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Debate Finds Identity Politics Useful in Building Workplace Diversity and Inclusion

27 October 2017 at 12:25 pm
Luke Michael
A focus on identity helps to build diversity and inclusion in the workplace, according to the results of a debate held by the Diversity Council Australia.

Luke Michael | 27 October 2017 at 12:25 pm


Debate Finds Identity Politics Useful in Building Workplace Diversity and Inclusion
27 October 2017 at 12:25 pm

A focus on identity helps to build diversity and inclusion in the workplace, according to the results of a debate held by the Diversity Council Australia.

This annual diversity debate was held in Sydney on Tuesday, emceed by ABC journalist Tony Jones and attended by 460 business leaders, HR directors and managers.

It asked “does a focus on identity help or hinder diversity and inclusion in the workplace?” The audience overwhelmingly agreed that it did help, with 78 per cent voting in favour of the affirmative team.

The affirmative team was led by paralympian and StarAmp Global founder Don Elgin, ABC Compass host Kumi Taguchi, and NAB’s chief legal and commercial counsel, Sharon Cook.

The negative team’s panel included the contributing editor of The Australian, Peter van Onselen, the director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Libby Lyons, and the chair of the Australian Multicultural Council, Dr Sev Ozdowski AM.

During the debate, the affirmative team argued that people in the workplace wanted to belong, and that a focus on identity would help to foster this.

“Embracing difference and identity leads to understanding, not division. It’s not the only ingredient you need for a diverse and inclusive workplace, but it’s part of the recipe,” Cook said.

Taguchi said: “Identity matters because when we see people who reflect our own identity, we feel like we belong.”

Elgin said a focus on identity helped diversity in the workplace because people wanted to belong.

“Humans crave acceptance and knowing we can be who we are brings the best out of people,” Elgin said.

But the negative team said this was not the answer, believing that workplaces needed to move past a focus on identity to achieve progress.

“It’s hard to attain inclusion and equality when you’re constantly focusing on differences between groups or categories of people. Success and even greatness must be a product of individual talent, effort and enthusiasm, not of group, class or category,” Ozdowski said.

Lyons said: “It’s true that women face unique challenges at work. But if gender equality is seen as a women’s issue to be addressed by women talking to themselves, I guarantee we’ll still be here in decades to come bemoaning our lack of progress.”

van Onselen added: “The same-sex marriage debate got real when it moved beyond identity politics. A focus on identity for a time is good but you need to move on.”

Identity was also found to be a key focus for corporate Australia, with 65 per cent of audience members stating that their organisation measured the way their employees identify, while 70 per cent said their workplaces had created specific goals for addressing underrepresented groups.

However three quarters of the audience believed that employees who did not identify with a diversity group either felt excluded from diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts, or were unsure if they were a part of them.

Diversity Council Australia’s CEO, Lisa Annese, said the debate highlighted that identity politics remained a divisive topic for workplaces in Australia.

“Identity politics has been a fraught subject these past few years. From those who believe a focus on identity is critical to creating a genuinely equitable society to others who believe the public discourse has been subverted by lefty do-gooders with their politically correct agenda – the topic is constant subject for debate,” Annese said.

“Our debate shed valuable light on the positives and negatives of a focus on identity and provides employers with food for thought when it comes to their own D&I programs.”

This debate comes after a recent Diversity Council Australia report found that culturally diverse women were not well utilised in the workplace and were locked out of leadership positions.

At the time of the report’s release, Annese told Pro Bono News that organisations in Australia were missing out on talent if they were ignoring culturally diverse women.

“Also, evidence tells us a lack of diversity leads to groupthink. It doesn’t help deliver innovations or creative solutions. We need to focus on diversity, not in a tokenistic way, but in a genuine way,” she said.

“There’s no use hiring people who are diverse, only to make them conform to a narrow view of leadership. You need to allow them to be who they are, to begin to reap the benefits.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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