There have been promises aplenty from the Coalition Government to back smaller businesses and boost workplace diversity. There are moves afoot to make childcare more accessible and flexible and the new paid parental leave scheme (PPL), set to launch in July 2015, supports working women and will assist small organisations by taking responsibility for the paperwork involved. The new PPL policy replaces Labor’s 18 weeks pay at minimum wage with six months pay at full wage.
Nareen Young, CEO of the Diversity Council Australia (DCA) welcomes the news. “The debate about paid parental leave during the election campaign was really exciting and it underlined how important diversity considerations, such as women’s workforce participation, are for business in the wider community,” says Young.
Judging by AHRI’s Diversity Awards this year businesses, both large and small, have already opened their doors to more inclusive and productive work practices by embracing women, people with disabilities, older and indigenous workers and those with varied sexual orientations. Dipping into this talent pool has been shown to increase productivity, innovation and customer engagement, and reduce recruitment costs.
However, a recent Diversity and Inclusion survey by the DCA and recruitment specialists Korn/Ferry and FutureStep shows progress has been slow. Even after more than 30 years of diversity talks, 50 per cent of the 103 respondents said their diversity initiatives were in their infancy and 27 per cent of the employees responsible for this issue said they had no relevant experience.
This year’s AHRI diversity winners include Westpac bank, which won a gender equity award, as well as the inaugural award for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) inclusion, after responding to an employee action group. But small companies Calamity Monitoring and Forethought Research also featured, showing that size is no barrier to success.
Anne-Marie Dolan, development and research manager at AHRI, explains the success of these smaller organistaions. “Based on applications received for the awards, we see some of the more creative solutions coming from smaller organisations that are often better placed to incorporate diversity in developing solutions for their business. This is due to the agility that comes from having fewer employees, a simpler structure and a less complex hierarchy,” she says.
A Melbourne research firm with just 80 full-time employees is leading the way in workplace flexibility, showing that diversity programs don’t have to be expensive.
Forethought Research, whose clients include Coles, Kmart and Jetstar, says no employed mother has resigned over an inability to balance work and home life since it launched its successful Mum’s Program four years ago. “The strategy was developed by our managing partner Ken Roberts, who was devastated to lose one of his highest performing colleagues after she had twins and could not balance her life at work and at home,” says Karen Cohen, director of talent at Forethought Research.
“He appointed a Mum’s Coordinator to interview the working mums on a quarterly basis and report directly to him and their manager about any issues,” says Cohen, who has two children and has benefited from the program herself by being employed part-time during her younger son’s pre-school years.
The Mum’s Coordinator keeps regular contact with women from pregnancy to birth and return to work, offering paid car parking close to the office for employees in their third trimester, inviting them to events, lunches and training during maternity leave and conducting the quarterly reviews with them. When they return to work, it can be on a part-time basis and flexible working arrangements mean they feel happy to ask for leave to tend to sick children or pick them up from childcare.
“Diversity programs don’t have to be expensive. Sometimes all you need is creative ideas and a dedicated leadership team to have a high impact on a small but vital group of people within your organisation,” says Cohen,