The benefits of workplace diversity have long been known, with study after study finding that diverse teams, with their broad knowledge and ability to look at problems from a variety of different angles, achieve greater success than more homogenous teams.
But diversity, be it represented in ethnicity, age, sex or otherwise, doesn’t just happen. We’ve spoken before about the challenges of building a diverse team, and how even the best intentioned recruiting practices, such as hiring for culture fit, can have an effect on diversity that is far from ideal.
Many of the best companies in Australia have recognised these difficulties, and are actively working towards doing diversity right. So how do they put their words into action?
Here’s how six of the leading companies for diversity in Australia go about it.
“Inclusion and diversity are fundamental to Accenture’s culture and core values, and the diversity of our employees is part of what makes us exceptional. We are committed to creating an inclusive and diverse workforce where people can feel comfortable and be themselves, and as a result be productive and high performing.”
So sayeth Randy Wandmacher, Accenture’s HR Lead for Australia and New Zealand. And these aren’t just throw-away lines – Accenture have put in firm initiatives that focus on delivering real and measurable diversity results. The Accenture Australia diversity philosophy rests on four main pillars:
Gender Equality: “We are dedicated to achieving a 50-50 gender balance by 2025. We are also working towards a target of 25 percent of all managing directors being female by 2020.”
Pride (LGBTI): “PrideAtAccenture ANZ, the local LGBTI community within Accenture, has continued to expand to over 800 allies through ongoing awareness, communications, and events. In 2017 Accenture ANZ won the Australia Workplace Equality Index Inaugural Platinum Employer of the Year award and the Sapphire Inspire award.”
Focus on Enablement: “This initiative incorporates Persons with Disabilities, Mental Health Ally network and Veterans. In Australia and New Zealand Accenture is a member of the Diversity Council Australia and a Gold Member of Australian Network on Disability. Through these partnerships, our company is creating a diverse, inclusive and accessible organisation.”
Cross Culture and Indigenous Peoples: “In New Zealand, Accenture partners with TupuToa which creates career pathways for Maori and Pasifika tertiary students into corporate careers. Our global Skills to Succeed program aims to advance the opportunities of underrepresented groups, with aims to equip more than three million people with the skills they need to secure a job or build a business by 2020.”
These initiatives make it obvious why Accenture is seen as a global leader in diversity – the organisation not only practises what it preaches in-house, but also helps others to achieve their goals too. In the end, says Wandmacher, it just makes good business sense to do so.
“We understand that a diverse and inclusive workforce helps our business to foster an innovative, collaborative and high energy work environment, but also better understand our clients’ issues and resolve them with different perspectives.”
December 7, 2017 was a big day for many Australians. For Kylie Fuller, Telstra’s Diversity Inclusion Lead, it was a day of validation. Telstra had made the brave choice to support same sex marriage, so when the bill finally passed through parliament, it was a joyous occasion.
“I have three male cousins who are a similar age. Last year the eldest two married the women they loved. Their weddings were joyful occasions filled with laughter, heartfelt words and happy tears. My youngest cousin was his brother’s best man, as they stood side-by-side their resemblance was striking. They have the same colour hair and eyes, the same long legs and the same kind hearts but they didn’t have the same rights. As a gay man, the younger brother knew that he might never have a wedding, or a marriage, of his own. That has changed.”
Telstra prides itself on being an equal opportunity employer – the very existence of Fuller’s role of Diversity Inclusion Lead should be evidence enough of that – making the company an attractive proposition for careers in Australia.
And Telstra doesn’t just talk the equality talk – they walk the equality walk. A lot of attention has been paid to the tech and engineering gender disparity, but the subject of LGBTQ+ representation is far less dominant. Elana, one of Telstra’s content producers, describes exactly how the company helped her to navigate through the drawn-out SSM debate.
“I can honestly say that I felt at ease going to work throughout this period, because while a diverse range of views are held, there were support mechanisms in place should I require them. Community support through our organisation’s LGBTI+ network Spectrum granted the ability to share views and concerns in an understanding environment. And for when the vote was read, ‘safe meeting spaces’ were arranged and counselling support made available for individuals who wanted to hear the news in a supportive setting. Now that’s an organisation that shows support for its people!”
And Telstra’s diversity and inclusivity efforts aren’t the type of equal opportunity that, to paraphrase George Orwell, might be more equal to some than others. Telstra and Fuller are striving to level the playing field from all angles.
“We’re working towards a range of other inclusion goals; greater workplace gender diversity, accessibility and inclusion, economic opportunity for Indigenous Australians and support for victims of family violence; to name a few.”
As one of the country’s biggest and most powerful employers, it’s reassuring to hear exactly how dedicated to diversity in Australia Telstra truly is.
Nina Jung, CMO at MadeComfy, has a unique take on workplace diversity in Australia. “As a female of Asian heritage living in Sydney, and more recently in Berlin, I have often been in situations where my differences were obvious,” she says. Thankfully though, her experiences have been largely positive. “What I’ve observed is that in those organisations where diversity is the norm, it’s very natural for people to accept others as they are. In a sense employees are almost indifferent to others’ backgrounds.”
As a start-up, MadeComfy hasn’t had the resources to commit to a diversity push that larger companies enjoy. But perhaps fortuitously, the MadeComfy founders come from different backgrounds themselves, which has fostered an organic diversity throughout the organisation. “I feel that our culture attracts similar minds, and the diversity continues to thrive [because of this]. Currently, MadeComfy is made of team members representing 22 countries, and 40% of the leadership team is women.”
While the MadeComfy culture might see diversity occurring naturally, Jung is no less aware of the benefits that difference and variety brings an organisation. “Diversity brings richness of talents, skillsets and views which foster creative thinking. Having creative solutions to problems take your business ahead of the game.”
Sydney-based programmatic media and performance marketing platform Bench has put diversity firmly in the crosshairs. Shai Luft, the company’s COO and Co-founder, explains that diversity “grows Bench as a business, and ensures that the work culture is constantly shaped by fresh perspectives.
“Because our team is global, with some employees working remotely, we have to ensure that they also feel like they’re a part of the wider business. Having a diverse global workforce in place allows us to better understand and meet the needs of our international client base.”
To achieve this end, Bench have put in place a number of diversity initiatives. Some are simple, like celebrating Harmony Day with each employee bringing a plate of food (and telling a story about it) that is either unique to their culture, or from a country that they’d recently visited. Others are more nuanced, like spreading their recruiting efforts across a variety of channels, in recognition of the fact that people of different cultures, ages and social backgrounds search for jobs differently.
Bench not only focus on offering a diverse range of people employment, but also on providing a welcoming atmosphere once they start. “We send out a staff survey which allows Bench employees to give feedback anonymously” explains Luft. “This is essential to ensure that staff can be honest in their responses and it helps us better understand how to improve inclusion and diversity from the inside.”
At the end of the day, Luft and Bench are very realistic about the question of diversity, and attack it in a very practical way. “Although we all know that diversity is required, the challenge is to work out what this actually means to each individual and the organisation, and how the concept can be implemented at a practical level. Becoming an inclusive workplace requires a commitment to long term cultural change, which calls for effective leadership around diversity.”
“Diversity doesn’t happen by chance. It is intentional and requires careful planning, a firm strategy and leadership,” instructs Matthias Bizilis, Director of Enterprise Business Development for Australia and New Zealand at Cheetah Digital. He focuses on what he terms the three Cs: context, communication and choice.
Context: Diversity efforts need to be specific in action and relevant to a situation, to a team, to a product, to a marketing initiative et al.
Communication: You need to listen to your team. Communication is the impetus and serves to explain the ‘why’ behind any action taken on diversity.
Choice: There is no one-size-fits-all action to solve an issue of diversity. Strong performers in diversity have mastered the art of balancing process and participation down to an individual level.
Cheetah Digital understands that the nature of work is changing, and that many of the more ‘traditional’ approaches to workplace diversity are in serious need of updating.
“More and more, companies are held accountable by their employees and customers in regards to diversity, making how they approach it fundamental to both their people and their bottom line. We are seeing the rise of a new class of company termed ‘social enterprises’, and we’re seeing the broader market diversify its products, its services and most importantly its approach to succeed in this new era.”
This well-rounded view and deep understanding of diversity has resulted in Cheetah becoming a leader in the field. And with offices scattered across the globe, their diversity only continues to develop.
When asked exactly what a diverse workplace means to both he and his employer, Bizilis answers with just one word.
As one of the most recognised professional services firms in the world, EY – otherwise known as Ernst & Young – has a greater responsibility than most to demonstrate diversity. And with a tagline of building a better working world, the organisation certainly isn’t shying away from this duty.
EY have made a point of valuing and respecting individual differences. They have taken the time to understand what individuals with a different background, education level, gender, ethnicity, nationality, generation, age, working and thinking style, religion, sexual orientation, ability and technical skill set bring to the table, and set out to be as inclusive an organisation as they can be.
For EY, inclusiveness is about leveraging these differences to achieve better business results – it’s very much in their interest to take a diverse approach to employment. But it’s also about creating an environment where all of these people feel, and are, valued; where they are not just able to bring their differences to work each day; but use them to perform better.
EY say that their focus on diversity and inclusiveness is built into the company’s DNA. It’s integral to how they serve their clients, develop their people and play a leadership role in their communities. They’ve seen the extensive research that demonstrates just how better performed diverse and inclusive teams are, and have put this theory into practice.
To EY, there are no real downsides to fostering diversity, and the upsides are seemingly limitless.
As they rightly note, “Diverse teams are more likely to improve market share and have success in new markets; they demonstrate stronger collaboration and better retention. Making sure that all our people’s voices are heard and valued not only helps attract and retain the best people, but it also helps us deliver better approaches for our clients and for our own organisation.”