The debate included high-profile panellists such as Dr Tim Soutphommasane, Race Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission; Chris Lamb, head of HR for Australia and Global Head of Diversity at Lend Lease; and John Brogden AM, managing director and CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
The debate was based around an audience survey that found the vast majority (84%) worked for an organisation that had a diversity strategy in place, but only 64% said that strategy had measurable objectives, and just a quarter said that people were not held accountable for meeting them.
Lisa Annese, chief executive of DCA, said that the debate highlighted some key issues for employers.
“Everyone agrees that talking about diversity and inclusion is important,” she said.
“But what’s more important is that this talk actually leads to not only action but results.
“We all know that progress on a variety of diversity fronts is slower than what we would like. But I do firmly believe more and more employers understand the benefits of diverse and inclusive workplaces and are taking steps.
“However, action can’t be an end in itself – it has to lead to measurably better outcomes. This can only be achieved if organisations have robust diversity and inclusion strategies and hold people accountable for them.”
During the Debate, speakers for the ‘affirmative team’ argued that talking has not led to enough action.
“If there was sufficient action we would not be here tonight,” argued Diana Ryall, founder and managing director of Xplore for Success.
“By talking more, leaders have continued to avoid the need to take real action.”
Brogden countered that Australia can “never, ever stop talking about diversity”.
“The simple reality is that progress will be minimal without real dialogue that encourages boards to implement change within their organisations that will have a lasting impact,” he said.
Soutphommasane asserted that businesses were not doing enough to make a real change.
“In business, we don’t measure or collect data on cultural diversity and there is a lack of diverse representation in our parliament, media and corporates,” he argued – adding that “getting a fix of kebab on a Friday night doesn’t give you insight into cultural diversity”.
Kerryn Phelps, Adjunct Professor at Sydney University and Conjoint Professor at the University of New South Wales, agreed that employers were all talk and no action.
She suggested that diversity should be a KPI and reportable to the Board and shareholders.
Dr Anne Summers AO, editor and publisher of the digital magazine Anne Summers Reports
, argued that discussion was needed or else any action taken would fail.
“Unless there is talk and you get buy in, then change won't be effective,” she said. “You have to build support and awareness before you can achieve lasting action.”
Lamb agreed with Summers’ standpoint, drawing reference to one of the globe’s most famous diversity advocates of all time.
“There is nowhere near enough ‘talk’ on diversity and yet we know that ‘talk’ can lead to significant change,” said Lamb.
“Martin Luther King Junior’s speech was called ‘I have a dream’, not ‘I have a list of agreed actions’.”
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Diversity Council Australia (DCA) held its annual Diversity Debate on Tuesday evening, with a general consensus emerging that there is too much talk and not enough action being taken around diversity.