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Top three trends: AHRI Inclusion and Diversity Conference

A key draw of the 2014 AHRI Inclusion and Diversity Conference, held recently in Melbourne, was its ability to shine a torch on the latest inclusion trends in Australian workplaces, plus provide a prime opportunity for the HR and business community to connect and reconnect.

Below are three workplace diversity trends highlighted at the conference.

Trend one: transitioning from assimilation to diversity celebration

Moving from the pressure (and pain) of assimilation to become a champion of workplace diversity was a prominent conference theme… and a ‘lived experience’ for many speakers. That transition, and the storytelling behind it, is proving a powerful means to engage employees.

One case in point was Turkish-born Huss Mustafa OAM, Commonwealth Bank of Australia general manager, local business Banking Victoria/Tasmania, who described how he arrived in Australia in 1968 and renamed himself ‘Chris’ to assimilate. When he was in sixth grade, his parents were told his job prospects would be limited to being a baker, butcher or plumber.

While pressure to assimilate (and unfairly limiting career choice) is being replaced by a celebration of cultural differences, organisations still have work to do, maintained Mustafa. “It’s about collectively acknowledging the benefits of diversity to reflect the fabric of the Australian community, to reverse unconscious bias and to be a role model for other nations.”

Similar to Mustafa, criminal and human rights lawyer and author, Rabia Siddique (pictured) arrived in Australia as a young girl and felt the urge to assimilate. Born to an Indian Muslim father and an Anglo Saxon mother, she revealed “it has taken a lifetime to grow into my name”.

Siddique’s keynote shared her move from assimilation to diversity champion when, after playing a key negotiation role during a British soldier hostage crisis in Iraq, her male negotiation colleague was awarded the Military Cross for bravery while she received no formal acknowledgement and was “written out of the history books”. And so she launched a discrimination case against the British Armed Forces and the British Government to break down conservative attitudes towards equality, making global news. “It was never about the glory or the money, it was about an acknowledgement of the truth: my peaceful act of justice to create a ripple effect… In HR, you can also influence in profound ways and create ripple effects. Have the moral courage to do what’s right and fair, set the tone.”

Trend 2: greater focus on metrics to build the business case for diversity

Reframing diversity as a business case is gaining kudos in workplaces nationally, and many delegates were heard discussing the new compliance report data, (to be made public in late November) collected by the federal government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) from four million employees in 12,000 non-public organisations.

Yet as WGEA executive manager Yolanda Beattie noted at the conference, “Standardised reporting data acts as a lever for change but there’s a chasm, a deficit, in that Australian organisations don’t fully understand the business case or see its merit. Gender equity can’t be a sideline: it has to be treated as a central business issue, such as product management or customer service. The end goal is for it to be sustainable and seen as a business and cultural norm.”

Clearly, the hard yards must still be done. “It’s not just the CEO or HR but also women’s own biases they may have against themselves in pay negotiations,” Beattie said.

Yolanda Beattie’s tips when rolling out a gender equity program in your organisation:

  1. Get the data right and ensure ‘like-for-like’ testing.
  2. Go looking for bias. Hunt it out without expecting punishment. You’ll get insights and more value.
  3. Talk to industry. Learn from practical examples of similar organisations.

Trend 3: Focus on a CEO-led diversity strategy

Author and principal of Diversity Knowhow, Fiona Krautil shared how a top-down diversity approach was gaining traction with CEOs and AGL CEO Michael Fraser got to the nub of the diversity matter. For a diversity strategy to succeed over the long-term, he said, organisations must accept that it’s a complex issue, debate and test the business case for it, and develop a CEO-led communications platform to set the diversity agenda because people listen to “what CEOs say, what we prioritise, how we act and what we measure”.

“Great minds don’t think alike – great minds think differently,” Fraser observed, which is why he says it makes sense to normalise flexibility in your teams. “Don’t ask ‘Why do it?. Ask, ‘Why not?’. Promote flexibility for working mums and working dads, and flexibility for work location – at home or even in another city.”

The gender pay gap, Fraser also rightly pointed out, is widely misunderstood. Companies should be focusing on making sure there is “equal pay for equal work”, and holding leaders to account for pay equity in their own teams is key to achieving change.

Learn more about inclusion and diversity

2015 AHRI International Women’s Day breakfast is in Melbourne on 5 March 2015.

2015 AHRI Inclusion and Diversity Conference is in Sydney. Date to be confirmed.

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