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The best approach to inclusion and diversity

For or against: Should the approach to inclusion and diversity be ‘push from the bottom’ or ‘pull from the top’? Malcolm Fialho, the senior diversity officer of equity and diversity at UWA, and Ross Wetherbee, the workplace education and relationship manager at Pride in Diversity, discuss.

Malcolm Fialho: Push

A bottom-up approach aims to have a rich, deep, transformative conversation with a critical mass of staff around issues of diversity and race. Through the lenses of unconscious bias and privilege, people can scan their workplace to ensure it is inclusive for all staff.

Commitment and approaches to diversity and inclusion vary. Some organisations are merely concerned with meeting compliance obligations. A second approach moves beyond compliance by asking questions such as, “How do we implement a checklist that gets us accreditation with organisations such as Pride In Diversity?”

The most successful approach is integrated and grows culturally from the bottom up. This is exemplified by the Courageous Conversations About Race program, developed by the Pacific Educational Group and implemented by UWA and won the 2014 AHRI Inclusion and Diversity Award. The university community engaged in a meaningful ‘conversation’ involving more than 3000 staff and 5000 students. From that has come numerous examples of people moving in their thinking and then being motivated to make a difference in their personal and professional lives.

Pamphlets and codes of conduct don’t transform people. But when they participate in a Courageous Conversation workshop, there’s a ‘Now I understand’ moment. They become more attuned to racial nuances and the need to change organisational behaviours, such as how meetings are conducted, consultations are managed and merit is constructed. You have success when people don’t have to self-edit and know it is culturally safe to bring all of who they are to work.

Ross Wetherbee: Pull

It’s the people leaders in an organisation who heavily influence the business culture and how employees experience that culture.

The Australian Workplace Equality Index, published by Pride In Diversity, measures workplace inclusivity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex employees. It indicates that, among the index’s top 10 employers, 84.9 per cent of respondents believe their senior leaders support inclusion. Outside the top 10, the figure is 71.3 per cent.

In my experience, when respected senior leaders put their names to something as a group, change happens. Think of the Male Champions of Change initiative – a group of CEOs who aim to use their individual and collective influence and commitment to ensure the issue of women’s representation in leadership is elevated on the national business agenda.

Or the ‘reverse mentoring’ programs where senior leaders are paired with typically more junior employees from diversity action groups with the aim of learning more about their ‘lived experience’ in the workplace. 

Creating an inclusive culture requires support at all levels and is underpinned by support strategies in HR (creation of flexible work arrangements), talent management (promotion of unconscious bias and inclusion training to recruitment staff), and client and community engagement.

Ultimately, the bottom-up and top-down approaches work best in tandem rather than in isolation.

This article was first published in the April 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘For or against?’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here

Registration is now open for AHRI’s Inclusion and Diversity Conference in Sydney taking place 18 May.

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