How can business create an environment where people feel safe bringing all of who they are to their work? This was the topic of an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce lunch discussion in Sydney on 24 November 2017, held in conjunction with EY Australia and Scentre Group. Clare Sporle, Partner at EY and Chair of the firm’s Oceania Diversity & Inclusion Council, moderated a conversation with Julian Leeser MP; Dawn Hough, Director of the Pride Inclusion Program at ACON; and Moo Baulch, Chief Executive of Domestic Violence New South Wales.
Connect, Engage, Contribute Meaningfully
Clare Sporle opened the discussion quoting Diversity Council of Australia/Suncorp Inclusion@Work Index results indicating that employees in diverse teams are 10 times more likely to be highly effective, and nine times more likely to be highly innovative. We are living in an era of unprecedented change and complexity, she said, and a major challenge was how to ensure that people can truly contribute regardless of age, gender, or sexual orientation.
Asked for a definition of “bringing your whole self to work”, Dawn Hough’s response was that it was about having the ability to connect, engage, and contribute meaningfully, echoed by Moo Baulch, who asserted that we have to be able to make someone feel comfortable enough to open up about themselves. Julian Leeser stated that in the West we have a tradition of debate and incorporating a diversity of voices. It was difficult to make a quality decision, he said, unless you “acknowledge the individual dignity of the other person” and include in the conversation a range of voices and life experiences, helping provide a diversity of perspective about issues.
“We Have to Give People Permission to be Honest”
The panel also addressed the issue of mental health in the workplace. Julian Leeser pointed to a 40.0 percent increase in mental health income protection claims over the past five years and that 35,000 organisations were dealing with mental health and suicide prevention as an indication of the scale of the challenge. Confronting suicide awareness was the single most important issue, he said, flagging the need for corporate leaders to be more aware of the signs of mental illness, to intervene more actively, and to be prepared to give people space to manage their issues.
Dawn Hough lauded the activities of beyondblue in making disclosure more socially acceptable, but observed that “where there is still a stigma, people will be afraid to disclose”, advocating that for people who don’t feel they can disclose their problems in person, organisations needed to provide other channels to meet the need. “We have to give people permission to be honest” was Moo Baulch’s view, advocating the need for “building better by-standers” and structures in the workplace to empower people to reach out to their colleagues and to facilitate honest conversations.
The panel also discussed the recent marriage equality survey. Moo Baulch commended many businesses for their support of their staff, even if they had not adopted a public position. Julian Leeser was pleased turnout had been so high, because it provided a resolution to the issue. He nominated the same-sex marriage debate as a symptom of a wider global trend of a lack of civility in public discourse and an apparent inability for different sides of a debate to come to a common ground, which he believed had been heightened since the U.S. presidential election. In response to a question from the floor about effective ways to call out inappropriate remarks and behaviour about LGBTI issues, Dawn Hough noted that many such conversations occur without LGBTI employees being present, argued in favour of an ‘allies program’ to counteract such comments and behaviour, and stressed the need for senior leaders to “walk the talk”.