It seems nobody could get away with making dismissive remarks in relation to diversity at the workplace these days but if recent incidences reported in the news were anything to go by, politicians and media personalities in Australia are getting a free pass.
But before we go into the details, perhaps it would be appropriate to set the context.
In the recently concluded Talent Management Leadership Summit (TMLS) 2016 held in Sydney, participating Talent Leaders from top Australian & New Zealand companies discussed at length the importance of diversity and the need to create a workplace environment that is inclusive and nurturing. They also touched on the complexities surrounding this concept and the difficulties they faced when trying to implement these policies.
With such emphasis attached, you would expect the people who are in the position of authority and power be held accountable for what they say in the public in relation to diversity. You would have thought these people are smart enough to recognise the benefits of creating an environment that allow different voices to thrive and commit to actively foster that culture.
But if you have been following the news lately, you will be sorely disappointed. While we are beyond surprise as we read another of Andrew Bolt’s rant against Islam, or Pauline Hanson’s political rhetoric against the Muslims, it was surprising to hear television host, Sonia Kruger, jumping onto the bandwagon too.
Kruger was calling for Australia to close off her borders to Muslim immigrants, citing fears for her family’s safety as one of the key reasons. What ensued was weeks of heated debate regarding this issue and finger pointing at one another which eventually ended up to a big fat NOUGHT.
You still see Kruger presenting on Today Extra, Bolt is still on the writing staff for Herald Sun, and Hanson’s One Nation Party had just won four seats in the Senate!
However, on the other end of the spectrum, Sydney-based advertising agency Banjo Advertising had just gone into full damage control, apologising for a disastrous job interview that left a Sri Lankan-born candidate shocked and flabbergasted.
Surngi Emily Hohol was interviewing for a position at the agency when, in a truly shocking lack of judgement, a senior executive told Hohol that she would not be suitable for the role as they already had two other “Indian” employees in the team.
“Direct quote: ‘The client might be alarmed by having three brown skin people attend a meeting’,” Hohol wrote on Facebook.
And so it would seem that one is able to get away with making controversial comments on diversity and equality if you are a politician or is a popular media personality, whereas in the corporate world, you are subjected to a different set of rules. The varying standards involving how different industries react to and handle contentious comments as such are so different it is bordering on ludicrous and is counter to what many organisations in Australia are trying to achieve.
Australia embraces a multicultural society in which the foundations are built on immigration. Most Australians would have come from a family of immigrants and for generations, worked together side by side with one another to build the economy to where it is at today. Whether it is out in the farms or in an office environment, it is very likely that we have worked with co-workers who are of different beliefs and backgrounds. Diversity has been the bedrock of our society for years.
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There is no hard and fast rule to creating a culture that embraces diversity and equality. It takes time and effort and it is heartening to know that the organisations participating in the TMLS2016 are aware of the benefits it can bring to their business and Talent Leaders are trying to affect change. Some of the suggestions that were raised include:
- Ensuring all staff understand their obligations under the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Policy;
- Look into creating an EVP that is inclusive and all-encompassing;
- Re-evaluating current hiring assessment process to increase its non-exclusivity and reduce systemic bias;
- Consider using internal mobility to magnify diversity options;
- Getting ideas on sourcing and recruitment from diverse role models;
- Reducing the emphasis on finding the “purple squirrel” and diverting more attention to identifying candidates with the right attitude and aptitude for the position.
In the light of these discussions, it would then seem incongruous to me that while we insist on equal opportunity regardless of race, gender, age, orientation, physical ability or looks and religion in the work place, but we do not have the same values in politics and the press. That we are seeking to create a diverse and all-inclusive work environment on one hand but our politicians and media are expounding conflicting statements and ideas on the other.
This has to change as I believe the notion of equality and having a diverse workforce that is representative of our population is crucial as we seek to increase the dynamism of our work place in order to thrive in today’s unpredictable economy.
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