It's time to draw a line in the sand and commit to co-creating a diverse and inclusive society for all Australians
Over the past week many of us have been asking how we can create inclusion for all Australians, moving beyond the same old divisive and exclusionary “us and them” conversations and debates, to achieve real change? Are we at the tipping point of creating more inclusive organisations for many Australians? Or are we going backwards due to the power of shock jocks, social media and ignorance?
On a recent trip to Melbourne I was privileged to attend the 50th anniversary celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s award-winning movie West Side Story with the Melbourne Symphony orchestra performing the music to the original film.
Sadly the tragic narrative of West Side Story is just as relevant today as it was 50 years ago when it was first performed. What stood out for me was the emotional pain and the “lose-lose” outcomes caused by the exclusion of people based on their difference. This was played out by nearly every character contributing to the tragic story.
At the end of the movie I found myself reflecting on how far society has come over the past 50 years, and how every character in the movie had contributed to the tragic outcome through their personal and shared beliefs and their behaviour.
As I sat there I also found myself wishing for a new and happier ending to the movie - a silly idea I know - yet we all have this choice in how we choose to live together in today’s Australia.
The good news is that societal views on equity and inclusion have significantly shifted. There is increased awareness and education and much greater support for a fairer and more inclusive society for all Australians over the past 50 years.
Yet sadly many of us are still allowing our unconscious biases and our hard-wired fear of difference to divide us. This fear of difference is being perpetuated by our media as well as some of our key institutions (including the church and our parliament) – which is resulting in us playing an old losing game rather than the winning game that is possible. If we moved to this winning game and created greater inclusion of difference, we could benefit from the well documented evidence of a richer, healthier and more innovative society for everyone.
Over the past week we saw another painful and divisive public debate led by our PM about the right of religious organisations to discriminate against Australian LGBTIQ children – thank goodness this debate resulted in a positive legislative change to enshrine safety from discrimination for every student. Yet sadly we are still debating the right to exclude LGBTIQ teachers. Since when does your gender or sexual identity impact on your ability to be a great maths teacher for example?
This week we also heard that the Australian Senate only narrowly voted down a motion condemning “anti-white racism,” followed by a defence from our government senators who voted for the controversial statement claiming an administrative error and ignorance of what the term meant led to their votes.
The fact that this could happen demonstrates a strong lack of personal insight into the impact of error and ignorance by our politicians, something which I believe is no longer acceptable in 21st century Australia. In my view, some of these leaders would fail the reasonable person in the street test that is enshrined to protect all Australians within our national and state anti-discrimination legislation.
So how do we shift the dial to win-win inclusion for all Australians?
Based on my experience there are 3 things we can do to get started - we can:
1. Understand that every one of us has a role to play in shifting workplace and societal culture to be more inclusive of peoples differences. We all need to be mindful of applying an inclusion lens (rather than a special treatment lens) before making decisions, otherwise we are at risk of excluding diverse groups and individuals without realising it.
2. We all need to be self aware of our own unique diversity identity – we all have one (being the combination of differences that make us unique) and we need to understand that our identity informs how we interpret the world around us.
3. We need to create safe spaces in our organisations and community for people to have new D & I conversations and respectful disagreement. This is possible after being educated on the robust D & I evidence base we now have, including the business case evidence, the science of how unconscious bias impacts on merit and good decision making, how to mitigate unconscious bias, as well as best practice D & I approaches and actions that people can undertake every day. Through creating these spaces, greater diversity and workplace inclusion can be experienced by everyone.
For these steps to work, they require a workplace culture where people feel safe to identify and speak up and call bias and unfair treatment. Organisations also need to be willing to take swift action to address these challenges as part of how business is done.
In my experience evidence based, well designed D & I, unconscious bias and inclusive leadership education and training sessions can provide employee awareness and education to shift mindsets, increase knowledge, skills and identify the behaviours that drive inclusion.
Sadly, for too long we have spent our time educating our leaders and employees on what not to do rather than equip them with a D &I capability mindset, providing the knowledge, skills and behaviours that create inclusion.
In the many interviews, focus groups and education sessions I have conducted over now twenty-five years I have found mostly well-intentioned people who just want to know what they need to do.
So, it’s time to draw a line in the sand and help Australian leaders and staff to have new, safe and authentic conversations to understand the challenges and help create and implement the new solutions that will make a real difference. We all have a role!
Does your workplace culture have the D & I maturity to support your people to do their best work? How do you know?
Contact me to access my series of 6 one-hour lunch and learns to increase the D & I capability of your people, helping create greater inclusion for everyone.