Social Inclusion is More Than a Buzzword

The word diversity and its close relatives, inclusion and equality, are positive by most objective standards and dictionaries.

Yet when they fall on certain ears, these words can raise hackles and bring out hives. And it’s interesting to ask, why is that? Why wouldn’t someone subscribe to the great Australian maxim of a fair go for all? How can they see the words diversity and inclusion then register something negative lurking in their semantics?


Fans of the famous adage would shrug and say, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality seems like the worst oppression in the world.”

And yet … It doesn’t have to be that way, according to new data from the Diversity Council Australia (DCA)-Suncorp Inclusion@Work Index. This nationally representative survey of 3000 people measured the impact and extent of inclusion in modern Australian workplaces. It showed that levelling the playing field isn’t, in fact, a zero-sum game. It’s exactly what it says on the tin: levelling the playing field – not upending traditionally hallowed turf and slinging mud around for the sake of it.

Case in point: findings from the Inclusion@Work Index showed that, in Aussie organisations taking action on diversity and inclusion (D&I), women … (wait for it) … and men were very satisfied with their jobs (43 per cent women, 45 per cent men). Both groups were also way more satisfied than men and women in organisations where no D&I action was taken (23 per cent men, 28 per cent women).

Compelling findings that demonstrate outcomes all round.

But sadly, they’re outcomes that we at DCA know from experience detractors may not be ready to hear, even in the face of such powerful data.

While it would be interesting to study the psychological phenomenon of confirmation bias – of doubling down on the original thesis even in the face of clear evidence – it’s more valuable to pick apart why anyone would throw shade at collective efforts to achieve a more equitable society, and explore how to go about bringing them along on the journey of inclusion and fair-gos.

Business or pleasure?

At a gut level, for many, it’s not instinctively obvious what social differentiators such as gender, ethnicity and sexuality have to do with business and outcomes.

But at an empirical level, business gets it. PwC’s Diversity and Inclusion Benchmark Survey reveals 89 per cent of APAC organisations state D&I as a value or priority – so there must be something to it.

Results from the DCA-Suncorp Inclusion@Work Index show what that something is: diverse groups of people working effectively together can be a valuable tool to boost performance and a give organisations a competitive edge.

Our findings showed that those in inclusive teams (where a diversity of people are respected, connected, and contributing to success) reporting being:

  • 10 times more likely to be highly effective (58 per cent compared to 6 per cent in non-inclusive teams)
  • 9 times more likely to innovate (45 per cent to 5 per cent)
  • 4 times more likely to stay with their employer over the coming year (62 per cent to 16 per cent)

As if the social justice case wasn’t enough, there’s also a powerful business case, and it’s important to use it build understanding and engagement.

“Special treatment” resentment

A similarly strong theme emerged in DCA’s Cracking the Glass-Cultural Ceiling report, which explored why so few culturally diverse women reach top leadership positions in Australia.

Many of the ambitious voices featured in the report spoke about the simmering resentment they had encountered from colleagues from Anglo-Celtic cultural backgrounds, who assumed that they had been given special treatment.

As one woman put it: “They’ll see my physical traits and say, ‘You got ahead because you’re a culturally diverse woman!’ and I think, ‘Are you … serious?’ I got ahead despite my gender or cultural background, not because of it!”

Here, these women appear to be caught in a place that a joint Male Champions of Change and Chief Executive Women report calls the merit trap – somewhere that sounds fair but isn’t necessarily; a place where merit is often shaped by bias and is shorthand for “people like us who’ve done what we’ve done”. Where potential is sidelined in favour of experience. Where talent, woman-ness and skin colour are perceived as unlikely to intersect.

Trying to drive change without providing historical and social context gets you here. Seen through a gendered lens, context is highlighting that current working systems aren’t a level playing field because they’re largely still premised on an outdated, face time-heavy, five-day-a week work system that presupposes a male breadwinner and a woman at home.

Even when that woman often isn’t at home – she’s out there trying to squeeze herself into the old template, and is too often unable to.

Laying that out, at the very least, can get an interesting conversation started. If not, there’s always the option of inviting nay-sayers to walk a mile in her shoes – then let you know whether a previously invisible bias can be real or not.

It doesn’t affect me

The Canadian writer and gamer David Gaider is on record as saying, “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally.” And that, in a nutshell, is the problem.

Diversity, inclusion and equality are deeply complex. They touch the many intersections that make up a human, and frankly, any human can be excluded by the status quo, even if it’s working for them now. You can age and suddenly be edged out of the club; acquire a disability and suddenly find that perfect world hostile and uninhabitable; feel forced to choose between your family and your success.

This conversation shouldn’t just be among women and culturally diverse people; a case of them and us.

It should just be among us. And the connections that exist. And the benefits that the Inclusion@Work data shows are universal.

If that’s not enough to convince detractors, then what about simply being on the right of history?

Power structures that are more reflective and accommodating of the myriad humans that fuel them are becoming a reality right now. So why not jump on it?



By Lisa Annese, CEO, Diversity Council Australia | Originally published in the Fifth Estate on 13 December 2017 



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