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Diversity and Inclusion - the Challenges and Rewards

July 24, 2015


AHRI Blog 3


I’ve been pondering which sessions to attend at the AHRI National Convention next month, and the panel discussion on “Inclusion and Diversity – what is next?” has caught my eye. This topic has always been my passion and indeed, my background into the field of HR. There are so many facets to diversity and so many areas in which we can improve our organisations that it’s always an exciting yet challenging area to work in.


If you’re thinking “diversity is too hard – we can’t do that in our workplace so there’s no point going to that session” then I would say that is where you are wrong! I would strongly encourage you to attend because it doesn’t take much to change, but someone has to start the process and this discussion may be just what you need.


People who are passionate about diversity will have already signed up to attend because they want to hear success stories, reflect on their own organisation and learn about how they can implement such strategies. But, we also need to attract professionals who are working in not so diverse workforces, which are often small to medium workplaces, and ‘share the love’. For those unsure if this session is for them, I’m going to share my views on what diversity is and how it can help a business?


Broadly speaking diversity means valuing the characteristics that make a person unique, such as age, gender, ethnicity, education level and family background. Employees from diverse backgrounds bring individual talents and experiences and can suggest ideas that could assist an organisation adapt to fluctuating markets and customer demands. Diversity planning can promote an inclusive workplace culture and equal opportunities for all employees. Diverse organisations have happier and more productive employees, and are more socially ethical and often perform better financially.


Does this sound like a workplace you want to assist in creating or improving? Of course it does! Is it always easy to do, especially in small workforces? No, and that’s why we need to have discussions like these. I have to say that, personally having worked in a number of different sized organisations in a variety of sectors, I’ve always found it is far more challenging to incorporate diversity into the workforce when working in smaller organisations, either private or public entities.


I worked in a large Australian Public Sector agency for many years and there was plenty of scope to increase diversity by, amongst other things, recruiting from a diverse pool of people that reflected our customers, conducting leadership programs for women, providing cultural awareness training for staff, having many flexible work opportunities such as home based work and flexible working hours, and having workplace diversity coordinators in every state that could work with individual sites. It was a dream job for a diversity advocate!


However, many Australian businesses are small to medium enterprises and these don’t always have the resources or the flexibility in numbers to be able to offer features such as flexible working conditions, leadership programs for women, the ability to offer people the opportunity to buy extra annual leave or take leave without pay, or even offer paid parental leave. There is often little turnover in staff and recruitment may occur sporadically so opportunities to increase diversity aren’t always readily available.


There are however, some elements of diversity we can all do, no matter what size our organisation. We can recruit for diversity, we can educate and encourage the managers we work with to role model leadership behaviour that sends a message to our clients and those seeking employment that we are an equal opportunity employer, we can celebrate success publicly in these areas, and we can challenge inappropriate behaviour.


Even with some successful diversity strategies in place, there is always more that can be done, especially in the area of employing people with disability. It’s up to us as HR professionals in both large and small organisations to lead the way, get the buy in from our leaders, to be more inclusive and increase the diversity within our workplaces. Even small steps to increasing inclusivity and diversity can make a difference.


I hope to be able to increase my own knowledge at this session and use the findings from the panel discussion in my own workplace. Come join me and make your own discoveries.


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