Recent trends in diversity and inclusion

Diane has worked with Employment Law Matters on delivering the Workshop for our Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Conferences, as well as the standalone diversity workshop series.

ELM: We’ve seen your recent video on ELM where you highlight three things to consider when developing a diversity and inclusion strategy in an organisation Diane, For those that missed it, what are these three points and why are each important?

Diane: The 3 points to consider when starting to develop a diversity and inclusion strategy for your organisation are:

  1. It starts at the top with leadership commitment –  The best plans are passionately and visibly supported by the CEO and senior level executives.  CEOs who get both the business benefits and can connect with a personal story or experience are more likely to raise expectations of their leadership team to drive change and inspire employees to embrace change. The impact of senior leadership commitment results in greater sponsorship of D&I initiatives, approval of funding and resources and faster cut through to deliver on the strategy.
  2. Know what business you are in and understand how your D&I strategy supports both the business strategy and people plan. The business strategy is the blueprint for the key priorities the organisation will focus on over the next few years and the people plan explains how HR will support the business to achieve those goals.  The D&I plan must therefore demonstrate where it can add value and support the organisations objectives and its key stakeholders – employees, customers and the community.
  3. Be creative and find new innovative ways to communicate your strategy.  Every organisation is different and unique and it’s important to find the stories that resonate with your workforce.  A boring plan on a page cannot begin to describe the rich cultural diversity of your teams or the history told by a long-term employee or the juggling of a new promotion with a new family. Capture the stories and share them in creative ways to give your D&I strategy purpose and meaning.

ELM: Since our last Workplace Diversity & Inclusion Australia Forum in October 2016, we’ve seen the industry move beyond “how to develop a strategy” to “how is that strategy going”. It’s all about implementation, and the challenges and successes of that implementation. What trends are you seeing with this shift?

Diane: Research over the past few years indicates that around 70% of organisations have developed either a diversity and inclusion strategy or programs and policies that support diversity and inclusion. Therefore, on the continuum of D&I maturity, organisations range from those who have not even started the discovery phase to those who have trialled various implementation techniques, kept what’s working and continue to break new ground and lead from the front.

A couple of trends we have seen over the past few years include:

  • Building an inclusive culture as a precursor to expanding the diversity of the organisation.  The underlying principle is that when organisations embrace the basic values of respect, trust, well-being and an appreciation of diverse perspectives and thinking, then they will be much better placed to attract and retain diverse talent.  In addition to embracing values, organisations are encouraged to work on removing the systems and policies that act as barriers to creating a more diverse workplace.
  • Emphasis on Inclusive Leadership training that incorporates unconscious bias training. Recent history saw the prevalence of Unconscious Bias training however as a standalone it does not appear to have delivered the desired results.  More recently organisations have focused their efforts on Inclusive Leadership training which takes a more educational approach to understanding the importance and relevance of diversity of thought, how to lead inclusively, understanding personal bias and leveraging the business benefits of a diverse workforce.
  • The growth in big data analytics to understand the correlation between interventions and outcomes. Demographic data reporting has long been associated with diversity management particularly through mandatory reporting in the public service sector and more recently through WGEA and the ASX200, often resulting in criticism as diversity being ‘just a numbers game’.  However, diversity reporting is now extending beyond the typical number of women or Indigenous Australians working in an organisation.  Through more sophisticated HR technology, individuals can choose to self-report on their diversity status and People & Culture surveys and Diversity Census surveys are being more widely used to determine the engagement levels and flexibility intentions of the workforce by different diverse groups.  The richness of this data will help organisations to better analyse the impact and ROI of their D&I initiatives.
  • Greater adoption of universal design principles.  Implementation of systems, process and policy changes that have a wider, universal benefit to everyone, not just a specific group are the most sustainable and widely accepted changes.  For example:
    • A ramp that is installed to provide accessibility to someone with a wheelchair is also helpful to parents with strollers, the elderly and anyone else who prefers a ramp to steps!
    • Flexible work arrangements that benefit all employees, rather than the traditional view of a policy for women with children and people with special needs.

ELM: Any current case study spring to mind Diane? One that others can learn from in regards to how they’ve overcome implementation challenges, how they’re analysing results and responding to what works?

Diane: Becoming a more attractive employer to late career candidates

  • This organisation conducted internal analysis such as demographic comparisons, focus groups with employees and one to one interviews with senior leaders to understand the current status and to test assumptions around age inclusion.
  • External research was conducted to understand what leading organisations were doing to attract late career candidates.
  • To test and measure the current EVP, the organisation reviewed their recruitment advertising and trialled different sourcing channels and measured benchmark data against results.
  • Even though the organisation could boast an age-positive inclusive culture for current employees, feedback indicated a range of changes were required to attract their target audience such as greater flexibility options, hiring manager awareness and training, reviewing onboarding and training systems.
  • The evidence gained through the pilot project has ignited action for change within the organisation in order to better position them to attract a more diverse workforce.

ELM: What’s your advice to organisations that are at the brink of implementation; how does this differ from the advice you have for those who have a strategy in place and that are continuously assessing it?


For organisations that are on the brink of implementation – I would strongly suggest you do your research first and learn from others!

People working in the D&I space are very generous with their knowledge and experiences and everyone has stories about what worked well and what didn’t.  It is an evolving space and no-one has all the answers.  There are plenty of opportunities to join networks of D&I practitioners where you can hear an amazing range of case studies –  organisations such as NEEOPA (NSW EEO Practitioners Association) or EEON in Melbourne and DPA in Queensland.  The Diversity Council Australia produces some excellent research work and there are specialist organisations such as Reconciliation Australia supporting organisations with their Reconciliation Action Plans or the Australian Network on Disability, helping employers build their disability confidence.

Every organisation is different, so what works for one organisation may not work in your environment – just listen and learn and then adapt it to your situation.

Also, don’t forget to ask your own employees what works well for them and what you could do better.

For organisations that already have a strategy in place and are continuously assessing it – be creative, stretch yourselves – you are the leaders, be disruptive, turn it upside down and think differently.

A word of caution, there are some great advertising campaigns out there that are celebrating diversity but there are others that have fallen completely flat.  Be authentic and promote your products and services to your diverse customer base for the right reasons.