children.
“More and more companies have Reconciliation Action Plans, where they’re trying to engage with their indigenous employees or potential employees.
“And look at Mardi Gras — if you were there 20 years ago it was a vastly different place. Now you’ve got corporates with floats for their employees and Pride networks in their organisations.”
So are we there yet?
Not quite, says Annese.
For starters, improvements in board gender diversity do not represent equity because senior roles are still not representative of the gender balance in lower-level roles or representative of the wider Australian population as a whole.
In industries like law and finance, women have long been a majority of graduates but remain underrepresented at management level.
Worse, some important markers of inclusion have a long way to go.
“We still see workplaces where sexual harassment is rife — one in three people have experienced workplace sexual harassment,” says Annese.
“We know there’s a deficit of women in leadership and a gender pay gap, and that women are over-represented in insecure employment and have a deficit in their retirement savings.
“We know men face significant obstacles when they try to become primary carers of their children and that this can have significant implications for their careers.
“We have a major lack of cultural and racial diversity in leadership of our biggest organisations and we still don’t see First Nations peoples represented in leadership, nor people with visible disabilities.
“So, there’s still a long way to go.”
This was the first of our two part series on diversity and inclusion.