Who are your workplace diversity champions, do you have one yet?

ELM: We understand from the market Diane that there is more importance put onto diversity and inclusion in a workplace now than in the past. What are three major factors behind this in your opinion, specifically to Australian workplaces?

Diane: In my opinion, three key business drivers influencing the growth and importance of Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace are:

  1. Customer loyalty and centricity – organisations are starting to understand that if their workforce demographic reflects the customer base they serve they will gain a better understanding and connection with their customers, which leads to developing products and services that better meet their customers needs. By casting a diversity lens across potential customer segments, smart organisations can realise significant opportunities by marketing to specific groups, for example: women make almost 80% of buying decisions; 40% of the nation’s wealth is held by the 50+ age group; and people with disability make up nearly 20% of the population.
  1. Innovation – in order to gain a competitive advantage both at a local level and to expand globally, companies continually need to generate new ideas to develop or improve products, services, systems and processes. Forward thinking organisations are disrupting the status quo by employing a diverse range of individuals and creating an inclusive environment where employees are genuinely respected for their opinion. Research shows that diversity of thought supports better decision making and creates value for the organisation.
  2. Talent attraction and engagement – to attract and engage the best talent, the best organisations provide a flexible, inclusive and safe environment where people, no matter what their difference, can thrive and bring their authentic selves to work each day. When more than 50% of university graduates are women, 32% of the Australian population are from a non Anglo-Celtic background and around 15% of the working population has a disability, companies cannot afford to ignore talent from diverse groups.

ELM: With organisations choosing to develop, implement and support D&I initiatives, there is also an increase in assigning this task to a specific diversity champion or team. What are some of the key benefits to an organisation doing this and what impact does it have on the overall D&I strategy versus those that don’t have this specific person/s?

Diane: We know that diversity initiatives gain the most traction in companies where the diversity champion is the CEO who understands the business case and sets the expectations for the rest of the organisation however, diversity is everyones responsibility and must be cascaded and integrated throughout the organisation.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are now commonplace within organisations where people who are connected to a particular diversity group based on gender, culture, LGBTI etc,  meet regularly, work within a charter and discuss issues of relevance to the workplace and customers.

Senior executives are volunteering and in some cases competing for the opportunity to lead or champion a particular ERG  that they feel connected to. The group benefits by having a a senior leader who understands their issues, hears their ideas and can advocate for resources for the group at executive level. The senior leader benefits by coming face to face with the people their decisions affect and can see the issues through a difference lens and are more likely to be viewed positively within the organisation as someone who supports diversity.

Although large organisations often have a Diversity Manager, there is definitely a trend toward devolving responsibility for diversity strategy and  initiatives back to Line or Operations Management.  This has a positive impact on the D&I strategy as they are the ones who make the everyday decisions which have the greatest impact on hiring, development and promotion outcomes.

Organisations that don’t involve various stakeholder groups and diversity champions, run the risk of inadequate resources, stalled projects and lack sustainable change.

ELM: Importantly though, what are some challenges and roadblocks these assigned leaders can have in aligning their D&I strategy with the entire business and its implementation?

Diane: Some of the key challenges Line Managers face when aligning their D&I strategy with the entire business and implementation are:

  • Deciding what you want to achieve with your strategy – it’s important to do the research, understand the business strategy, the needs of your employees and those of your customers. Start by defining either the problem you want to solve or the success you want to see.
  • Making the difficult choices – most companies don’t have the resources to do everything at once so they must choose to focus on a few things and do them really well
  • Overcoming resistance & culture change – implementing diversity strategies and building an inclusive workplace can be difficult because you are fundamentally dealing with culture change. Barriers to change include overcoming unconscious bias and challenging traditional power bases. Engaging senior executives and stakeholder groups, consistent education and communicating success stories are some of the keys to driving change.

ELM: Setting actionable and measurable D&I goals can be a daunting task, especially for those starting their D&I journey. Can you give us your top five tips in this respect?

Diane: Once you have developed an overarching D&I strategy,  my recommendation is to develop Action Plans for each of your key focus areas. For example, if one of your key focus areas is to increase representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, then you can develop a Reconciliation Action Plan. Top five tips for developing an Action Plan include:

  1. Seek CEO or Board level endorsement – seek a mandate or approval from your CEO or Board to develop the Action Plan
  2. Set up a Steering Committee – attract a senior leader of influence to champion the Plan, involve people who are representative of the area of focus and include those from functional areas such as Recruitment, Capability and Talent etc. who own the systems and processes which will require some degree of change.
  3. Consult and research widely – don’t rely on what you know already. Seek out difference of opinion and views, uncover the derailers and educate people along the way. Consult internally and externally to compare data,  experiences and learnings
  4. Set SMART goals – Specific, Measureable, Achieveable, Relevant and Timebound. Assign responsibility and hold people accountable for outcomes through regular reporting.  A mx of quick wins and longer term goals.
  5. Evaluate and Share the Success Stories – Set a baseline at the launch of the Plan and measure results over the life of the Plan. Share significant milestones and success stories to keep the plan alive.

ELM: Can you briefly enlighten us with a few examples of how an organisations has successfully aligned their recruitment attraction and selection processes with their diversity goals?

Diane: There are many organisations doing some excellent work in this area. Here is an example where one organisation has integrated their D&I goals from their Disability Action Plans to multiple touchpoints within the recruitment process, such as:

  • Website – a diversity and inclusion page is prominent on the Careers Page of the website. It encourages appications from diverse groups including people with disability and displays the D&I policy. The website is disability friendly and accessible offering direct links to the diversity team to answer any questions
  • Recruiters and Managers Trained – recruiters are trained by the Diversity leads and the NDRC (National Disability Recruitment Co-ordinator) on working with candidates with disability. There is a nominated SME on disability within the recruitment team who can either assist the recruiters or escalate any enquires to the diversity team for assistance.
  • Internships – alternative employment pathways such as internships are offered to people with disability to gain work experience and increase employability.
  • Workplace adjustments – with the support of JobAccess, Auslan interpreters have become a seamless part of the recruitment process and ongoing workplace support for candidates and employees who are hearing impaired.
  • Reporting and measurement – a monthly report is collated by the Recruitment Centre for Diversity to enable open and transparent analysis of progress against diversity goals. Diversity reporting is included in the suite of monthly data analytics presented to the Executive.

ELM: We’ve already had a number of executives sign up for your workshop at the upcoming Workplace Diversity & Inclusion Australia event in October. What is the one key take away you want to ensure participants walk away with from this full day with you?

Diane: I really want participants to walk away brimming with confidence that not only can they apply the practical steps they have learned at this session to build their D&I strategy but more importantly that they feel energised to share their passion to engage their stakeholders, think creatively about different ways they can tell the D&I story, and make a real difference in their workplace.


About Diane Utatao:

Diane is Director at D&I Consulting Services with deep expertise in Diversity and Inclusion, HR Management and Talent Acquisition. Diane helps organisations to drive business and social change by developing creative solutions to leverage diversity and inclusion to improve equality, engagement, productivity and innovation.

Diane has led diversity and inclusion strategy development and change initiatives across a workforce in excess of 36,000, to build employee engagement and culture change and has delivered HR management and consulting expertise for a global talent firm working across a wide range of blue chip industries, in the private and public sector, from fluro-vest to C-suite.

Diane’s creative approach to raising disability awareness through her short film ‘Work Mate’, has won numerous awards on the International Film Festival circuit and was recognised as a finalist in the 2014 National Disability Awards in Canberra and as a finalist in the 2015 Australian Human Resource Institute (AHRI) Diversity & Inclusion awards.

Diane is a member of the Executive Board of NEEOPA (NSW EEO Practitioners Association) and a member of the NSW Executive of NAWO (National Association of Women in Operations).

Diane will be facilitating the workshop at the upcoming Workplace Diversity & Inclusion Australia event on 10 – 12 October in Sydney, which also features other key speakers including Tim Soutphommasane, Race Discrimination Commissioner of the Australian Human Rights Commission and Danielle Kelly, Head of Diversity and Inclusion of Herbert Smith Freehills.