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How The Public Sector Continue to Facilitate Workplace Diversity

How The Public Sector Continue to Facilitate Workplace Diversity

over 1 year ago By Emily Harris
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We know intuitively as humans that diversity matters. From a business perspective, not only it is it considered the right thing to do (morally) but it will benefit your bottom line; racially and ethnically diverse companies have been proven to outperform industry norms by 35%,  67% of job seekers list a diverse workforce as a key motivator when considering job offers, and controlled studies have identified direct links between organisations that support cultural diversity and  high levels of innovation.

However, despite diversity transitioning from a checklist companies can tick off to a business priority, many are still struggling to instil a diverse and inclusive culture within their workplace. According to the latest statistics conducted by the Diversity Council Australia, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander workers were twice as likely as non-Indigenous workers to have experienced discrimination and/or harassment in the past year (48% compared to 24%). While 35% of LGBTIQ+ workers felt they had to hide or change who they were at work to fit in. Meanwhile, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency report released this year, found that 17.1% of CEOs and 31.5% of key management personnel were female while 34% of boards and governing bodies currently have no female directors. In contrast, only 0.9% of boards and governing bodies have no male directors.

These stats indicate Australian organisation’s have a fair way to go before achieving true diversity, but herein lies the challenge of implementing diversity initiatives; true diversity doesn’t have an end point. The ways in which we differ from each other and feel a sense of belonging can be unique to the individual, which means we are constantly learning, and the strategies we employ to achieve this are constantly evolving. Ensuring diversity, belonging and inclusion initiatives within a workforce becomes about shifting mindsets; it isn’t about reaching particular quotas or benchmarks but a companywide, long-term commitment that requires consistency, humility, and empathy.

For the public sector, this long-term commitment to inclusion and diversity is integral to overall performance and runs much deeper than simply improving the ‘bottom line’.  Because the public sector’s primary function is to provide and manage services to the greater community, its workforce needs to represent and understand the diverse needs and values of that community. If the staff of a local government or public school can’t reflect the differences among their stakeholders, they’ll never be able to effectively serve their needs. So, despite there being no easy-fix for diversity, what do organisations within the public sector need to consider when implementing strategies to better serve and represent their community?



Committed and Dedicated Leaders

For many businesses’ particularly in the private sector, a greater investment has gone into creating dedicated diversity and inclusion teams. In fact, a recent Linkedin article identified a 71% increase in diversity and inclusion roles (Head of Diversity, Diversity Manager etc.) worldwide over the last five years. While not all organisations, especially those within the public sector can afford an official, kitted out ‘diversity team’, this research demonstrates the importance in having committed leaders available to drive diversity initiatives. Much like a ship, projects and initiatives will remain directionless without someone at the helm to drive and steer them in the right direction. It requires senior leaders to first, clearly understand the importance of diversity for the business, why it’s needed, and what this looks like going forward so that leaders can then sufficiently model diversity and empower individuals and teams to do the same.

When the NSW Public Service Commission recently did an in-depth study into the impacts of diversity within the Australian Public Sector, they found that progress, required genuine support from the top. They were able to condense their findings into four central actions:

Say: Leaders need to encourage the conversation about diversity and inclusion and celebrate successes

Prioritise: Leaders need to ensure diversity is factored into every key business decision

Act: Leaders should consciously try and model inclusive behaviour and be willing to call out bad behaviour

Measure: Leaders should hold themselves accountable by setting KPIs and objectives for diversity representation and consistently monitoring and tracking progress.

Continuous Education

In a recent study conducted by Deloitte, researchers found that while diversity management would start as a top-down approach, some leaders and managers would expect changes to occur organically after sharing their vision and goals with a company. What became more effective was when diversity management was treated as an overall educational process, which while driven and encouraged by leadership, was embraced by all aspects of the organisation.

The important thing to remember about diversity is that it can be very nuanced. An individual’s perspective is shaped by their own personal experiences, backgrounds, and cultures, which means that we have to continue to learn more as leaders, companies, and humans as to what diversity and inclusion means to those around us. This means that essentially, you won’t know what you haven’t experienced, and thus rely on other's experiences to learn more. 

Studies have found that while employees might know about diversity and its importance on a broader level, they might not fully comprehend how it applies to them and their relationships (because of their own experiences and background). Or, are unsure why the policies a leadership team are implementing are so important to the organisation, both morally and economically. Providing accessible educational resources (webinars, training courses, guest speakers) and making them mandatory for all stakeholders, will provide a greater level of understanding on the issue; a key factor in instigating behavioural change.

A great educational initiative led by Australia Post went one step further, by putting their employees in the ‘driving seat’ when educating others within the organisation. By creating the ‘Real Stories Project’ Australia Post invited employees to share their experiences of diversity and inclusion within the workplace. This led to employees creating an award winning short film called Work Mate which promoted the employment of people with a disability at Australia Post and Under The Sun, a film series created by employees that demonstrates the different ways diversity and inclusion impacts the communities Australia Post serves. Leveraging the experience and viewpoints of employees, not only helps foster engagement and a sense of belonging, but increases an employee’s depth and understanding  of the issue and encourages an open, two-way dialogue on what employees can do to help instigate change.

Reevaluating Policies

Diversity management also requires organisation’s to constantly reevaluate their workplace policies and practices, to ensure their commitment continues to develop as the company does. The policies and practices research have highlighted to facilitate diversity are diverse and span across the business, from recruitment to performance evaluations.

Ultimately, what policies an organisation will choose to adapt or integrate into their workplace will depend on the company and their business goals, however common initiatives that have gained attention in recent years are:

  1. Flexible Work
    Flexible working options like working alternate hours, or having the opportunity to work remotely a few days a week allows a company to cast their talent net even wider, by proving opportunities to workers who may have been previously hindered by the traditional ‘9 to 5’ work schedule or the office commute. Being able to work from home makes it easier for those with disabilities, those living in rural areas, single parents, and primary caretakers to find and maintain full-time and part-time work. Linkedin also found in a recent survey that remote working could make a significant impact on the gender diversity gap, with 22% of women claiming flexible work schemes like working-from-home would be a key motivator for taking a role.
  2. Mentorship Programs
    Mentorship programs can be a key component in ensuring everyone has an equal opportunity to advance. By offering mentorship programs to employees, regardless of their age, sex, or other factors, companies are not only investing in their talent, but creating more opportunity for diverse leaders and managers moving forward. For those, that might not be able to support a company-sponsored mentorship program, organisations can connect their employees to outside resource groups who specialise in supporting the career development of marginalized groups; women’s leadership groups or university departments that place graduates, for example.

    PACE (Positive Action towards Career Engagement) Mentoring in Australia, connects jobseekers with disabilities to mentors from leading Australian businesses. The program has been mutually beneficial for both the mentors and mentees; managers and supervisors develop their leadership skills and disability confidence, which informs them how to provide opportunities and cater to those with disabilities within their own business, while jobseekers gain vital workplace exposure, develop their skills and expand their networks. Considering the unemployment rate of Australians with disability is at 9.4%, mentorship programs like PACE are great way to equitably include people with disability in employment.
  3. Recruitment
    A common place for many organisations to start with their diversity initiatives is recruitment; do your processes encourage and allow for a diverse range of candidates? Attracting and increasing diverse talent is an in-depth topic and worthy of its own blog. It requires constant revaluation through each stage of the recruitment process- from the initial posting of a job to the final candidate interviews.

    Companies need to ensure that their job postings firstly, look attractive to a wide spectrum of candidates. Listing policies that might be more appealing to diverse candidates like flexible work options, on-site day care or even avoiding the use of particular language in the actual job position can help to avoid the marginalisation of particular demographics. A recent study from PwC found words with masculine connotations like ‘dominate’ and ‘ambitious’ were less appealing to female applicants.

    Blind hiring methods have also shown to help increase the diversity in candidates for a role, as they aim to ensure recruiters and hiring officers make decisions free from unconscious bias related to a candidate’s race and gender or physical appearance. Tools like automated resume screening software, or preliminary interviews were candidates anonymously answer job-related questions online, help to identify high-quality candidates and in theory, objectively evaluate a candidates’ skills, knowledge and potential to succeed.

Public Sector People understand the benefits a diverse workforce can provide an organisation and consequently are mindful that our focus throughout the entire recruitment process for our clients remains ‘open’ and ‘transparent’ and we accept and consider all candidate applications and enquiries.  Our mission is to ensure we are facilitating the growth and development of our clients through providing them with a diverse and skilled range of candidates. To achieve this, we make sure that encouraging and fostering diversity is at the forefront of mind at all stages of the recruitment process- job postings, candidate pipelines, reference checks and interviews.

For more information on our recruitment processes and how we manage unconscious bias, our consultants are on hand to offer support and advice. Reach out to us today for more information-