The power of embedding a diversity & inclusion lens into how we do business to increase Australian creativity and success.

Push to fly the Aboriginal flag on Sydney Harbour Bridge after the pride shown during National Reconciliation Week

Push to fly the Aboriginal flag on Sydney Harbour Bridge after the pride shown during National Reconciliation Week

This week marked a very important time for diversity and inclusion in Australia with National Reconciliation Week and its theme ‘don’t keep history a mystery.’ I was struck by three personal experiences of progress over the week, celebrating the integration of Aboriginal culture into our elite sport, art, and annual calendar.

It was inspiring to attend last Friday’s annual Indigenous AFL round at the Sydney Cricket Ground and see positive progress, with the AFL leading the way on embedding Aboriginal culture into our game to make it a richer experience for everyone. What’s more, Australian Football is thought to have its origins in a traditional game, known as Marngrook, from the Western District of Victoria! 

The engagement with Indigenous culture was evident throughout the event, with beautiful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander jersey design artwork, a very spiritual and moving welcome to country followed by a lap of honour by the dancers actively engaging with the crowd, together with a combination of music that reflected both cultures. The crowd of nearly 30,000 people were treated to both a demonstration of outstanding talent from across cultures and a rich, inclusive atmosphere!

Over the weekend I was also inspired viewing the annual Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prize exhibition that represents the who’s who of Australian culture from politicians to celebrities, sporting heroes and artists. It was great to see amongst the finalists the integration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait artwork, as part of the exhibition rather than as a separate show.

What’s more I felt proud to travel across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and see both the Aboriginal and Australian flags flying side by side in the breeze in recognition of National Reconciliation Week – I do wish we could fly these two flags side by side 365 days of the year, rather than just on a few significant days. What a symbolic gesture of inclusion that would be, with many Australians unaware of, or rejecting fundamental aspects of history, according to the Australian Reconciliation Barometer. This highlights almost 1/3 of Australians still don’t accept  that government policies enabled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to be removed from their families without permission until the 1970s.

These experiences all culminated in arriving in Canberra on Monday 4th June on a new ACT public holiday to celebrate National Reconciliation Day – another significant step leading the way to a fairer Australia for all I hope!

Also this week, I thoroughly enjoyed two outstanding stories of inspirational leaders from different generations who, by leading with vision, great intellect, creativity and courage, have shown the way to leverage diversity and inclusion. Through applying a gender equity and inclusion lens in their everyday business decision-making, they have shown how to drive system and cultural change delivering outstanding business success. Importantly, they included this as a vital part of how they do business, rather than seeing diversity and inclusion as a burden and an extra task in the busy day of a leader.

Jill Ker Conway during her time as Chairman at LendLease    Photo: Tamara Voninski via Sydney Morning Herald. 

Jill Ker Conway during her time as Chairman at LendLease 

Photo: Tamara Voninski via Sydney Morning Herald. 

The sad passing of Australian-born Jill Ker Conway at 83 this week caused me to reflect on her life and outstanding contribution - being an exceptional business woman, college professor, and the first female chairman of global property group Lendlease. She was a vital role model and inspiration for me, particularly in her role as Chair of LendLease in their ‘glory days’ as a leading employer of women in construction in the early 90s.

What a legacy Dr Ker Conway has left by demonstrating the benefits of applying great business thinking alongside gender equity. Her success showed through doing this and mobilising others along the way, you deliver business decisions that unleash potential, develop creative problem solving to lead the way, and deliver excellence.

Through courageously leading by example and being an outstanding  communicator, she achieved system and culture change in her academic career, in Australian business, and in her ground-breaking role as the first ever female President at Smith College. In this role she pioneered initiatives in the 1970s and 80s that continue to open doors for women decades later, and her scholarship, writings, and service on corporate boards was equally innovative. Through her tenure, Smith’s endowment nearly tripled to $222 million.

Dr Ker Conway’s story also shows how far Australia has come since the 60s when her only option was to move overseas due to experiencing blatant gender discrimination when job seeking after university. She was rejected by the Australian foreign service, being assessed as “too good looking” and “too intellectually aggressive," and would be married within a year! Australia has definitely come a long way since then, but I do wonder how many leaders still unconsciously think these thoughts in the 21st century and are not aware of them.

I also loved this article  that described how Reese Witherspoon is “flipping the script in Hollywood” by “channelling women’s voices into top-tier entertainment and altering the dynamics of the entire industry along the way.” Now recognised as one of Hollywood’s most astute Directors, it’s inspirational to see how she has proven studio executives wrong by demonstrating that there is an untapped market for female driven films.

I was inspired by the message taped on her wall from Nora Ephron’s 1996 commencement address at Wellesley College; 

I hope that you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there.

With her company’s mission to put more women on screen - surfacing the voices of real and diverse women - it only made sense that she decided she needed a woman to run the company; appointing Australian Sarah Harden as CEO who is described as “a fast-talking Australian, and the heart of the place, pumping life into the operation daily.” Witherspoon also knows the importance of working together, building strategic partnerships with like-minded people like Nicole Kidman to make things happen such as the award-winning TV drama “Big Little Lies.”

In this time of disruptive change, we all need inspiration to tap into our creativity to make a positive difference. It also helps to seek alliances and partnerships, so we can successfully challenge the status quo to achieve our goals, create great businesses, and build a better world for our children and our grand children.

To help us make great decisions in todays world of globalisation, technology disruption, and demographic change, we can also learn from Witherspoon by stopping briefly, slowing down our thinking, and reflecting for a moment before we make our everyday decisions, asking ourselves and others;

·       What am I seeing?

·       What am I not seeing?

·       How are we making sense of what we are seeing?

If you want to find out more about how to unleash the creativity of your workforce by embedding diversity and inclusion into your business as usual, please contact me today!

Lead Image via ABC News