In my reflective mood this morning I began to consider what a diverse and inclusive workplace means. I am certain that governments, businesses and organisations if asked will all say “Yes, yes this is what we have in Australia because we have legislation, policy and procedure to ensure that this is the way we operate”. Looking around in the office I find myself thinking how true this really is.
If you Google the meaning of these two words, you will find the Merriam -Webster dictionary:
Inclusive – “Covering or including everything, open to everyone, all embracing”
Diverse- “Having many different forms, types, ideas, the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organisation”
Looking around from my desk at my workmates, what I see are people seemingly from the same culture, roughly the same age and most with similar qualifications and experience. Basically, it is not very diverse at all and hardly “inclusive” so I wonder how many other workplaces are like this and what does that mean for Australian society.
In fact Australian work places are not very diverse or inclusive places. People with a disability have extremely high rates of non-participation with Australia ranking 21 out of 29 OECD countries. There are higher than average unemployment rates among our youth and mature age citizens and, whilst Australia has long welcomed skilled immigrants, many who arrive for humanitarian reasons or as refugees (significantly those arriving from countries with high Muslim populations) experience significant barriers to participation.
So what does this mean for Australia?
Firstly it is a very costly exercise for our country not to have large sections of our community engaged economically and socially. Work is fundamental to social inclusion and integration and our overall health and wellbeing. Those excluded may experience isolation, poverty, increased health related issues and may not be considered valued members of our society.
I wonder what can be done to improve our situation. Today’s workplaces are rapidly changing with the focus on high productivity/low cost and jobs are more highly skilled and require higher levels of education. The labour market appears to be getting narrower as more and more factory jobs disappear overseas.
It is all very well for our Government to place more responsibility on the unemployed to find and maintain work however without the necessary investment in education (especially skills based), guidance, workplace support/modifications and incentives the situation is unlikely to change.