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Teams, social inclusion and diversity in the workplace

· Stefan Anjou,Social Inclusion,Diversity,Workforce,Analysis

Social inclusion can be defined as having the resources, opportunities and capabilities to learn, work, engage with others, and importantly, to be heard.[i] Increasingly within organisations, discussions around the importance of social inclusion and building a strong sense of workplace and team culture is rising on the organisational agenda. Significantly, it goes further than enabling individuals to have equal opportunities, to ensuring employees feel comfortable and have the support to succeed at work.

In August 2019, the Special Broadcasting Service (‘SBS’) commissioned Deloitte to write a report on the economic benefits of improving social inclusion, and the findings are substantial. The report puts forward the significant opportunity that exists in Australia and acknowledges that the social drivers of economic growth include how well workers relate to each other (increased creativity), their social connectivity (more efficient labour markets) and the population’s overall health and wellbeing (improved economic welfare). If social inclusion is improved, the economy will grow stronger and living standards will increase. Significantly, the costs of social exclusion are avoided as people will have greater access to employment and social services. In addition, the report estimates the economic dividend to Australia from having a more inclusive society to be $12.7 billion annually. This value is the result in increased productivity in the workplace, improved employment outcomes, improvement in mental and physical health, reduced cost of social services and inclusive growth.

Teams are a central part of most organisations today. While there is much that goes into making teams successful, the importance of team composition is undisputed. The value and benefit of diversity and inclusion in the workplace is recognised for its contribution in enabling collaboration and group process. As this reality is becoming more supported, more companies are investing, quantifying and considering the benefits. Central to the benefit of an inclusive society is the presence of teams in our workplaces and the established potential of the group process. Exploration into how to activate this potential and ultimately improve the performance of teams, has led to our understanding of the power of diversity in teams.

However, despite this reality and the apparent will of many organisations, workplace diversity strategies have not lived up to their expectation or hype and a problem rests in a disconnect with diversity and (social) inclusion. While having a diverse team or workplace may be the goal, without inclusion the advantages are often not realised. In short, without inclusion, the benefits of diversity are lost.

So how can we ensure more companies (and society) embrace diversity and inclusion?

In Australia, in part due to the consideration of an increasingly multicultural and ethnically diverse culture, social inclusion and encouraging diversity is increasingly being encouraged by Government, who play an important role in leading the way with putting in place lasting inclusion and diversity policies and contributing through broader public education.

A strong example of government leading the way in diversity and inclusion measures is the Victorian State Government’s recent push for gender equality in the public service. Having unveiled a cabinet ministry with 50 per cent women in 2019, the State Government recently introduced the Gender Equality Bill into Parliament, which will establish new gender equality requirements for public service organisations, universities and local councils. The measures include creating gender equality action plans, reporting equal pay sexual harassment and equal opportunity career progression. If the Bill is successfully passed, it will cover over 300 organisations and about 11 per cent of the Victorian workforce (380,000 employees). This example may go a long way to encouraging companies to further their efforts with inclusion and diversity and will assist in shifting the long-term cultural landscapes of organisations.

Notably, diversity fosters creativity and innovation and it forces people to consider different perspectives. The benefits of diverse teams are well-documented as differing backgrounds often represent broader knowledge, skills and experience and individuals that are more likely to challenge each other and ideas. This dissent can be a cause of deep inquiry and breakthrough, as well as a source of creativity and innovation.

There is both an opportunity and a need for more businesses to couple their diversity strategies with those of inclusion. In addition to the humanitarian and moral reasons, the ever-increasing economic evidence points to it being critical. Importantly, Government must continue to play a role in investing and promoting the benefits of social inclusion policies in workplaces, as well as leading by example.

[i] Australian Government, Social Inclusion in Australia: How Australia is faring, 2nd Edition

Australian Social Inclusion Board 2013

Stefan Anjou is a Policy Analyst at FPL Advisory.

FPL Advisory is a team of specialists resolving risks and creating opportunities with respect to government. We work with public sector and corporate clients to execute strategies for owning and managing change