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Why creating a diverse workplace requires more than ticking a box

Today I was proud to be part of a wonderful panel discussion at the Melbourne launch event for Talent’s new book, Human: Global perspectives on diversity in tech.

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The book brings a human face to the topic of diversity in tech, featuring firsthand accounts from 25 inspiring people around the world. Much has been written about this topic, but real life experiences are often lost in the data and jargon. Human shows the stories behind the statistics, and the event today did too.

After a powerful Welcome to Country by Ron Jones from the Wurundjeri Tribe Council, leading Diversity and Inclusion expert Troy Roderick facilitated a very personal panel conversation. My fellow panellists were Edan Haddock from Flybuys, Daisy Wong from Victoria’s Department of Environment, and Troi Ilsley from Isobar.

It was an honour to speak along these strong individuals, who were all incredibly vulnerable and open about their experiences. Throughout the course of our discussion, it became apparent that real diversity in an organisation involves much more than ticking a box. It’s a constant commitment to bringing together people who represent different thoughts, ideas, perspectives, and experiences – and creating an environment in which they can thrive and succeed.

This is something very close to our hearts at Talent RISE. We so often see organisations saying they’re committed to diversity, but not all of them walk the talk. Through RISE, we work with companies that look beyond labels and offer opportunities to our young people, who come from all backgrounds and often come from personal circumstances that make finding work a monumental challenge.

One of those young people is Troi, who I was incredibly proud to sit beside today as she shared her story. Troi is a young Indigenous woman who has transitioned from rural Victoria into working in tech. She spoke about her experiences moving to the city and working in an environment where she didn’t see any other First Nations people. We’ve had a long history working with Troi through Talent RISE, and her determination to encourage other First Nations people and make workplaces more inclusive is inspiring.

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Daisy Wong shared her experiences working in tech and carving out a great career as someone with a physical disability. She shared a story about going for a job interview where the interviewer asked a series of questions related to her disability, including – “how do you get up to make a cup of tea?” Someone in the audience asked what the appropriate questions are in those situations. Daisy clarified perfectly that it’s wonderful to ask someone “how can we help you with accessibility?” and not ask them questions that make an assumption that they can’t do something. It may seem obvious, but this is an important conversation to have. I feel that while we have made great strides for diversity in gender and on a number of other fronts, we have a long way to go on the ability and age front.  

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Edan also touched on appropriate questions, after sharing his moving story of coming out as gay in Western Sydney in the 1990’s – something that was very traumatic for him. Edan shared that LGBTIQ people often feel as though they have to come out “again and again” in the workplace as people learn about their sexuality. For Edan, it is encouraging when people show genuine interest about his partner and family, and said that fear of saying the wrong thing often results in people saying nothing – which leads to feeling isolated.   

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I myself had a few personal experiences to share this morning. I spoke about growing up in Iran and my family having to flee due to political turmoil. Since then, I have lived and worked in more than 20 countries and have often struggled with belonging in each of those places. For all of our panellists, the feeling of belonging is so critical and it’s something central to our work at RISE.  

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My main take away from today was that diversity and inclusion is not a tick box approach. That each individual holds the power to make sure that people feel included in the workplace. It is all of our responsibility.

From a business perspective, we often say diverse organisations are more innovative. However, we must understand that innovation does not exist in a vacuum. It is people who are innovative and what we really need are more of these people, ie people who possess a series of thinking skills and behavioural traits that result in their ability to see, understand and analyse issues from different perspectives, and discover, develop, and test new ideas and find new solutions that will result in positive changes to the problem at hand. This is the benefit of diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Thank you to our wonderful panellists and our moderator Troy Roderick, as well as everyone featured in Human. You can read the full book here.