At a recent webinar Dr Katie Spearritt shared insights on the current state of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and ways to accelerate progress in Australia. Hosted by Geraldine Doyle from HR recruitment specialists The Next Group, Katie joined Emma Hogan, Secretary for Digital & NSW Department of Customer Service, and Harleen Oberoi, Group Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Talent for Crown Resorts with more than 400 participants to discuss whether workplaces are making headway on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I).
Here’s some of the comments Katie shared during the webinar (edited).
Q: Are Australian workplaces really making headway on diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Katie: ‘Over the last decade, we’ve made significant headway in some areas, although progress is very mixed in others. On the upside, DE&I is now a mainstream business issue, it’s on the agenda of CEOs and boards where it wasn’t ten or fifteen years ago. Taking gender diversity as one example, in 2009, eight per cent of board members of ASX 200 companies were women. Today 36 per cent of board positions are held by women. In 2009, 11% of CEOs in corporate Australia were women. That’s now doubled to 22%.
‘There’s much greater flexibility in workplaces, more men taking parental leave, and parental leave is more inclusive of different family units. Many organisations now have employee resource groups to support LGBTIQ+ inclusion, people with disability, and cultural diversity.
‘In addition to the focus on diversity, many organisations are now tracking and showing improvements around inclusion on engagement surveys. That relates to the experience of inclusion in the workplace – how inclusive are day-to-day meetings, business decisions, partnerships and people policies.
‘But of course there’s much more work to do to improve workplace opportunities for First Nations people, for racially and culturally marginalised women, for people with disability, for neurodiverse individuals, among others traditionally underrepresented. Creating culturally and psychologically safe team cultures is a big opportunity.’
Q: What is leadership in the context of DE&I?
Katie: ‘We see the greatest progress when CEOs are genuine in their commitment to DE&I and resource it well within their organisations. Leaders are crucial, because if they’re not setting KPI’s for the next level of leaders, progress is slow. Another key role of a leader is to be ready to face the backlash that DE&I efforts often provoke. This leadership takes courage as you’re challenging the traditional status quo in corporate Australia. We need more leaders who are willing to set metrics, set expectations, and consistently communicate those expectations.’
Q from participant: I find that DE&I is often a primarily female space, how can we bring the majority into the DE&I conversation?
Katie: ‘Actually, most of our audience when we’re running workshops are men. We’re in the boardrooms, we’re in the senior leadership ranks, we’re talking with men consistently. It’s critical, it’s about gender equality: it’s men, women and gender diverse people having a conversation. Across all areas within the diversity and inclusion focus, the most important thing is having a conversation with a wide range of stakeholders. In our space, you might often hear the phrase ‘nothing about us without us’ when making decisions.’
Q: How can organisations increase DE&I education?
Katie: ‘A structured approach to education is important. Generally, we recommend starting with your board and leadership team, so they have awareness and motivation to embed diversity and inclusion principles with the corporate strategy. After leader education, helping employees understand their roles in creating inclusive teams is beneficial.’
Q: What is your best piece of advice for those on their DE&I journey?
Katie: ‘I’ve learnt personally it can be disheartening if I focus too heavily on how much more there is to be achieved. It’s like looking up to the top of the mountain. Instead I often try to take stock of what’s been achieved as we’ve been climbing the mountain to achieve more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces.
‘In the same way, when we work with organisations, we look for what’s going well – the strengths – and then consider ways to apply those strengths to areas that can be improved. There’s lots of business research showing that’s where the process of organisational cultural change happens most effectively.’