We have to walk the talk: Diversity Debate 2015

Tuesday, 17 November 2015


    Is there too much talk and not enough action on diversity? This was the topic for discussion at the 5th annual Diversity Debate hosted by the Diversity Council of Australia (DCA) and Xplore for Success in Sydney on Tuesday, 17 November.

    Leading voices from business, media and the community discussed the issue, with the audience concluding there is too much talk and not enough action on diversity in Australia’s boardrooms, businesses and governing institutions. Sixty-five per cent of the audience voted in favour of the affirmative team, while 35 per cent believed that there has not been enough talk about the issue to date.

    Actions speak louder than words

    Speakers arguing that there has been too much talk and too little action were:

    • Diana Ryall AM, Founder and Managing Director of Xplore for Success
    • Dr Tim Soutphommasane, Race Discrimination Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission
    • Professor Kerryn Phelps AM, Adjunct Professor, University of Sydney and Conjoint Professor at the University of New South Wales

    “Too little action means that despite understanding the issue, leaders have not prioritised their actions to ensure that diversity is achieved in a reasonable time,” said Diana Ryall AM. “By talking more they have continued to avoid the need to take any real action.”

    After all, such an event would not be necessary if diversity had been achieved.

    The affirmative team successfully argued that there had been too little action, using the examples of the lack of gender-based diversity, and even more so, the lack of cultural diversity in senior leadership roles. “There has been too much of the wrong type of talk,” said Professor Phelps AM. “Just look at the measurable outcomes to date.”

    Talk is key to selling lasting change

    The negative team argued that talk is inherently linked to change and that there is not too much of it. Speakers for the negative were:

    • Dr Anne Summers AO, Editor and publisher of Anne Summers Reports
    • Chris Lamb, Head of Human Resources, Australia and Global Head of Diversity at Lend Lease
    • John Brogden AM FAICD, Managing Director and CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors

    Neither side denied that there has not been enough action when it comes to diversity. However, the teams were divided when considering if there is too much talk on the subject.

    The negative team put forward a compelling argument, explaining why it is just so important to keep talking, notably gaining support from the audience by the end of the evening.

    “We can never, ever stop talking about diversity,” said John Brogden. “The simple reality is that progress will be minimal without real dialogue that encourages boards to implement change within their organisations that will have a lasting impact.”

    Anne Summers echoed these comments, recalling her time working on affirmative action policies that were later scrapped. “Change must be planned, designed properly and above all it needs to be sold to work. You can only do the selling by talking,” she said

    Strategy for diversity

    Interestingly, results from the evening’s audience polls emphasised concerns about the strategies in place for achieving diversity in the workplace.

    While 84 per cent of the audience said that their organisation had a diversity strategy, only 68 per cent said it included measurable objectives, with an even smaller group of 24.5 per cent noting that people were held accountable for not achieving the objectives laid out in the strategy.

    Clearly, more work needs to be done.

    CEO of the DCA, Lisa Annese said “Action can’t be an end in itself – it has to lead to measurably better outcomes. This can only be achieved if organisations have robust diversity and inclusion strategies and hold people accountable for them.”

    Find out more about the event from the Diversity Council of Australia.

    Read more about the progress made and the road ahead for gender diversity in Australia’s boardrooms, in the 30% by 2018: Gender Diversity Progress Report.

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