Diversity breeds good business

HRM online

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written on February 23, 2013

“Tolerance is a dull virtue,” observed author EM Forster and indeed AHRI chairman Peter Wilson, when opening AHRI’s first diversity and inclusion conference, held in Sydney last November. Wilson was referring to the fact that diversity used to be associated with tolerance but now organisations and their workers and bosses are beginning to understand that an inclusive workforce breeds the best creative endeavours for today’s challenging business environment.

The conference was rooted firmly in the practical, as organisations from GM Holden to IAG, Telstra, Microsoft and the Australian Army gave insights into creating a diverse and inclusive workforce. These are outlines of just three of the presentations:

Michael Kirby

Keynote speaker and former High Court justice Michael Kirby recounted his experiences of exclusion during his long, eventful career. He said, “many of the problems the indigenous people had suffered were due to the law”, recounting his experiences as a student activist on behalf of indigenous Australians and his own coming out in the face of the AIDS epidemic. On the issue of LGBTI diversity, he said, “We’ve got a long way to go, and we lag behind the US on this issue.” He sees the problem as not coming from HR but from the top, “some organisations have great leadership on the issue, which pulls the whole organisation up”.

GM Holden

Mike Devereux, chairman and managing director of GM Holden, focused on the iconic motor company’s gender-diversity journey. While the company has always been culturally diverse, historically there was only a tiny proportion of women working in what were physically demanding jobs. Technology, Devereux said, is changing this and the company has been at pains to bring more women into engineering roles.

GM Holden was one of the first to offer paid parental leave. Holden’s female workforce at the time comprised just 13 per cent, compared with 26 per cent in the workforce. In 2011, a diversity committee was established as the peak decision-making body on these issues, “and its members are recognised as the leaders in the company,” says Devereux.

The Australian Army

Chief of Army, lieutenant general David Morrison and sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick pondered how to break through the permafrost in what is commonly viewed as one of the most hidebound workplaces, the armed forces. Morrison admitted that the army is, or should be, a “reflection of the society from which it is drawn”. For the past 10 years, women have comprised 10 per cent of the army, but under Morrison’s three-year tenure he wants that figure to grow to 12 per cent, “which would give us skin in the game,” he says.

AHRI and diversity

In 2012, AHRI put together a diversity and inclusion expert reference panel to assist in shaping the work of the institute in the professional community. The panel comprises leading diversity managers working within organisations and HR directors who are influencing the practice of diversity.

The primary role of the diversity and inclusion reference panel (DIRP) is to provide AHRI with strategic and expert advice with respect to diversity practice in organisations and the professional development of diversity professionals. This advisory panel is chaired by AHRI chairman Peter Wilson and meets to discuss ideas, practices and policy, including the tools and resources required, for diversity managers and HR professionals to succeed in implementing and adding to their organisation’s diversity plan. The thoughts and ideas that are generated are used to shape the conferences and awards programs.

During 2011, AHRI increased its profile in the diversity area, playing a contributing role in establishing the Gender Equity Summit. Additionally, in May 2012 AHRI launched its inaugural Diversity Awards program, and in November the AHRI Diversity and Inclusion Conference was a sell-out event. As diversity and inclusion is increasingly being regarded as best practice, with HR professionals playing a primary role, AHRI is now facilitating the development and driving initiatives for HR professionals in diversity and inclusion.

The AHRI Diversity and Inclusion Conference presentation of sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick and chief of Army, lieutenant general David Morrison, is available to AHRI members, not just conference delegates. Go to www.ahri.com.au/morrison_and_broderick and use your member login and password to access the presentation.

There is an AHRI Diversity LinkedIn group where diversity managers and HR professionals are talking and sharing information on ideas and trends. Anyone can join the conversation on LinkedIn. You don’t have to be an AHRI member. Simply sign into LinkedIn and search for the group ‘AHRI Diversity Network’.

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