Businesses all over Australia are enjoying the many benefits of diversity in the workplace. In Western Australia, every time people turn on a tap or flush their toilets they can thank Sue Murphy and her diverse team at the Water Corporation. Murphy, the organisation’s CEO, says almost everyone from Margaret River in the south to the Kimberley in the north relies on the state service organisation for water, so she wants her employees to understand and empathise with their veritable kaleidoscope of customers.
You need that diversity because people approach problems in different ways and, if you’re all the same, you’ll never find a solution.
That means embracing diversity and recruiting a cohort of talented men and women, indigenous, ethnic and gay people, along with older workers and people with disabilities. “You need that diversity because people approach problems in different ways and, if you’re all the same, you’ll never find a solution,” Murphy says.
An engineer, Murphy is one of a growing army of business leaders around the country who are championing a diverse workplace that delivers greater business benefits and employment opportunities for marginalised community members. Although progress is being made, more work is required on many fronts. For example, Diversity Council Australia research reveals that Asian-Australians are significantly under-represented in executive positions and on company boards, filling just 2 per cent of such roles despite making up almost 10 per cent of the nation’s labour force.
THE ROLE OF BUSINESS LEADERS
The council’s CEO, Lisa Annese, says business leaders can intellectually grasp the links between a diverse workforce and superior productivity, profitability, creativity and innovation. “But the problem is that it’s really hard to create change at senior levels of organisations, so there are challenges in actually making diversity happen,” she says.
Annese challenges corporate leaders to broaden their view of good leadership “so you don’t naturally create people in your own image”.