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Three ways to stay focused on diversity

By Amy Poynton | January 19th, 2017

By Amy Poynton and Mithran Doraisamy

The issues of inclusiveness and diversity have had a significant and encouraging level of attention since 2010 through initiatives such as the recommendation by the ASX that companies disclose gender objectives in their annual reports and the establishing of the Male Champions of Change group by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.

However, 2016 proved a challenging if not backwards year; despite a good level of policies, guidelines and awareness of inclusiveness and diversity, we can’t seem to sustain the change.

The most startling examples played out in the extraordinary prejudice and hate showed by the US president-elect including the rhetoric of building walls, vilifying and sexually harassing women, and religious registration and segregation. These thoughts and actions are seemingly acceptable by some parts of our society.

In Australia, there was a recent example on social media regarding a simple photo of two senior leaders meeting Ita Buttrose. All three people in the photo are women. All three are senior leaders in their fields. However, the comments about the post were about the attractiveness of one woman, the fashion choice of another and lastly that Ms Buttrose was the subject of one commentor’s sexual fantasy. There were zero comments about event or the achievements of the women.

No doubt Ms Buttrose has dealt with this sort of attention throughout her successful media career, however it struck us that such commentary that would have been unlikely had she been a man. Sadly, we can just hear the response of social media commentators to this observation: “Geez, they were just kidding. Can’t you take a joke?”.

Renewed focus

We have seen businesses being formally recognised and awarded on the success of their advances in inclusion and diversity in the workplace, yet too often the individual experience can be different.

We came across a woman who was returning from parental leave after having twins. She needed more time allocated to family commitments and asked if she could work four-days a week. She was given redundancy because it was deemed that the role had to be full-time.

Rather than being distracted by such stories, there are three things leaders can do to renew their focus on meeting their business inclusiveness and diversity objectives.

First, what you pay attention to gets the attention of your people. It is imperative that leaders role-model the importance of the strategy and goals by incorporating it into the way you work every day.

Secondly, you need to ensure your leadership team and the board strongly support the inclusiveness and diversity agenda.

Finally, you need to measure and monitor the progress of your goals.

Right now, there is a real risk of disconnection between what you meant to say and what is heard as your corporate message bumps against the tsunami of different (and sometimes fact-free) external messages.

We recommend that you remain vigilant about what you say and how you say it. Then, consistently do what you say.

Amy Poynton is an executive and consultant specialising in performance improvement and transformation. Mithran Doraisamy is an executive, consultant and board member specialising in strategy, digital and transformation.

This article was originally published in the AFR. Read the original here.


Australia, Being Lucky Is No Longer Enough

By Tania de Jong AM | December 22nd, 2015

Australia has traditionally been a highly successful and prosperous nation. On almost every important business index, we are accelerating. The stakes — the financial, social, environmental and political consequences — similarly are rising.

Being lucky is no longer enough.

We lag well behind many other nations on innovation. We have to nurture our entrepreneurs and innovate faster in order keep up with the pace of growth. To compete globally we must welcome, include and empower the many diverse voices of our citizens, migrants and the refugees who are seeking a haven here.

Over the next five to 10 years it is estimated that up to 40 percent of companies on the Standard and Poor’s index will be disrupted by rapidly advancing technologies and the entrepreneurs adapting quickly to this new environment. According to international research, 47 percent of middle-class jobs will become redundant due to robotics and new technologies. And some jobs will continue to exist but will be performed in cheaper labour markets overseas.

Australia doubles the research outputs of the United States per capita but produces half the amount of patents. We generate plenty of ideas and research but we don’t commercialise them enough. We urgently need to train our young people to be entrepreneurs: makers and creators of the jobs of the future. We need to build a culture of innovation to sufficiently develop our capabilities to turn ideas into enterprises.

Willingness to experiment and fail leads to innovations creating opportunities and prosperity for millions. FAIL, after all, stands for First Attempt In Learning.

Turning ideas into enterprise also benefits from diversity. With skilled migrants and refugees seeking a home here, we have real opportunities to foster a new wave of entrepreneurship and innovation.

We surround ourselves with people who make us feel safe, who come from similar backgrounds and educations, who think, feel and dress like we do — and who agree with and endorse us. Yet our biggest gains as humans come from “creative abrasion”, where we rub up against people who make us feel uncomfortable and challenge our notions of ourselves and the world we live in. This is where creativity and innovation truly spark.

Inclusive leadership must be paramount. Instead of fearing people from different backgrounds and cultures, there is an opportunity for all of us to choose to create a happy, healthy, inclusive and innovative Australia. This is about removing the ‘us and them’ mentality and acknowledging our common humanity. Ultimately we are more similar than different, yet our negative focus on the differences between us creates a lot of our problems.

Let’s remove the walls between us and build bridges of understanding. As a community we need to empower all voices, no matter what their faith, background, disadvantage, disability or age. People need to feel like they have a place here, a true home, a sense of belonging, a sense of self and respect from others. Then they will truly be able to contribute to our future.

And does size matter? No.

Look at Israel, a nation founded by refugees that faces permanent geographical, political and social challenges. It thrives because it has a risk-tolerant culture producing massive innovation. Imaginations are allowed to run free, ideas are nurtured and entrepreneurs celebrated: Israel is home to over 5,000 tech start-ups and lists more companies on NASDAQ than all of Europe combined. Israel proves that small countries can be engines of entrepreneurship and innovation.

When refugees and migrants come to a new country they want to restart their lives. They work incredibly hard and bring a diverse and rich cultural background that contributes economically, politically and socially. They just need to be given a voice.

We do accept people from diverse backgrounds into Australia. Now we need to put out the welcome mat and provide everyone with the education, skills, engagement and opportunities to participate in this accelerating environment and contribute fully to their new homeland. Then they can truly call Australia home, and together we can co-create a productive, innovative and prosperous future.

Joan Kirner: the voice of women in Australian politics for 25 years

By Mary Delahunty | June 3rd, 2015

Joan Kirner’s handwriting was strong, like her personality, and her words are indelible.

Always have something positive and clear to say about what you want to achieve and who benefits, she wrote to me in November 1999, a few weeks after I had been sworn in as Victorian minister for education and the arts. Her advice was generous and practical, born of decades of public service and an instinct towards the pastoral care of women who followed her into the parliaments of Australia. Joan was the matriarch of mentoring and, around the country today, we grieve her loss and salute her legacy.

Eighteen years ago she founded EMILY’s List Australia to propel progressive women into parliament. Always the political strategist, she insisted the organisation sit outside the ALP, independent, but capable of goading the party towards affirmative action on female preselections and policies such as changes to equal pay principles in the Fair Work Act and the inclusion of the abortion drug RU486 on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

The top female Labor leaders in the land are or have been supported by EMILY’s List – from former prime minister Julia Gillard and deputy leader Tanya Plibersek to every female premier of Australia. And all Labor’s female MPs have had a mentor, thanks to Joan’s foresight. It could be a call at the end of a bad day – “How are you?” – or a note of advice and support.

She never failed, even recently, as oesophageal cancer drained her strength; her voice on the phone was robust, the conversation immediately dissecting the political issues of the day. I last saw her on Mother’s Day. I took her a rose, the last of the season from my garden, a book and soup. We all sat in our regular circle in her lounge, women discussing politics. Joan was quieter than usual. The next day she was taken to hospital.

Joan’s community activism as a parent led her into Parliament. Her belief in the transformative role of education made her a formidable minister in that portfolio. Her passion for the planet made her a practical minister for conservation. She set up Landcare, working with farmers’ representatives such as Heather Mitchell.

In politics, as in life, Joan was a bridge builder. Becoming premier in 1990 – Victoria’s first female premier and Australia’s second – she took over a shaky administration. The state was reeling from the collapse of financial institutions Pyramid and Tricontinental and Labor factions were jostling as premier John Cain resigned. Joan had the numbers to lead, but the men assumed one of their own would be elevated. She told me of a meeting based on this assumption. She told them, “I have the numbers, I can be premier”.

The polls were terrible for Labor and her job was to stem the losses. She governed under ceaseless pressure as the economy worsened and parts of the media lampooned a female leader. They tried to ridicule her as the housewife in the polka-dot dress; the cartoons were sexist and relentless. In her 1999 note to me, she urged  against finger waving or that would be the next cartoon.

There was something constant about Joan. She ran a dignified campaign in 1992, clawing back some support. Never enough, though; it was too late for Labor.

With humour and intent, she reclaimed the polka dots as a proud mark of feminism. On ABC late-night television, wearing a black leather jacket, the premier morphed into Joan Jett singing I love Rock’n’Roll. It went viral.

Nearly a decade later there was a reprise. Under the ornate arches downstairs in the Regent Theatre, I joined Julia Gillard, trade union leaders Sharan Burrow and Jennie George, comic Jane Clifton and the former premier herself onstage. We were “Joan Jett and the Fishnets”, the gala attraction at Joan’s 60th birthday bash and a Labor fundraiser.  There was only one rehearsal (half an hour before the doors opened), but the audience roared its appreciation and the dollars rolled in. Despite endless encores, led by Joan, and rave reviews, we stopped at one performance and all went back to politics. The red-head in the black leather skirt went on to become prime minister.

Joan lent every major birthday as a fundraiser, every anniversary of her premiership an event to promote women in leadership

She spent 12 years in Parliament, concentrating on the trend lines, not the headlines, determined to respect the policy and the process, but it was her later work that was transformative. She chaired the Employment Services Regulatory Authority In 1994, she was elected president of the Victorian ALP and that year she moved the historic resolution to entrench the ALP’s affirmative action rule. She raised a generation of Labor women, policy smart and campaign ready; she imagined the Victorian Women’s Honour Roll, acknowledging the often forgotten contributions of women in history; and she travelled the state as our first commissioner for communities. She was the voice of women in politics for 25 years.

Her portrait in red, clear eyes arresting the viewer, is bright among the other dark-suited premiers arrayed around her in Parliament’s Queens Hall. She alone was not granted a parliamentary pension, and that is a disgrace.

This article was originally published at the Sydney Morning Herald.

Sectors: Government