Diversity in Australia

Dr Jacqui Abbott, Head of Diversity, Allens, Australia

Australian companies in the professional services industry are making good progress when it comes to dealing with the issue of diversity, according to Dr Jacqui Abbott, Head of Flexibility and Diversity at Allens, Australia. Interviewed by Ciaran Foley, Frazer Jones Australia

Diversity in the workplace is obviously a massive issue and companies in the professional services industry are keen to make progress in this area.

We have Diversity Council Australia and the Male Champions of Change, two bodies that are doing fantastic work around making sure organisations recognise the importance of diversity. And while success varies - no one in professional services can boast 40 per cent female representation at C-level yet - the signs for the future are good.

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How are companies embracing diversity?

While Australia is not quite the finished article, it does better than the UK and other countries when it comes to gender targets. Certainly, legal firms would be doing very well if they could report females held 35 per cent of partnerships.

Gender diversity rightly receives a lot of support from businesses - since the turn of the year there has been an increase in the number of organisations willing to make their gender targets public, as they see this as a competitive advantage.

When it comes to diversity, it nearly always starts with gender, as education and awareness are needed to drive policies forward. Understanding the current state is the first stage and this includes looking at the number of females who make up graduate intakes, senior level, boardroom and those securing internal promotions.

Some of this is being driven by clients, who want access to diversity information beyond general statistics or programs. There is also a shift in mind-set at many companies, as they recognise that diversity helps to build a sustainable business.

Areas of diversity growth

Other areas are also starting to receive attention. Flexibility, LGBTI, anxiety and depression and cultural issues have all been moving towards centre stage as the most ambitious companies seek to introduce comprehensive diversity strategies.

For instance, there has been real growth in embracing LGBTI diversity in the past 18 months. Whereas previously it was only part of a wider strategy, it is now being promoted in its own right. There is clearly sound business reasons for this, as there is a direct correlation between featuring highly on the Stonewall Top 100 Employers Index, the definitive list of Britain’s most gay-friendly workplaces, and recording good business performances.

In Australia the LGBTI index is called the Pride in Diversity Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI). The AWEI was modelled on Stonewall.

The key to challenging diversity is recognising that recruitment is not the only answer. You cannot expect to hire your way to a gender target, so companies should instead be combining selective recruitment with nurturing the talent they already have. They can also look at issues around bias, flexibility and selection criteria within the firm as they focus on building the pipeline of talent.

What does the future hold?

In short, coaching. As I’ve already stated, gender tends to be the starting point for a company’s diversity journey. Firms recognise the value of good role models and so are willing to invest in high-ranking females so they can follow a career path.

If young women at the bottom of the ladder don’t see where they can go within the organisation, they will leave for a different company that offers better prospects. So coaching female senior managers makes good business sense.