Stubborn issues undermine optimism on Inclusion and Diversity issues

Michael Michalandos, Head of Employment & Compensation in Asia Pacific at Baker McKenzie

Baker McKenzie revealed a frustrating lack of progress on Inclusion & Diversity within leading global companies, despite efforts to address under representation and promote inclusion.

The report contains insights from nine hundred global employment leaders, surveyed in global and multinational organisations and including representatives from Australia.

Despite efforts to address under representation, in particular of women and other members of under represented groups, and to promote inclusion, progress is slow and frustrating.

Many companies are less far along the path than they hoped and continue to work on long-held priorities like raising awareness of I&D, recruitment and retention of diverse talent and increasing the diversity of senior management, which in many firms is white and male.

Australian organisations lead the charge for I&D

Employees with disabilities remain heavily underrepresented in the workforce as a whole.

When expressed as a percentage of company turnover, it is noteworthy that organisations in Australia are making the greatest investment in I&D, and companies in the UK the least.

Overall, I&D investment represents only a small fraction of organisational turnover and real cut through is still to be seen. The I&D issue that organisations are the most concerned about is underreporting of discrimination, harassment. and I&D related challenges.

Michael Michalandos, Head of Employment & Compensation in Asia Pacific at Baker McKenzie Group, based in Sydney stated, “Underreporting is likely to stem from conflict avoidance among managers rather than a lack of reporting infrastructure at the organisational level.”

“This is a trend that we see in relation to anti-bribery, corruption, and poor employee conduct and performance as well as Inclusion and Diversity. An over-emphasis on mateship and keeping the peace makes it very difficult to manage compliance issues generally.”

“Managers in many scenarios are particularly uncomfortable when dealing with sensitive discrimination and harassment issues and regularly attempt to deal with these issues informally, often down playing the matter and not consulting properly with the complainant.”

“A common theme is that the complainants feel ignored or frozen out of the process.”

“This only serves to compound and worsen the issue because all the other employees who may have been subjected to bad behaviour quickly form the perception that their matters won’t be dealt with seriously, or even worse, that will be disadvantaged for raising the issue.”

Manager laxity, a major barrier for I&D

As a matter of fact, 43% of Australian respondents are in agreement regarding under reporting of discrimination, harassment, and Inclusion and Diversity related challenges.

Diversity leaders need to fully understand the challenges that are hindering their existing I&D efforts in order to focus programs on what creates a truly inclusive workforce.

Michalandos said, “Although general I&D training and policies are important to help firms keep pace, there needs to be a specific focus on encouraging managers to proactively intervene and giving them the skills and confidence to manage these issues at the coal face.”

“This includes regularly and sensitively consulting with complainants. A critical piece is also strong leadership on I&D at the board and executive level, starting with role model behaviour.”

“Organisation have shown how important strong messaging from the Board can drive effective work health and safety practices. I&D should also be a regular item on Board agendas.”

“Apart from ethics driving I&D initiatives and its importance in fostering innovation, a failure to give this area priority has shown a remarkable capacity to destroy reputations and business.”

“More and more, the public are holding accountable organisations with poor I&D records.”