Work-life balance and leveraging diverse talent have traditionally been seen as options in the realm of the human resources department. Yesterday, an audience of HR, workplace relations and business executives at a Diversity Council Australia forum heard that critical talent shortages and the changing nature of the workplace mean they are no longer peripheral but are critical business considerations for the workplaces of the future.
Speaking at the DCA event hosted by Gilbert + Tobin in Sydney, the Hon Bill Shorten MP, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations said productivity is the key:
“Smart employers know that attracting and retaining talent from all sections of the community including people with a disability, Indigenous Australians, mature-age workers and people from non-English speaking backgrounds, as well as offering family-friendly working arrangements, will enable them to reap the benefits of higher staff engagement and lower turnover. This is aided by an effective legislative and workplace relations framework but is also driven by innovation and leadership within organisations,” Mr Shorten said.
Nareen Young, DCA’s CEO said that diversity and equal employment opportunity concerns are now mainstream workplace relations concerns and this is helping to achieve positive workplace change:
“Being able to work part time and/or flexible hours is a critical enabler for many employee groups including mature-age people, working parents and people with a disability. But it can also deliver significant business benefits in terms of a more productive and sustainable workforce.
“The right to request flexible working in the Fair Work Act and clauses for EBAs to assist employers who wish to offer flexible working arrangements are examples of how diversity and workplace relations concerns can intersect to benefit employers and employees alike,” said Ms Young.
Minister Shorten commended Australian employers who recognised the benefits of employing a diverse workforce and urged those lagging to embrace diversity in their organisational culture:
“There are many Australians who can and want to work but are facing workplace discrimination or ignorance from their employers of the benefits of having a diverse workforce. Having a sense of work and purpose is integral to a person’s self esteem and it is a credit to the organisations who embrace diversity in their workforce because they are going one step further to ensure our society and economy remains in good health,” Mr Shorten said.
“As the economy continues to change,” added Mr Shorten, “so too does the identity of the workforce and yet we know that prejudices exist in Australia. Ultimately, there is a clear business case for employing a diverse workforce and if we want our economy and businesses to continue to grow, we have to maximise the potential of those who are willing and able to work.”
Dianne Banks, Partner at Gilbert + Tobin, discussed at the event how the current laws were informing diversity outcomes and noted the positive practical impacts the Fair Work Act has had on workplace flexibility:
“In my experience, the right to request flexibility provisions legislation has had a positive impact on employer behaviours and attitudes to flexibility. The process required where a request for flexibility is made has itself made employers think about the reasonableness of having a fixed attitude to flexibility. They now understand that flexibility is and will continue to be an important issue for employees and therefore key for them in relation to employee attraction, engagement and retention,” said Ms Banks.
DCA's work in the area of mature-age and Indigenous talent, flexible working and cultural diversity
Mature-age workers: In its recent submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission Issues Paper: Grey Areas – Age Barriers to Work in Commonwealth Laws, DCA made eight key recommendations for reform to remove legal barriers for mature-age workers. This included recommending the ‘right to request’ flexible working arrangements under the National Employment Standards be extended to those employees with other family and caring responsibilities, including caring for older people and people with disabilities.
Indigenous talent: In partnership with Reconciliation Australia, DCA has established a new National Indigenous Corporate Network, specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working in corporate Australia, to facilitate dialogue and networking opportunities. DCA, Reconciliation Australia and Lend Lease are also partnering on a new research project called Closing the (Work) Gap to establish leading practice guidance on how organisations can better inter-relate their diversity and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment and community engagement agendas to achieve sustainable outcomes.
Flexible working: Early this year, DCA released its Get Flexible: Mainstreaming Flexible Work in Australian Business research, produced in partnership with Westpac and supporting sponsors Stockland, Origin Energy and Allens. If flexible work is to be truly mainstreamed, the research found organisations need to adopt different ways of thinking and acting, and recommended 11 strategies that would have a significant impact in making flexible work standard. The next piece of research on flexible working is due to be released in August 2012.
Cultural diversity: DCA's landmark study called Capitalising on Culture, sponsored by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, ANZ, King & Wood Mallesons and Goldman Sachs, found in five DCA member organisations an encouraging depth and breadth of cultural and linguistic diversity at the most senior levels and in the leadership pipeline, but also revealed a need to capitalise more on talent who possess a non-English speaking cultural identity. DCA, in partnership with the Federal Government’s Australian Multicultural Council and corporate sponsors, will build on this research to capture the culturally diverse profile of ASX200 Boards.