July 22, 2019
Source: Australian Financial Review
Author: Sally Patten
22 July, 2019
Australian companies, government organisations and charities are wasting millions of dollars on diversity and inclusion programs, with human resources professionals conceding that nearly a third of initiatives designed to promote a more balanced workplace are either never or rarely effective.
A survey by the Diversity Council also found that only 25 per cent of diversity programs, which can range from introducing flexible work arrangements, mentoring schemes and unconscious bias training to establishing networks for minority groups, often or always work, raising concerns that Australian companies, institutions and government agencies will continue to be run by Caucasian men for the foreseeable future.
Only 3 per cent of chief executives and 5.1 per cent of overall senior executives have a non-European or Indigenous background, according to a 2018 report by the Australian Human Rights Commission, University of Sydney, Asia Society Australia and Committee for Sydney.
A survey this year undertaken by BOSS magazine found that just 7 per cent of ASX 100 CEOs were women, barely changed over the past five years.
Diversity Council chief executive Lisa Annese said it was disappointing that companies and government and not-for-profit agencies were not applying a more rigorous approach to their diversity programs. Only 6 per cent of companies said they used a formal model of organisational change when designing and implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives.
“It is gobsmacking that people are putting effort into stuff that may or may not be effective,” she said.
“What a waste of resources and a waste of effort. Organisations are not approaching this the right way for a whole lot of reasons.”
Ms Annese added that, rather than identifying their own shortcomings, companies could be motivated by a plethora of reasons, such as wishing to appeal to potential employees in a competitive marketplace and feeling an obligation to improve diversity. In some cases it could be the pet project of an HR professional or senior leader.
Ms Annese argued that a big danger from the failure of inclusion programs was that organisations would give up.
“This can have a devastating effect on future change programs. It can create cynicism and exhaustion. It can prove to organisations why they shouldn’t be doing anything. Resources are finite,” she said.
The Diversity Council said it was crucial that organisations undertake a four-step approach to diversity programs. Business needs must be identified and programs designed appropriately. The vision and the programs must be communicated to staff and the schemes properly evaluated.
Less than two in five HR professionals said their organisation monitored and evaluated the impact of diversity programs.
The vast majority of large companies have diversity and inclusion programs but many fail to adequately support them.
Construction company Multiplex is one of them, labelling its introduction of greater flexibility across the majority of its sites a success.
Following feedback that employees found it difficult to achieve work-life balance, Multiplex changed the way its sites operated. Whereas once working six days a week was the norm, workers now only work five days a week, although sites remain open for six days. Days off are organised at the individual team level.
A 2016 staff survey found that the proportion of employees who said flexibility was encouraged rose to 74 per cent from 50 per cent in 2013 and Caitriona Comerford, executive director of people at Multiplex, said surveys had also shown the policy had been an effective retention measure.
“People told us they would have left if they didn’t get flexibility,” Ms Comerford said.
During the development phase, pilot findings were summarised, uncertainties, tensions, and fears were discussed openly and leaders were identified to promote the changes.
Recent analysis by Boston Consulting Group found that while 97 per cent of employees in a survey said their company had at least one diversity and inclusion policy, only 11 per cent of women, 14 per cent of people from different ethnic backgrounds and 18 per cent of LBGTIQ employees felt they had benefited from the schemes. More than 30 per cent said they had experienced discrimination.