Efforts to encourage diversity in the workplace have been described as political correctness gone mad. But at the same time, there is evidence that recognising differences and inequalities experienced by particular groups is critical in order to establish a level playing field and to allow equal opportunity for all in the workplace.
The Diversity Council Australia and National Australia Bank Annual Diversity Debate held in Sydney last night found a focus on identity does help diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace, with the audience voting in favour of the Affirmative team by 78% to 22%.
A capacity crowd of over 460 business leaders, HR directors and managers watched a high profile panel debate if a focus on identity helps or hinders D&I in the workplace.
The Debate was emceed by Tony Jones, respected journalist and host of ABC TV's Q&A and the Debate panellists included:
For the Affirmative team, arguing that a focus on identity DOES HELP D&I:
- Don Elgin, Paralympian and StarAmp Global Founder
- Kumi Taguchi, Host of Compass on ABC TV
- Sharon Cook, Chief Legal & Commercial Counsel, National Australia Bank.
For the Negative team, arguing that a focus on identity DOES NOT HELP D&I:
- Peter van Onselen, Anchor, SKY NEWS and Contributing Editor, The Australian
- Libby Lyons, Director, Workplace Gender Equality Agency
- Dr Sev Ozdowski AM, Chair of the Australian Multicultural Council.
A survey of the audience found that identity is a focus for corporate Australia, with 65% saying their organisation measures the way their employees identify and 70% creating specific goals for addressing underrepresented groups.
However, it was clear that while recognising identity is important, more needs to be done to engage all employees in inclusion initiatives. Three quarters of the audience believed that employees who don’t identify with a diversity group feel excluded from D&I efforts or were unsure if they were (35.8% and 39.6% respectively).
DCA’s CEO, Lisa Annese, said the discussion at the Debate highlighted key issues for employers.
“Identity politics has been a fraught subject these past few years. From those who believe a focus on identity is critical to creating a genuinely equitable society to others who believe the public discourse has been subverted by lefty do-gooders with their politically correct agenda – the topic is constant subject for debate. Our Debate shed valuable light on the positives and negatives of a focus on identity and provides employers with food for thought when it comes to their own D&I programs,” said Lisa.
During the Debate, speakers for the Affirmative team argued that a focus on identity in the workplace is key.
“Embracing difference and identity leads to understanding, not division. It’s not the only ingredient you need for a diverse and inclusive workplace, but it’s part of the recipe,” said Sharon Cook.
“Identity matters because when we see people who reflect our own identity, we feel like we belong,” said Kumi Taguchi.
“One reason a focus on identity helps diversity in the workplace is because people want to belong. Humans crave acceptance and knowing we can be who we are brings the best out of people,” said Don Elgin.
Speakers for the Negative team argued that a focus on identity is not the answer.
“It's hard to attain inclusion and equality when you're constantly focusing on differences between groups or categories of people. Success and even greatness must be a product of individual talent, effort and enthusiasm, not of group, class or category,” said Dr Sev Ozdowski AM.
“It’s true that women face unique challenges at work. But if gender equality is seen as a women’s issue to be addressed by women talking to themselves, I guarantee we’ll still be here in decades to come bemoaning our lack of progress,” said Libby Lyons.
“The same-sex marriage debate got real when it moved beyond identity politics. A focus on identity for a time is good but you need to move on,” said Peter van Onselen.
DCA thanks Major Sponsor NAB as well as Supporting Sponsors Optus and Johnson & Johnson, and Associate Sponsors Bloomberg and Boardroom.Media, for making the Debate such a successful event.