Final address as DCA Chair – Ming Long AM

This is my last address to you as Chair and thus I am taking the opportunity to share a few final thoughts with you.

The work of DCA to shine a light on factors that exclude capable and talented people based on their gender, race, sexuality and class among other things from work and, more importantly, from society, is critical.

As we confront climate change, AI, geopolitical security concerns, conflicts in human rights and identity, inequality, division and all the challenges they impose on us, our social cohesion, which we so often take for granted, will be tested and I dearly hope that our society, community and organisations are ready for the trials that are coming. 

You can be assured, DCA will be here to help you navigate and think deeply through these issues just as we need to navigate them ourselves.

Through our evidence-led voice, we harness diversity and inclusion to strengthen Australian organisations – and this has an important flow-on effect to society. And whilst we advocate for change to be more inclusive, we are not an activist organisation as some would like us to be.  

Inclusive workplaces in the context of all these complexities – and where there is a diversity of perspectives and lived experiences – are workplaces that are able to create respectful and connected experiences for all employees who are coming to work for a purpose.

We know that an equitable society is one that’s capable of solving our most critical challenges.

The work of D&I is more than just budgets in HR, feel-good exercises, or meeting targets. It must be practical and start from where we stand. We must cut through the noise, translating evidence into practical tools and resources. It’s lifelong work that’s needed to underpin cultures in our organisations and our entire society.

Your work is more important than the sphere you influence, and it is a legacy that will ripple through our society long after you are gone. 

And yet there are factors that undermine this important work. You may have heard me speak before about “Diversity for self-interest”. Diversity only so that you can get a leg up without any concern for other factors or others. The weaponisation of D&I for personal gain. Diversity that starts and ends at self, regardless of the impact on others.

I’ve said in the past that I understand people might start with an understanding of D&I from self-interest, but it cannot end there. It cannot be that we care for D&I without acknowledging the privilege we all carry.

What I think is not well understood, is that inclusion in organisations is not:

  1. a shield from accountability
  2. coddling
  3. consensus decision making
  4. unearned autonomy
  5. rhetorical reassurance.

Inclusion is first the responsibility of leaders but also of all employees.  Through respectful debate and considered guidance, we’re building skills that enable people to better understand the perspectives of others.

We must be careful where there are conflicts of human rights or identities, to listen and act with respect, grace and humility.

We have always said at DCA that we cannot boil the ocean, we cannot tackle every project individuals want to pursue – it must link back to the purpose of the organisation, its goals and the allocation of scarce resources. We must choose our battles wisely and carefully prioritise our efforts.

On the road ahead, the status quo will not suffice.

As DCA has highlighted before, we have two sides of a coin: both advantage and disadvantage. There is much work to do in this space and I am proud of all that we have achieved together.

I am proud of DCA’s research and how it has held a mirror to me and challenged me.

So often we shy away from engaging in the debates and intellectual friction required to solve problems, create new solutions and make breakthroughs to understand each other from our many individual perspectives.

I know that DCA’s research will continue to be courageous and continue to foster the conversations that we so desperately need.

But I know the best is yet to come – Class.

I know DCA’s upcoming research on class – which must be one of the most complex and challenging topics, and for which I have great interest – will be groundbreaking.  For me, it is an area in which I know I and others have great privilege. I know I need to do better, which is why I am very much looking forward to the release of the research.

To this day, I am proud to have supported The Voice to Parliament alongside DCA, with the little skill I have in campaigns. I continue to stand with First Nations people, whose simple proposal was rejected. The devastation for many First Nations peoples will be felt for generations – remember it every time you see a Closing the Gap report.

For First Nations people with us today – I am sorry we failed you. 

We cannot ignore the part racism or class played in the outcome of the Voice to Parliament referendum. There is much analysis of what happened and why, which I will not go into. However, it is important to examine the factors behind this rejection so that we may learn more effective ways to work toward reconciliation and be effective allies to First Nations people.

This is why the work of DCA must continue.

DCA’s evidence-driven guidance broadens the conversation on diversity and inclusion, shaping public dialogue and policies for an Australia where every person can reach their full potential.

It must continue to be research and data-driven, and must acknowledge intersectionality and the complexity that exists in our organisations and in society. This must spill over to the communities in which our people live and play, and in which we operate. We must try even when people fail to see the importance of diversity and inclusion, because we need a stronger more resilient society.

We need the critical thinking and understanding of how we relate to each other, and more often than not, we have more in common than we think.

As my last address to you as DCA Chair, my appeal to you is simple:

Be careful of what you expect of others in your area of specific interest. There is no perfection in D&I because we are all human, and organisations are full of humans.

Be careful that what you expect of others is what you can live up to. Acknowledge your limits in areas of D&I where you are not the expert and have no lived experience. 

Be careful that, as D&I advocates, we use tested evidence because while individual lived experience is important, it does not mean it is the truth for everyone.

Be careful that as you do this important work, you remember your overall purpose and mission – to create inclusive workplaces where people in all their diversity can thrive.  

And please, stop telling everyone to bring their whole self to work. But bring your authentic self, aligned to the values and behaviours expected in your organisation.

Whilst I would have dearly loved to stay on at DCA, my term has come to an end. As a director and particularly as Chair, we must set the highest governance standard we expect from others.

I know that our amazingly talented and committed board and management team will continue to be even more successful beyond my time. 

My heart is with you and I will watch cheering from the sidelines as the Board and team continue to hold a mirror up to ourselves, as hard and as galling it may be, I know they will continue to champion and forge a way forward. 

DCA is in a strong financial position – it has a resilience which has been built over time, to survive black swan events, including a global pandemic, simply because it must. I encourage all of you to continue to support DCA beyond today, engage in its work and encourage others to do the same, and thank all of you who continue to do so. 

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you, our members, for your continued support for our mission, to thank Lisa Annese and DCA’s employees for their continued commitment, fortitude and service, and to thank the DCA’s Board for their investment of time and care into DCA’s continued success.

As I conclude my term as Chair of the Diversity Council Australia, it’s been wonderful to reflect on the profound journey we’ve undertaken over the past seven years.

DCA has remained a strong voice, harnessing diversity and inclusion to strengthen Australian organisations – and, through this, is helping build a stronger society for our nation.

Our commitment to evidence and rigour has illuminated the path forward for our members and inspired leaders, decision-makers, and the public to engage deeply with conversations and actions that matter.

We’ve distilled complex challenges into practical actions, guiding each of you to make meaningful changes that foster more empathetic, just, and resilient workplaces.

This is the legacy DCA will continue to build – workplaces where every person can thrive, and where our society and collective future is brighter because of the foundations we are creating together.

It has been a great privilege to serve as Chair for such an important organisation.