It’s become common wisdom: 2016 was filled with unexpected backlashes. Issues that were considered settled at the beginning of the year were, by the end of it, the source of distraught laments. It’s under this shadow that AHRI’s Inclusion and Diversity conference took place, and it presented some rays of hope.
Here are three of the most fascinating statements of the day, who said them, and the lessons they had HR professionals.
1. “I have never felt so under threat.”
Jon Scriven FAHRI opened this year’s conference with reference to last year’s, where AHRI CEO Lyn Goodear spoke about the then recent London mayoral election of Sadiq Khan, a Muslim. That was considered a sign of progressive societal trends overcoming forces of racism and isolation. Little did anybody know that in the next 12 months we’d see Brexit (led by the former mayor Boris Johnson) and the election of a US president who campaigned on a Muslim ban.
Keynote Elizabeth Broderick, the former sex discrimination minister, spoke next. And she ripped the bandaid off, saying, “I have never felt so under threat.”
She told the assembled HR professionals that, in light of events, their job had never been more important. And the first practical piece of advice she gave was one about sympathy. She said a barrier to progress was falling into an “us versus them” mentality. “Don’t assume that those who hold views contrary to your own come with bad intent.”
She reminded the audience that although the existing systems and structures – biased against diverse voices – must be replaced, there will be people who will agitate against the change.
They will see themselves losing their current position, which will be deeply and personally felt, and that fact should be understood. “By no means” does that mean the structures should remain but it’s important that “all views must be respected.” Because only people who know they are being listened to even have a chance of being won over.
2. “Women can play any sport. Why not? It’s not a privilege, it’s a right.”
Dr Susan Alberti, former vice-president of the Western Bulldogs and current ambassador for the Australian Football League’s national women’s competition, spoke about a growth in gender parity no Australian had failed to notice – the women’s AFL league.
She took the audience through a brief history of women playing the sport (starting with the women who replaced the men going off to WW1), including the heartfelt story of a woman whose life was saved by the league, and noted that not only was the league very successful but that there were so many young girls (up by 25 per cent) and women now wanting to play AFL that Australia was running out of ovals – a good problem to have.
She emphasised the importance of breaking down meaningless barriers about what women should, or can do. She faced one herself – she loved to play Aussie rules as a child – but as she got older felt pressured to stop as it was seen as “inappropriate” for her gender. “Women can play any sport. Why not? It’s not a privilege, it’s a right.”
3. “A lot of employees are frightened to talk about retirement because they think it will open up a can of worms.”
A speech on exploring the potential of our ageing workforce by Dr. Kay Patterson, the age discrimination commissioner, couldn’t have been more timely, with a recent study showing that age discrimination was happening to people as young as 45.
Key to overcoming this is making sure that people feel comfortable talking about retirement in your organisation because: “A lot of employees are frightened to talk about retirement because they think it will open up a can of worms.”
Retirement is often thought of as “quitting” and managers could perceive it as a sign of disengagement and, despite your reassurances that you will be around for a while yet, may start looking to replace you sooner rather than later. But the other harmful fear have is and an unwillingness to contemplate the next stage of your career – the end of it.
But, as Patterson pointed out, an organisation that is unafraid and dares to listen and even help with the transition, would earn a great sense of loyalty and commitment from its employees. Workers further away from retirement will see and remember how well their more senior colleagues are appreciated. It can be a driver of retention.
Learn how to build and implement an effective and practical inclusion and diversity strategy, in AHRI’s short course Workplace Diversity and Inclusion.