In order to achieve gender equality – and indeed, a more equitable society at large – it is vital that we create more diverse and inclusive workplaces across a broad range of industries. The question is, how can we support diversity most effectively to create genuine, long-lasting change?
Working towards this very goal, change agent Julie McKay is a strong advocate for greater diversity in the Australian workforce. Having worked in the NGO sector and in government, she spent 10 years as the Executive Director of the Australian National Committee for UN Women before taking on the position of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at PwC Australia. “I wanted to work in a role where I could continue to have significant influence on the laws, policies and attitudes that impact equality, and decided that it was time to see what change we could drive from the corporate sector,” Julie says of the move. “This role presented me with an opportunity to lead [not only] PwC’s diversity and inclusion transformation, but also to work with PwC’s clients across so many industries to really engage in what diversity and inclusion (D&I) means for them and how they can realise the benefits of a more inclusive workplace.”
In Julie’s view, the time is now for businesses to invest in bold disruptions. Here, she shares with us the importance of realising the true value of diversity, the need to acknowledge the inherent biases and disadvantages faced by many in (and outside of) the workforce, and how we can work to create more diverse and inclusive businesses.
What does diversity look like and why is it so important to business?
Online government resource business.gov.au states that diversity in the workplace means having employees from a wide range of backgrounds. This can include having employees of different ages, gender, ethnicity, physical ability, sexual orientation, religious belief, work experience, educational background, and so on.
As Julie explains, there’s a strong evidence base for why diversity and inclusion is so important for business. “Valuing diversity allows business to deliver and connect with a wide range of customers,” she says. “It also engages employees by allowing them to bring different ideas, suggestions and solutions to the workplace.” As Julie explains, there are numerous benefits that can result from prioritising greater diversity and inclusion:
- Attracting the top talent
Julie believes that recruiting from the full talent pool is essential in order to attract top talent. “Unless you are recruiting from the full talent pool, you are not attracting the top talent,” she says.
- Higher profitability
“There is a significant evidence base that greater diversity leads to higher profitability,” Julie explains. For example, a recent report from management consulting firm McKinsey, titled Delivering through Diversity, shows that companies in the top 25th percentile for gender diversity on their executive teams are 21 per cent more likely to experience above-average profits1.
- Better teamwork
“Greater diversity in teams has been linked to stronger decision making and risk mitigation by virtue of having people see things differently and avoid group think,” Julie says.
- Increased representation
Not only can the representation of people from diverse walks of life have a positive impact on people and communities, it can also benefit client and customer relationships. “Clients and customers expect to see people ‘like them’,” Julie explains. “Companies that can represent their shareholders, customers and clients are most likely to be innovative and command loyalty.”
The journey to realising gender diversity and inclusion
While it could be argued that gender diversity and inclusion is higher on organisational agendas than it’s ever been, Julie believes we now have reached a tipping point. “There is a risk that if progress remains slow, there will be a legislative intervention in Australia,” she says. Fortunately, “smart companies are preparing themselves to be ahead of the curve” by taking some key steps to help women thrive in the workplace:
1. Understand and acknowledge
In Julie’s view, the biggest barrier to diversity and inclusion in the Australian workforce is a lack of understanding. “Too many Australians don’t see that there is a problem in our workplaces, don’t realise that privilege and power are held by a chosen few and not shared equally,” Julie says. “Many business leaders don’t realise the impact of ‘in-groups’ and ‘out-groups’ on psychological safety, engagement and ultimately, someone’s ability to reach their full potential,” she says. As the diversity advocate explains, recognising systemic disadvantage is an essential part of bringing the ‘out-group’, ‘in’. “Leaders need to accept that women are not starting from a level playing field and time will not change the outcome for women in Australia,” Julie says.
In order to change attitudes, Julie believes we need to go back to basics. “Understanding the data and what it tells us about equality at work, understanding privilege and how this impacts our behaviour at work, and acknowledging the impact of conscious and unconscious biases are all steps that we need to take,” Julie says.
2. Invest in bold disruptions
“Targets with teeth, sponsorship with accountability for individual success, and investment in inclusive leadership training are all interventions that I would recommend,” Julie says.
3. Prioritise flexible working
While flexible working is on the increase, Julie believes that the traditional ‘9-5’ workday needs to be fundamentally challenged. “Flexibility needs to become a norm for all workers, not just women with children – to reduce the stereotypes and perceived career risks of working differently,” she says.
4. Listen first
Before organisations implement any new policies, they need to understand their starting point, explains Julie. “Too often, we see big investments made in D&I programs that are not targeted at the specific issues in a given organisation,” she says. “Listening to women, identifying role models and challenging norms by engaging all employees in the conversation will all help to shift the dial.”
The change agent strives to walk the talk in her role at PwC, with a diverse approach to working with clients. “Every single one of our engagements is different and I pride myself on not having ‘cookie cutter’ solutions that we replicate in different contexts,” Julie explains. “I spend a lot of time with leadership teams supporting them to understand the benefits of D&I and to design their approach to shifting the dial within their organisations.”
1 In compiling its report, McKinsey used publicly available information from 1,007 companies located in 12 different countries located in North and Latin America, Europe, Asia/Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa. The data was collected between December 2016 and November 2017. Financial data came from the Corporate Performance Analytics database by McKinsey and S&P Global.