Diversity and inclusion: a generation of change for Australian business

Lisa Annese
Lisa Annese Chief Executive Officer Diversity Council Australia

The 2015 year has been a huge one for diversity and for DCA.  We launched two amazing research projects. One was the first of its kind in Australia – a tool to assist organisations to measure their Asia Capability or A-Cap, Leading in the Asian Century, and the other shed new light on how organisations can develop more Inclusive LeadershipWe were delighted to see our membership reach new heights, with over 300 members in the corporate, multinational, government, non-government and not-for-profit sectors now taking diversity very seriously and using DCA resources to build their capability. And this year, we turned 30!

So what's changed, a generation on since the formation of DCA?

Over the past 30 years, there has been significant progression in business and community thinking about diversity and inclusion. Alongside a rapid increase in women’s workforce participation, Australia has also seen developments like the Mabo case, legal protections for lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, the concept of reconciliation, and discrimination laws to protect people with disability – all of these things have fundamentally changed our perception of diversity. The cultural make up of Australian society has also changed significantly with over a quarter of Australia's population now born overseas and the community identifying with more than 300 ancestries.

This changing face of diversity in Australia is also reflected in the demand for DCA’s expertise and services. More and more, there is wide acceptance of the business case for increased diversity and inclusion.

The growing body of evidence demonstrating the financial return of promoting diversity and inclusion means that more and more organisations are appreciating the competitive advantage it can bring.

However, it is still early days (in a generational sense) and significant diversity and inclusion challenges remain.

The challenges ahead

Despite considerable effort, including requirements for employers to publicly report on gender equality indicators, introduction of the Workplace Gender Equality Act and introduction of the ASX Council recommendations on diversity, there is still much to be achieved. There is also no doubt that gender diversity is a key concern for business but gender equity issues abound. They include a lack of representation of women in leadership, a persistent gender pay gap, workplace harassment and discrimination, a lack of mainstreamed flexible work opportunities and quite possibly, the greatest issue of them all – one that both starts with gender inequality and also causes further gender inequality –violence against women. DCA has started work in this area to assist its members to understand that this is also a workplace issue that must be confronted.

Australia has a way to go when it comes to embracing cultural diversity and addressing racism, as highlighted by the recent experiences of AFL player Adam Goodes. The under-representation of people with a disability, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Australians and older workers in our workplaces also needs to be addressed.

Research also shows many LGBTI people do not feel comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation at work, and this has a negative effect on them and their organisations. Marriage equality would play an important role in cementing workplace fairness and inclusion for the LGBTI community.

Quality flexible work and careers are still not widely available to men and women, despite the fact that they are key enablers across many diversity areas and I am very encouraged that several major employers are introducing policies whereby all roles could be considered flexible – and I hope others follow suit.

While some organisations are leading the way on diversity and inclusion – and many of these are DCA members – others are still in the early stages of thinking about and implementing diversity management.

As a recent joint DCA study has shown, it is critical that organisations invest in, support and embed the diversity and inclusion function throughout the business in order to harness the significant business benefits that can be generated.

At DCA’s recent annual Diversity Debate where a high profile panel debated whether there is too much talk and not enough action on diversity, a record crowd of over 300 CEOs, HR directors and managers voted in favour of the affirmative team arguing there is too much talk and not enough action. The sold out event is telling of the broader business community’s interest in the discussion of, and action on, workplace diversity and inclusion.

Better harnessing the full potential of the workforce can have significant economic benefits. In just two examples, it has been estimated that removing barriers to women’s workforce participation has the potential to increase the size of the Australian economy by about $25 billion a year. And closing the gap in labour market participation and unemployment rates between people with and without disability by one-third would provide a $43 billion increase to Australia’s GDP over a decade.

Where to next?

To meet the changing demands of business and technology, Australia’s workforce needs to continue to be innovative and creative so that we can remain internationally competitive. Organisations need to show real commitment to diversity and inclusion by implementing robust strategies with measurable goals, and holding people accountable for achieving them.

Although there remains many challenges for Australian organisations to achieve greater workplace diversity and inclusion, DCA is committed to supporting our members to reach their goals.

I’m excited for the future and look forward to the opportunities that the next 30 years will hold!


Lisa Annese has been Chief Executive Officer for Diversity Council Australia since June 2014.

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