DCA’s Debate finds there is too much talk and not enough action on diversity

Media releases
Topics Inclusion

The Diversity Council Australia and Xplore for Success Annual Diversity Debate held in Sydney last night found there is too much talk and not enough action on diversity, with the audience voting in favour of the affirmative team by 65% to 35%.

A record crowd of over 300 CEOs, HR directors and managers watched a high profile panel debate if there is too much talk and not enough action on diversity. While both sides agreed that talking is a necessary part of achieving action on diversity, the affirmative side argued successfully that talk hasn’t achieved enough. 

This was backed up by a survey of the audience that found the majority (84%) said that their organisation had a diversity strategy but fewer said that the strategy included measureable objectives (68%) and markedly fewer said that people were held accountable for not achieving them (24.5%). 

For the fifth year in a row, the debate was emceed by Tony Jones, respected journalist and host of ABC TV's Q&A. The debate panel included:

For the Affirmative team, arguing there IS too much talk and not enough action:  

  • Diana Ryall AM, Founder and Managing Director, Xplore for Success
  • Dr Tim Soutphommasane, Race Discrimination Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission
  • Professor Kerryn Phelps AM, Adjunct Professor, Sydney University and Conjoint Professor, University of New South Wales    

For the Negative team, arguing there IS NOT too much talk and action is taking place:

  • Dr Anne Summers AO, Editor and publisher of the digital magazine Anne Summers Reports
  • Chris Lamb, Head of Human Resources, Australia and Global Head of Diversity at Lend Lease
  • John Brogden AM, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Australian Institute of Company Directors

DCA’s CEO, Lisa Annese, said the discussion at the Debate highlighted key issues for employers.

“Everyone agrees that talking about diversity and inclusion is important. But what’s more important is that this talk actually leads to not only action but results. 

“We all know that progress on a variety of diversity fronts is slower than what we would like. But I do firmly believe more and more employers are understanding the benefits of diverse and inclusive workplaces and are taking steps. 

“However, action can’t be an end in itself – it has to lead to measurably better outcomes. This can only be achieved if organisations have robust diversity and inclusion strategies and hold people accountable for them. DCA will continue to provide resources and assistance to employers to support them in these efforts,” said Lisa.

During the Debate, speakers for the affirmative team argued that talking has not led to enough action.

  • “If there was sufficient action we would not be here tonight. By talking more, leaders have continued to avoid the need to take real action,” said Diana Ryall.
  • “In business, we don’t measure or collect data on cultural diversity and there is a lack of diverse representation in our parliament, media and corporates. Getting a fix of kebab on a Friday night doesn’t give you insight into cultural diversity,” said Dr Tim Soutphommasane. 
  • Diversity should be a KPI and reportable to the Board and shareholders," said Professor Kerryn Phelps.

Speakers for the negative team argued that talk is needed so actions are effective:

  • “Unless there is talk and you get buy in, then change won't be effective. You have to build support and awareness before you can achieve lasting action,” said Dr Anne Summers.
  • “We can never, ever stop talking about diversity. The simple reality is that progress will be minimal without real dialogue that encourages boards to implement change within their organisations that will have a lasting impact,” said John Brogden.
  • “There is nowhere near enough ‘talk’ on diversity and yet we know that ‘talk’ can lead to significant change. Martin Luther King Junior’s speech was called ‘I have a dream’, not ‘I have a list of agreed actions’,” said Chris Lamb.

DCA thanks Major Sponsor Xplore for Success as well as Supporting Sponsors Optus and NRMA, and Associate Sponsors Lion, BAE Systems and Boardroom.Media, for making the Debate such a successful event.

Lisa Annese, DCA’s CEO, and panellists are available for interview. Please contact Diane Falzon, 0430 596 699 or Catherine Petterson, 0419 447 331.