Some of the key highlights from the AHRI Inclusion and Diversity conference.
Inclusion and Diversity in the workplace is “a continuous journey” that all of us must travel, said Lyn Goodear, AHRI CEO, In her opening address at the AHRI Inclusion and Diversity conference in Sydney. There is much ground still to cover and “sometimes it feels like we take a step forward, and then take a step back,” she said, but the Australian HR Institute was there to help sustain the efforts and help maintain the resilience of all HR professionals.
Conferences such as this one, certainly support that with an array of fascinating speakers talking from first-hand experience about the challenges they have faced, the research they have undertaken, or the battles – both large and small – that they have won. There was much to learn and take heart from in their stories.
Former Prime Minister and Chair of beyondblue Julia Gillard opened the conference with a keynote speech where she shared some shocking statistics about the prevalence of mental illness in Australia.
One in two Australians can expect to experience a mental health issue in their life time, with one in five suffering from a mental health problem at present. A further 3,000 Australians take their life every year, which equates to eight per day.
Gillard stressed that depression and anxiety are by no means fringe issues, and that given those numbers, many of our friends and colleagues are likely to be suffering in both the present and the future.
The effect mental health issues are having on the economy is similarly staggering. Gillard quoted a PWC report that says mental health conditions are costing the economy $11 billion per year in lost productivity. It’s a problem we cannot afford to ignore.
“The more we talk about it, the less power shame has over us,” said Gillard. “Leaders need to lead by example and talk openly about good mental health – it’s one of most powerful things leaders can do.” Creating a mentally healthy working environment entails addressing known risks, such as heavy workloads, unrealistic deadlines and uncertainty. It requires a holistic approach, said Gillard, “and diversity is a big part of the puzzle”. Referring to Deloitte statistics, Gillard said that if 10 per cent more employees felt included in the workforce, attendance could increase by one day every year, per employee.
Drumming home the impact that diversity has on business objectives was Giam Swiegers, global chief executive of engineering and infrastructure firm, Aurecon. WIth innovation being a core competency at Aurecon, Swiegers describes diversity is a “strategic choice”.
“Place a bunch of ageing engineers in a room who look exactly the same, the innovative capabilities are not high,” said Swiegers. “It needs to be understood that we are designing for human beings, not engineering experts.”
Swiegers said that if leaders are not willing to accept diversity at Aurecon, they are swiftly replaced. Aurecon has ingenious and creative ways to demonstrate their commitment to diversity, from engaging comic strip onboarding guides, to coffee cups with employees self-selected attributes printed on the mug. “All you have to do is look around to see if your team includes diversity of talent,” said Swiegers. Their use of social media was also a fascinating case-study in learning how to leverage talent, that the HRM print magazine will explore later this year.
Moving on to a completely different area of business, a panel of employees from the NSW Fire and Rescue service discussed how aiming to diversify their employees through the IFARES program, a six to eight month pre-employment program to attract Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders into firefighting roles, has fed back into helping the wider community.
Discussing their indigenous fire and rescue employment strategy, Bill Spek said that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are 2.5 times more likely to be injured or killed in house fires.
Not only does the program work to improve indigenous unemployment, but it allows trust to be built up in the community, so fire danger can be better understood, and the devastating outcomes prevented.
“We need to reflect community in which we live in to do our job effectively, like any other organisation,” said panel member Sonia Braidner CPHR, diversity lead at Fire and Rescue NSW.
The grassroots program was so successful (52 firefighters have come out of IFARES), that the traditional recruitment process adopted some of their tactics – namely about assessing the impact they want to have on the community.
An important part of inclusion and diversity in the workplace is having strong role models, and this is something that the LGBTI community is still lacking in some areas. Gina De George from Deloitte discussed an initiative developed by staffer Andrew Cumberlidge. As a gay man, Cumberlidge came across many people who were “out-and-proud” in their personal lives, but not in a professional context. As one fellow Deloitte employee said, “There’s no incentive to come out. I didn’t have any visible gay role models.”
In order to make professional life easier for LGBTI youth, Cumberlidge developed the “Outstanding 50 list” – a compilation of top gay and lesbian executives. Deloitte backed Cumberlidge by granting him a secondment to work on the initiative, which has been running now for two years,
Designed to provide an educational cue to LGBTI youth that it’s ok to be out on the workforce, the 2018 list is to be released next week and encompasses a range of professionals from different cultural backgrounds, geographical locations and industries.
As ever, it was fantastic to see diversity and inclusion not only discussed theoretically, but through successful initiatives that have made a real difference to organisations and the community at large. Lively debate in Q&A sessions followed each presentation and an AHRI organised social and networking event at the end of the day sealed a very successful conference.