‘Bring your true self to work’ was the day’s motto at AHRI’s second Inclusion and Diversity Conference, held in Melbourne in November. In performing the welcome to country, Dr Joy Murphy, senior Wurundjeri elder of the Kulin alliance in Victoria, underlined this notion, noting her father’s advice: “you are who you are, so be proud of it and [remember] you are no better than anyone else.”
AHRI CEO Lyn Goodear noted the event was originally named the Diversity and Inclusion Conference, but inclusion should come first as it is essential to a diverse workforce, and indeed society. “Inclusion is about including all people, not just those who are like us,” she said.
Rhonda Brighton-Hall (FCPHR), executive general manager, organisational development, CBA, gave a heartfelt and compelling keynote address on her personal diversity journey as an early female graduate trainee at the then male-dominated BHP.
She also spoke of the importance of learning the local language when working abroad, and her involvement with autism causes. She went on to talk about the CBA’s diversity journey, warts and all. “This is the real story of the Commonwealth Bank,” she said. CBA has more than 50 per cent of the migrant banking market, so it’s important that diversity and inclusion are not just tokenistic, said Brighton-Hall.
She also discussed the bank’s work in the area of unconscious bias and of inclusiveness of employees who might otherwise be marginalised, such as LGBTI workers. She advocated that diversity should not stand alone, but “be collapsed into other HR functions” to maintain its relevance.
Flexibility is key for an inclusive and diverse workforce, said Rose Clements (FCPHR), HR director at Microsoft Australia. Clements was concerned that the old chestnut of ‘work/life balance’ was a misnomer and it should really be about “how we can make life better”. She took the audience through Microsoft’s activity-based working (ABW) journey, where personal workspaces have been banished and all staff and leaders work from hot desks or remotely.
“Where you work is no longer central to how you work,” she said. Since the ABW culture was implemented two years ago, top line revenue has grown 200 per cent with the same number of staff, and attrition rates have improved – not bad for a policy that was partially spawned by the fact that the IT company was outgrowing its premises at the time.
2013 Australian of the Year, Ita Buttrose had the toughest keynote slot – 4pm on a Friday afternoon – but such is her general fabulousness the room was packed with an audience keen for pearls of wisdom from an early female pioneer in the business world (Buttrose was the first woman to edit an Australian daily paper and the first female on the News Ltd board).
But Buttrose wasn’t at the conference to promote women’s rights. In an engaging, forthright and often humorous talk, she shined the spotlight on an oft-forgotten sector of the workforce, ageing jobseekers who suffer wide-spread, but often hidden discrimination. “We need transformative thinking about older people in work and society. We need to focus on strengths rather than disability. And we are often fobbed off with the lame excuse, ‘you are overqualified for this job’,” she said.
Buttrose admits things have improved since the 1990s, when she published Ita, the magazine “for women who weren’t born yesterday”, when ad executives implored her to change the demographic from 50-plus to 35-plus. “At that time, 40 was considered close to death,” she said.
AHRI and inclusion
AHRI has been involved in promoting inclusion and diversity in the workplace for several years. In 2012, AHRI put together an inclusion and diversity 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 development of diversity professionals. This advisory panel is chaired by AHRI chairman Peter Wilson and meets to discuss ideas, practices and policy, as well as professional development for diversity managers and HR professionals to succeed in implementing and adding to their organisation’s diversity plans.
The thoughts and ideas generated are used to shape the conferences and awards programs. During 2011, AHRI increased its profile in the diversity area, playing a leading 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.
AHRI also amended its member code-of-conduct by adding a clause on inclusion and diversity. 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.