Australian employers need to see diversity and inclusion through a different lens, with mental health as a key focus, according to the chair of beyondblue and former Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
This is particularly important given one-in-two Australians will experience poor mental health at some point in their life and more than 200 people attempt to end their own lives every day.
Gillard said that in the workplace, in particular, many people experience mental health issues and diversity and inclusion needs to be seen from their perspective.
“While some are locked out of meaningful employment, the vast majority of these people work,” said Gillard while delivering Diversity Council Australia’s Anna McPhee Memorial Oration on Diversity & Inclusion.
“They value work. They are highly productive. Yes, they may need flexibility, reasonable adjustments, time off from time to time. But who doesn’t?
“And too often, all employers see is a diagnosis, not the value of the richness of experience these people bring. Too often employers view mental health in the workplace through the lens of deficit and risk.”
She added that employers must consider the one in five working Australians affected at any given time by mental health challenges, the one million Australian adults who are living today with depression and the two million who are living with an anxiety condition.
“The eight a day who die by suicide. A terrible figure that is more than twice the national road toll.”
Gillard cited programs like Heads Up, which help create mentally health workplaces and The Way Back Support Service to help support suicide prevention.
She added that the #YouCanTalk campaign increases confidence when it comes to talking about suicide and that while they are achieving results, they needed more support.
“We need to continue to build awareness and change behaviours everywhere that Australians work, live, learn and play; have governments invest more and differently; realise the potential of every dollar by eradicating waste, duplication, gaps and holes; and improve access to high quality services and supports so everyone in need gets them.”
Moreover, Chris Lamb, group head of talent & organisational development at Lendlease who spoke on the panel said employers have an obligation to understand the impact of their work environment on the mental health and wellbeing of their employees.
“As business leaders, we must step up and demonstrate an active and long-term commitment to this issue which goes well beyond policies and frameworks,” said Lamb.
“We are uniquely placed to serve as important role models, significantly influencing the culture of our respective organisations. Importantly, we can also drive meaningful action within our broader industries for safer, healthier and more inclusive workplaces.
DCA’s CEO, Lisa Annese, added that greater workplace inclusion of people with mental health conditions will benefit everyone.
“We already know from DCA research that inclusion is good for business and for employees. Today’s Oration showed that workplaces can do more when it comes to mental health,” said Annese.
“It’s really all about creating an environment that enables people to manage their lives, and get the support they need.”