Why Diversity Matters

Solving the skills shortage through improving workplace diversity

Critical skill shortages and the changing nature of the Australian workplace mean that employers must adapt their hiring strategies to ensure their continued success in the future, according to the Minister for Employment Mr Bill Shorten.

Speaking at a recent Diversity Council Australia (DCA) event Mr Shorten said diverse workforces would be key to encouraging productivity gains in the future.

“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.

Mr Shorten said many Australians capable of working are overlooked in current hiring processes due to organisational cultures which make it unlikely for people from minority groups to gain the same opportunities for employment as people from the majority groups in society.

“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 which 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.”

According to the CEO of DCA, Ms Nareen Young, diversity and equal employment opportunity concerns and flexible work options are now mainstream priorities for Australian employers and this is promoting positive change in Australian workplaces.

“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,” she said.

According to the DCA workplaces that value diversity and are free of discrimination are more productive and enjoy:

  • Greater employee satisfaction which leads to improved productivity and profitability.
  • Reduced employee turnover which cuts the cost of having to replace skilled and experienced people.
  • Better access to employee skills and perspectives which increases creativity and innovation.
  • Improved opportunities to attract and retain the most talented employees
  • A broader range of customers and suppliers.

Australian situation

As discussed above workplace diversity promises many advantages but needs to be introduced with a holistic approach, or new hires may feel isolated and disconnected. The points below offers some basic tips for hiring with diversity in mind.

  • Identify your organisational needs in terms of diversity. Does your workforce resemble your community and the customers and suppliers you work with?
  • Ensure your recruitment practices are truly merit based and age, race, gender and minority group neutral, through developing and implementing an organisational policy which outlines diversity goals.
  • Provide diversity training in your workplace. All employees should understand that hiring decisions are based on finding the best candidate and not by quotas. Also be sure managers fully understand the benefits of a diverse workplace so they are committed to supporting the practice.
  • Ensure your job advertising reaches the full range of potential new recruits by using mainstream and niche media to advertise positions, community networks and staff for referrals
  • Make the advertised job attractive to job hunters by highlighting details that will attract a more diverse candidate pool, such as opportunities to work from home, flexible work options, days off for religious festivals, facilities for people with limited mobility and so on.
  • Give new hires a reason to stay and devote an equal amount of time and effort in retaining new employees as you did to employing them. Conduct a comprehensive induction so new starts are comfortable with the new job and company culture.
  • Remember the first few weeks in a new job can be a difficult time for an employee and it’s important to demonstrate they have a future in the company. Clearly communicate opportunities for advancement and establish mentoring programs to ensure colleagues have the chance to build strong working relationships.
  • Learn from your mistakes! Have your human resources department create an exit interview assessment to determine why minority employees are leaving the company and what can be done to curb future loses. Be willing to make changes to minimise the chances of this continuing to happen.


Diversity Council Australia

Wall Street Journal

This Better Workplace Bulletin was First Published in August 2012