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

Business Leaders are tired of hearing about the “D” word. Tired of hearing about diversity initiatives, forums, unconscious bias training, statistics.

We get it, leaders are probably tired because all of the hype is on the problem. As D&I Practitioners we are tired also of the fluffy responses to inclusion that are labelled as solutions. We’ve all participated in some of the fluff: Cultural Diversity Week, Harmony Day, International Women’s Day, coin collections for paralympians!

The reality is that by and large Australian businesses already have diverse workforces. Walk into most workplaces, and you will see some form of workforce diversity, age, gender, physical ability, sexuality, 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.


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

AUSTRALIAN LEADERS & DIVERSE TEAM MEMBERS: “Feeling like an onlooker at work”

Inclusion can’t happen if we continue to have a distance in structure and relatability between Australian leaders and diverse team members. Figure 1 shows the distance in structure – Australian business still is run by Anglo Celtic men who may have little relatability to people from diverse backgrounds.

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 (Research by Catalyst).

My experiences…have made me far more aware of my “Blackness” than ever before. I have found that…no matter how liberal and open-minded some [people] try to be toward me, I sometimes feel like a visitor…as if I really don’t belong.

– Michelle Obama

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.

CDW: Culturally Diverse Women Div Pillay & Michelle Redfern

Figure 1: Australia’s Anglo Celtic Men still hold the power


Unfortunately, we will get their attention mostly with business statistics that link to financials. So here are some compelling statistics:
Gender diverse and ethnically diverse companies return 15% and 35% better financial performance than their competitors. Figure 2.

CDW: Culturally Diverse Women Div Pillay & Michelle Redfern

Figure 2; Diversity Matters for Business Performance

Sounds like a no brainer to get motivated to do something, right? However, Australia has got to have the diversity represented first and in the right senior roles. However, every diversity category you pick is under-represented and our lagging shows on a world-stage, especially with women: Australia is only at 14th place worldwide for women on large publically listed companies and 17th place for women in parliament. Once we get this done better, then we talk about leveraging inclusion to get Fig. 2’s financial success stories.


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.

No fluff with celebration or food or festivals – these are practical steps to make inclusion happen on an organisational and individual level, in ways that allow people to be valued and other’s to step up.

CDW (Culturally Diverse Women) is a joint venture of MindTribes & Advancing Women with the purpose of addressing the significant under-representation of culturally diverse women in senior leadership roles in Australia.

CDW is a multi-faceted program for CALD women with two phases, backed by significant research and expertise of founders, Div Pillay & Michelle Redfern. Women joining will 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 email us at


© Copyright 2020 Michelle Redfern