AGL Energy Limited CEO, Michael Fraser, talks frankly about some of the issues he’ll be covering as a speaker at AHRI’s upcoming inclusion and diversity conference.
Peter Wilson: You’ve announced that you’ll be finishing up in your role next year. On the people side of things, where is the glass half full and still half empty?
Michael Fraser: On the glass half full, the thing I would point to is employee engagement. When I became CEO in 2007, our engagement scores were 38 per cent. Today they’re 77 per cent, which puts us in the best-performing category. In terms of where the glass is half empty, that brings us to the types of things the AHRI Inclusion and Diversity Conference is about.
We took on the Loy Yang Power Station in south-east Victoria in June 2012, and have recently taken on Macquarie Generation. They’ve been very male-dominated businesses. Loy Yang, at the time of acquisition, had fewer than 20 females. Work needs to be done to balance those numbers out, and it’s difficult. For example, at Loy Yang we went out to recruit apprentices and not one of the 500 applications was from a female. So we’ve gone back to grassroots and talking to local schools about the industry to start people thinking about why this would be an attractive industry for a woman.
PW: What are the main points of resistance you’ve had to deal with?
MF: The first big issue is that we have a really blokey culture in some parts of the business. Another resistance point is that we’ve had some leaders who haven’t embraced the notion of flexibility, which we know is a key issue for women in the workforce. That’s an ongoing challenge.
We have resistance where some people have a view about how jobs need to be done and that people need to be in the office and seen. We have to force that issue, and we’re doing that by having the discussions.
PW: There are other aspects to fostering diversity, such as cross-cultural, LGBTI and Indigenous-based aspects. How much of an issue are they for you?
MF: We started out on that journey by doing our first diversity census at the end of 2012, measuring those areas and talking to people about them, and getting the statistics on whether we have a diverse population in the company. The answer to that is ‘absolutely’.
We also asked some key questions about whether people believed they had an inclusive workplace and fair access to promotion, with no discrimination, etc.
LGBTI was not something we had previously focused on. However, we have an annual ‘diversity big day out’, and last year it focused on LGBTI inclusion. In this day and age, it’s a complete non-issue, but it’s not a conversation that was being had around the business. So we’ve begun to have those conversations and have been quite visible about it.
PW: Do you have a view on whether diversity starts with inclusion or vice-versa?
MF: Unless you’ve done something weird in terms of your recruitment processes, or are a particular niche industry, you should have a diverse workforce to start with. But inclusion is a different thing. You can have that diversity, but you may not have an inclusive workforce. That goes back to the culture of the organisation and whether people have an open mind.
Inclusion is what you have to work at.
Michael Fraser will speak about his journey to becoming a gender equity champion at the 2014 AHRI Inclusion and Diversity Conference held 30 October in Melbourne. Registrations close 24 October.
This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the October 14 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Powering up diversity’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.