Cut the Fluff! How to move the needle on diversity AND inclusion
Cut the Fluff! 3 Practical Ways to Move the Needle on Diversity AND Inclusion

By Div Pillay & Michelle Redfern
Co-founders CDW: Culturally Diverse Women

Are you tired of hearing about diversity and inclusion initiatives, forums, unconscious bias training, statistics? We get it, people are tired of hearing about the problem. We want to hear more about the solutions to a lack of diversity AND inclusion in Australian workplaces.

As D&I Practitioners we are tired of the fluffy responses to diversity and inclusion that are labelled as solutions. We’ve all participated in some of the fluff: Cultural Diversity Week, Harmony Day, International Women’s Day, Pride Day, and the list goes on. These activations and celebrations, whilst creating awareness, do not create cut through and make the change that is so desperately needed in workplaces.

The reality is that Australian businesses already have pretty diverse workforces. Walk into most workplaces, and you will see some form of workforce diversity, whether it is age, gender, physical ability, sexual identity, culture, thought. These staff members can’t be made to feel included with the seasonal celebration activity. We are just not including these diversities where and when it counts in business. At the leadership tables. At the design tables. At the customer experience tables. In other words, without diversity without inclusion means all you are doing is counting numbers.

Why is there such a lack of diversity?

There are three reasons that there is such a lack of diversity prevails in Australia.

  1. Australian leaders who hold the power are not from diverse groups
  2. There is no real business motivation to drive inclusion
  3. And/or there is a lack of know-how on launching and driving sustainable change to move the needle on inclusion.

Inclusion can’t happen if we continue to have a distance in structure and relatability between Australian leaders and diverse team members. Australian parliaments, media and business are full of “demographic clones’ which means they are Anglo Celtic men who have little relatability to people from diverse backgrounds.

Australia’s concentration of power goes well beyond that: it is a minute clique where the needle-like pathways to power – either to the halls of parliament or to media pedestals – are often determined by a set pedigree: Anglo-Celtic? Tick. Male? Tick. Elite private school educated? Tick.

Antoun Issa

How do people from diverse backgrounds feel? It is ‘feeling like an onlooker at work, or more like an invisible spectator than part of a team’. This is the experience of ‘otherness‘, or exclusion in the workplace, that might be subtle but is pervasive.

The impact of exclusion can affect everything from morale to career advancement. Diverse individuals report being more likely to withdraw from full participation and contribution (engagement) to the business. At a business level, this typically means lowered productivity or at the very least less discretionary effort. The problem is Anglo-Celtic male leaders may not even be aware that this is happening.

Pay Attention to Diversity AND Inclusion!

We’ve learned that business statistics that link to financials have typically been the way to get and hold, the attention of powerful white men. We know that the business case is proven i.e. gender diverse and ethnically diverse companies return 15% and 35% better financial performance than their competitors. We know that the business case is stronger than ever. So is the clarion call to do the right thing, after all:

  • More than 75% of Australians identified with an ancestry other than Australian as their first response to the 2016 Census question;
  • About 3% of Australians identified as being Aboriginal, Torres Strait islander or both; and
  • About 45% reported having at least one parent who has born overseas.

And when it comes to harnessing the FULL power of diversity and inclusion, here are some other facts that business leaders should pay attention to:

  • One in five Australian workers from a different ethnic or cultural background feel they are not treated equally
  • 62 per cent of workers conceal part of their identities from colleagues, either all or some of the time
  • 84 per cent of working Australians recognised the importance of promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace
  • Only 60 per cent said they worked somewhere that employs a diverse workforce

“I don’t want to say that I want people to not see colour because that’s not what any person of colour wants. We want to be recognised as people of colour and celebrated as people of colour.”

Duleesha Boteju

Sounds like a no brainer to get motivated to do something, right? However, Australia is still failing to have diversity represented in senior, executive and board roles. Choose pretty much any diversity category and you will see a significant under-representation and our status as a laggard is embarrassingly evident on the world stage.

3 Steps to Cut the Fluff!

Do we wait to get representation first and then work at inclusion? No, start now – here is how: If you are at the top, the middle or indeed in any leadership role, here are three steps to cut the fluff on inclusion:

  1. Understand the diversities you are dealing with, MBWA
    Listening to the unique experiences of diverse employees (MBWA: management by walking around) and adopting inclusive behaviours will reap immediate benefits on your employees and your business. Do not fall into the trap of forming a view about the current state by using data based on outdated personal experience, assumptions and anecdotes or by talking a merit approach, ‘everyone should feel equal’.
  2. Translate the potential business impact of continuing exclusion
    For example, if you had to continue to have low levels of women or CALD women represented across your organisation, what does that mean for your reach with customers (51% of our population are women and we are one of the most multicultural nations in the world). Do you know how your engagement scores translate across diverse groups? Are your staff feeling like onlookers and are these hidden within a 70+ average engagement score?
  3. Commit to act with transparency and accountability
    At a senior level, engage the right stakeholder to develop policy, set targets and then make the right leaders accountable for communicating and embedding the policy and the targets into the organisational operating rhythm. All other levels: start with simple acts of inclusion, don’t talk over someone, learn to pronounce someone’s name, encourage an opinion and be open to listening fully – basically invite an onlooker in and keep the door open.

So there’s no fluff with celebrations, activations or food or festivals – these are practical steps to ensure that leaders can harness the full potential of diversity and inclusion for the organisation. These are also the enablers to ensure that there is an organisational and individual commitment to help all people to reach their full potential in the workplace.

CDW is an online network for CALD women as well as a capability-building program backed by significant research and expertise of founders, Div Pillay & Michelle Redfern. Women joining have the opportunity to network with their peers and allies. Workplace leaders have the opportunity to run the CDW Program in their workplace where CALD women undertake a capability program that is designed to honour their cultural heritage whilst providing them with the tools and expertise to navigate and advance in their workplace.

For more information about how to get your company involved in the CDW program,  please contact us.