'This is who we are': workplaces must resemble modern Australia, Dive In told

Report proposes 'self-funding' insurance model for export industries

Australian businesses are being shortchanged and stuck at a “very baseline expectation” by limiting cultural diversity in the workplace, attendees at this year’s Dive In have heard.

The insurance industry’s annual diversity and inclusion festival, now in its eighth year, centres on the 2022 theme Building Braver Cultures.

More than 150 events will take place across at least 40 countries over three days this week.

“Acknowledging the lack of diversity in your workplace is an uncomfortable reckoning for many and it is certainly easier to turn what I call a colourblind eye,” Australian Centre for the Moving Image Director Tasneem Chopra said today at a session sponsored by Gilchrist Connell and NIBA WA.

“We are such a diverse country but the representation of culturally diverse individuals is abysmally low. Inclusive workplaces have shown repeatedly that they excel and get the job done.”

Ms Chopra is also an Australian Human Rights Commission Anti-Racism Champion, Fire Rescue Victoria Strategic Director and Collingwood Football Club Anti-Racism Panel Expert.

Even a “cursory glance” at the demographic makeup of leadership across tiers of business and science, education, political office, or even the arts in Australia reveal it is “overwhelmingly occupied” by the Anglo Celtic demographic, she says.

“Some people would go so far as to say pale, male, stale,” she said. “To leaders in your organisation, I challenge you to make space at that coveted decision-making table for those outside the mainstream.

“I know it will be a challenge. That will stem from the comfort of privilege that you yourself may have held without question, or even awareness for the longest time.”

Ms Chopra said she did not fit stereotypes, describing herself as “Kenyan born of Indian origin, Bendigo raised, coffee drinking, chocolate loving, turban-donning feminist and exhausted activist”.

Dive In was about making workplaces braver, inclusive, dynamic and “thinking differently,” and being honest would encourage structural change “in the way that we see others and the way organisations operate”.

There was a “huge opportunity” to do more, she said, and a “moral imperative” to hire a diverse workforce, especially as in Australia one in two are either born overseas or have a parent born overseas.

“If culturally diverse communities comprise over 50% of our population, we can and should be doing better with metrics and representation. How is your workforce tracking equity when it comes to gender and cultural representation? Are you there yet?,” she said.

“Diversity is very much ingrained in the DNA of this nation. It stands to reason that when our workplaces resemble the communities and society we live in, we can deliver a product that’s more attuned to our clients. This is who we are.”

Ms Chopra says her passion for representation means she is “a bit of a professional disrupter”.

“I’m not seeking confrontation but I don’t tolerate intolerance either.

“I always challenge the status quo if it doesn’t seem right. Unless we learn to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, we aren’t growing, we don’t change.

“I know we can do better, I know we can be innovative in the way that we construct and recruit and retain and promote leadership in the country.”

For women of colour in particular, it’s not just a glass ceiling but a “veritable steel ceiling that’s doubly reinforced sometimes,” she says.

“If we never shift the needle, we don’t get to the status quo flip that we desperately need in order to be equitably representative.”

She recommends diversifying the way employees are recruited, interrogating ethnicity pay gaps and driving real progress, as well as education and mentoring and normalising social inclusive practices. This will move towards a more respectful and inclusive workplace, making employees feel valued, energised, heard, trusted and promoted, paid well and appreciated.

Transparency and accountability make employers attractive, she says, and help attract the right talent.

“Look around and see – is your team actually representative of a broader cohort that we’re trying to attract? It is challenging, but start with mixing up who’s sitting on your (recruitment) decision making table, and then watch that filter out.

“Expose yourself, make yourself open to that level of scrutiny because it shows professionalism, it shows integrity.

“You have responsibility to be empowering and to subject yourself to robust evaluation, and be empathetic. So there’s a lot of demands on you as leaders, but that’s why you’re leaders,” she says, adding that gender and cultural equity can be achieved in tandem.

“Because we’re adults, we can walk and chew gum, we can do two things at once. You don’t have to do one thing for 20 years, then move on to the next. You have the skills and abilities to do so much more. So let’s do it.”

Click here to register for Dive In sessions.