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Forging a path to inclusion and diversity in the workplace


Shared experiences, both good and bad, were a key feature of this year’s AHRI Inclusion and Diversity Conference. The sold-out event gave attendees a real insight into what successful inclusion and diversity in the workplace looks like.

The prevailing feeling during AHRI’s Inclusion and Diversity Conference, held on 13 May in Sydney, was one of optimism tempered by reality. Speakers didn’t shy away from discussing the challenges faced by businesses to embed inclusion and diversity in the workplace. Attendees to this sold-out event took full advantage of the gathering to bat ideas back and forth, and discuss the role human resources plays in this complex issue.

Catherine McGregor’s opening keynote had a crowd of more than 350 attendees hanging on every word. The 2016 Queenslander of the Year, transgender advocate and avid cricket fan reflected on her own transition with honesty and humour. Only eight per cent of people have met a transgender person, a statistic that reveals the importance of being able to talk candidly about issues around inclusion and diversity in the workplace in a ‘safe’ environment.

There is an immense amount of goodwill in the business community, says McGregor, and small gestures can have a profound impact on making a person feel included. She emphasised how a supportive culture was key for individuals who are transitioning. “My claim to gender fails entirely unless society acknowledges it,” she says.

No quick fix

McGregor was a hard act to follow, but speakers ably carried the torch using their personal experiences to illuminate diversity and inclusion issues in the workplace. Chris Lamb, head of HR and global head of diversity for Lendlease, explored why inclusion is the end goal. Diversity means nothing without an inclusive leadership culture, he says, and there are hidden dangers for businesses that never reach this conclusion.

One guiding principle that emerged was that inclusion and diversity is a long game plan. Michael Combs, founder and CEO of Indigenous internship program CareerTrackers, said that initiatives often fail when thinking that it’s a four- or five-year fix. “It’s more like a 40- or 50-year fix,” he said. This was a view shared by CBA’s panel on how to embed inclusion and diversity in the workplace.

Telstra’s Global Talent Manager Nicole Tzavaras reminded attendees that “you can’t just slap people with a target”. Inclusion and diversity initiatives have a learning curve, they take time, they take resources and you need to bring everyone in the organisation along on the journey.

Taking a scientific approach, Dr Jennifer Whelan of Psynapse picked apart the role that unconscious bias plays in inclusion and diversity in the workplace. Her revelation that 90 per cent of our thinking occurs in the unconscious mind sparked a conversation with audience members about how to work around bias, particularly when it comes to working in teams.

Another insightful example of how diversity and inclusion touches every facet of business was the conference’s session on domestic violence in the workplace. There were 70,000 calls to Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia last year, reports Karen Willis OAM, the organisation’s chief executive.

The business case for preventing domestic violence is so straightforward, added panelist Robert Wood, head of sustainability, Virgin Australia. It’s not just a gender diversity issue, it’s about making workplaces safe for all employees.

Her Excellency Meena Rawlings, British High Commissioner to Australia, who closed the conference, also represented the hard won battle for inclusion and diversity in the foreign service. Since the 1950s, it’s gone from “zero to not bad,” she says, with 55 per cent women on the FCO Board. It’s progress like this that means she is able to be a diplomat, not a diplomat’s wife.

Rawlings’ final piece of advice was to focus on the elements that create inclusion and diversity in the workplace. Confidence, resilience and opportunities are all key, but what matters most is building workplaces where people can succeed while being themselves.

Trending topic

#AHRIdiversity was trending on Twitter all day! Jump on the hashtag here to see what people had to say and view more event photos.

To learn more about attending future AHRI events, click here

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Rhonda Brighton-Hall
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Rhonda Brighton-Hall

The quality of the conversations and presentations at the AHRI I&D 2016 Conference – From Lyn Goodear’s introduction to Catherine McGregor’s deeply moving opening address to Meena Rawlings closing – were exceptional. Such a pleasure to spend the day alongside so many people who are so determined to move, and capable of moving, this critical social, economic and business agenda forward.

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