WNA Blog

Tue 24 Aug 2021

Diversity and Inclusion in Australia

Human Resources and Career Advice
diversity and inclusion
Diversity as a driving force

Diversity isn’t about ticking boxes or being politically correct.

It isn’t about meeting arbitrary quotas on gender, religion, and ethnicity. The more important view of diversity today encapsulates the idea that it’s really about diversity of thought.

It’s an idea where different perspectives are the point of difference rather than visible characteristics. It’s about recognising the value of individual differences, rather than being weary of them.

We find this broader, more sophisticated type of mindset in organisations which have nurtured an environment where all employees can thrive, regardless of their backgrounds. Two decades ago, the power of diversity was merely a hypothesis. Thankfully since, there has been overwhelming evidence to support this progressive notion that a more diverse workforce equals better business outcomes.

Organisations with inclusive cultures are three times more likely to be high performing, and twice as likely to exceed financial targets. McKinsey research highlights that in the case of ethnic and cultural diversity, businesses in the top quartile outperform those in the lower fourth by 36% in profitability. A serious diversity and inclusion strategy is now increasingly a signifier of an organisations’ ability to attract the next generation of talent. A Glassdoor survey highlighted that 67% of job seekers today deem workplace diversity as an important factor in their decision process.

Whilst this is a global movement, how far along an organisation is on the diversity spectrum is often measured on a national scale. According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, despite being “home to the world’s oldest continuous cultures, as well as Australians who identify with more than 270 ancestries … many people still experience prejudice and unfair treatment because of how they look or where they come from.’’

Diversity in Australia

In Australia, perhaps the best place to reflect on our diversity in the workplace is through the lens of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In 2008, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) set out a 10-year plan to halve the gap in employment between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. In 2018, that figure was around 49 per cent compared to around 75 per cent for non-Indigenous Australians, having increased by only 0.9 percentage points in 10 years.

Whilst the governmental intentions to close this gap have addressed the right issues, evidently more needs to be done. The government reports that the barriers to achieving this are intwined with social, cultural, and geographic factors, but highlight that education has been one of the hardest to overcome, ‘’For those Indigenous Australians with higher levels of education, there was virtually no gap in employment rates with non-Indigenous Australians.’’

The Australian Department of Education, Skills and Employment highlight that currently STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) jobs have the highest job growth and employment in the Australian workforce. Yet Indigenous Australians are worryingly underrepresented in these industries, and the problem is deep-rooted in education. Only 43 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children graduate with any STEM subject at all.

This should be a wakeup call for both government institutions and organisations to coordinate more actively and effectively. Together, they should focus greater skills development and education to meet the demands of modern business.

One question which pervades the above thought is how, on a practical level, can we as organisations address these diversity issues. Three prevalent ones that come to mind here. Firstly, making complaint mechanisms clear, and ensuring management never overlook concerns of racist behaviour in the workplace. Secondly, exploring high-impact, evidence-based initiatives, such as career development programs, mentoring, and recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander days of significance. Thirdly, opening a dialogue with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander staff about their experience in the workplace. Be prepared to listen, and understand what solution can address commonly arising issues they face.

Our global and local commitment

At the Adecco Group, we’re proud to sponsor and participate in diversity initiatives on both a global and local scale. Here in Australia, we have established a Diversity and Inclusion Council to promote equality, diversity, and inclusion throughout our business, and support our clients to do the same.

The Diversity & Inclusion Council is focused on seven key priority areas such as gender equality, cultural engagement and inclusion, and disability engagement – being proud active members of institutions such as Paradigms for Parity, United Nations Global Compact & United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and Valuable 500.

One of our local partners making great strides in the field of diversity are Supply Nation. They work closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses, evaluating procurement policies that modify and redirect spend to include the traditionally underutilised, and rapidly-evolving Indigenous business sector. Their aim – to create a culture where ideas flourish and a difference is made towards people’s attitudes towards Indigenous businesses.

Diversity quotas – obstacle or force for change?

One debate that has been at the heart of the diversity and inclusion drive over the last decade has centered around government-implemented diversity quotas. Whilst pressure has been placed on listed companies in Australia to disclose in their annual reports the company’s performance in achieving diversity objectives, some have suggested this doesn’t go far enough, and believe quotas need to be introduced.

Quotas pose an ethical and moral dilemma for organisations. People of specified genders and ethnicities, for example, could be placed in roles and given career paths they’re not prepared for to make up the numbers -potentially set both the individuals and the organisation up for failure. It can also cause resentment within, if employees feel like they’re being overlooked for less-qualified candidates.

However, quotas don’t necessarily mean indiscriminately hiring underqualified talent to make numbers. They can also be viewed from the perspective of being an opportunity to focus on improving recruitment strategies to seek more diverse, new talent who can add value and unique insights to the organisation.

The conversation about the best ways to reflect changing global perspectives on inclusivity is healthy, and giving birth to novel ideas. Large global organisations such as the Adecco Group will be key catalysts for further inspiring the public debate on both a local and global scale, to ensure diversity and inclusion efforts are steered towards making the future of work accessible for everyone. It’s a responsibility that myself and the organisation are proud to be given, and a challenge we relish facing.

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