'There's often a gap between what HR does and what other parts of the organisation do,' says academic offering insights, tips
The Diversity Council of Australia (DCA) unveiled its list of Inclusive Employers 2023-24 this month, which recognised 82 organisations for their commitment to diversity and inclusion.
These included Our Watch, ANZ, City of Sydney and Perth Airport.
To make the list, participants had to prove their commitment to diversity and inclusion by having their workers complete a survey to determine the state of inclusion in the workplace. And those results had to exceed national benchmarks in at least five of these six categories: engagement, awareness, inclusive organisational climate, inclusive leadership, inclusive team and exclusion.
“We know that inclusion has significant benefits for both employers and employees,” DCA CEO Lisa Annese said in a statement. “DCA’s Inclusive Employers Index is a rigorous process that reveals the state of inclusion and diversity across participating organisations.”
“It’s an opportunity for workplaces to show their commitment to inclusion, reflect on their achievements and identify ways to do even better.”
But what factors create an inclusive workplace, and how does it benefit employers and employees?
Benefits of workplace inclusion
As a starting point, an organisation is inclusive if people from all walks of life want to work there, according to Alison Pullen, professor of gender, work and organisation at Macquarie Business School.
“But also, that they can go to work free of discrimination – whether that's overt or covert discrimination – and be able to feel as if they belong to the organisation or the team that they're in,” she told HRD Australia. “And that they feel that they can work productively for the benefit of not only the organisation but also that they feel as if work is part of having a liveable life.”
DCA said workplace inclusion increases performance, wellbeing and innovation. It highlighted that employees in inclusive teams are three times less likely to leave their organisation and nearly 10 times more likely to be innovative.
Further, Pullen said the benefits of workplace inclusion for employers is that workers are more effective and productive.
“When organisations are working productively, effectively; when [they’ve] got respectful and inclusive cultures that lead to organisational success, and they're able then to challenge their competitors in the market, they gain competitive advantage over their competitors, then this is one of the benefits of inclusive workplaces,” she said.
“We know that including diverse people in leadership teams improves decision making, it mitigates a lot of problems in leadership teams like groupthink or risk avoidance.”
Advantages of DEI for employees
It’s not just employers that reap the benefits of workplace inclusivity, employees can also benefit as well, particularly around wellbeing.
“The benefits for employees can range from anything from job and workplace satisfaction, being happy at work, being happy with the job or the conditions that they have at work, through to being well at work,” Pullen said.
“Because we know that when people don't feel included, when people are discriminated against on the basis of their perceived difference from the norm in that organisation, that that can contribute to sickness – physical and mental sickness – through to needing to take time off work through to it affecting families and communities.”
Creating a more inclusive workplace
When asked how HR teams can improve their workplace inclusivity, Pullen said HR departments need to have the resources and commitment from senior leadership to do the work around diversity, equity and inclusion.
“For many organisations in Australia and beyond, having the resources to invest in robust human resource management practices, policies, that focus on embedding EDI, throughout the organisation is the first major challenge,” she said.
Another important step is for HR personnel to be thoroughly aware of equity and diversity, and the complexities around inclusion, Pullen added.
“Training HR specialists in equity and diversity is really important,” she said. “And what we see is that a lot of organisations train their human resource personnel around the legal implications and the industrial relations implications to ensure that the legal aspects of the employment contract are in place.
“But the broader issues of inclusion around cultural inclusion, inclusive leadership, being part of a team and how to address when there are serious issues of inclusion, systemic issues of exclusion, that I don't see being done as well.”
Training leadership on workplace inclusion
Pullen added that training line managers and personnel around diversity, inclusion, equity can also ensure that there are no “mixed messages”.
“What I see in the work that I do is that there’s a lot of mixed messages,” she said. “Organisations can have fantastic policies, they put practices in place including brilliant reporting around whether it's inequality of gender pay gap for women, or gender pay gap for migrant employees in Australia but then actually having managers who can fully respect the importance of inclusion…is actually very, very difficult. So there's often a gap between what HR does and what other parts of the organisation do.”
Pullen believes it’s important for an organisation to have infrastructure in place to ensure that equity, diversity and inclusion is truly embedded into all aspects of the organisation.
“But most of all, when there are inequalities or when there's racism, when there's sexism, when there’s homophobia, when there's ageism, etc, that that senior leadership team addresses it,” she said. “Because when it's not addressed, it breeds.”