Is inclusion a myth in Australian workplaces?

Tom Henry
May 5, 2021

It’s shocking to discover that a huge percentage of the workforce feels they are unable to be their authentic selves at work. Worklogic Senior Consultant, Tom Henry discusses what employers can do to support people from diverse backgrounds in the latest Worklogic blog. 

Australian workplaces still have way to go in being inclusive and diverse.

In an ABC News article earlier this year[1], an Australian woman of Sri Lankan heritage, Duleesha Boteju, was interviewed about her experience in the workplace. Ms Boteju said that during her upbringing, which was in a racially and culturally diverse neighbourhood and school, she had not been made to feel different at all. She said she was only made to feel different when she entered the workplace. When she was offered a role that involved answering calls from the public; the job offer came with a request to change her name to “something more Australian sounding”. She agreed to this but was appalled by the request.

Unfortunately, Ms Boteju’s experience is not an isolated one.

In one of the biggest surveys on diversity in the Australian workplace, commissioned by Job search engine ‘Indeed’last year, YouGov surveyed 2060 working age Australians about their experience of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The results were sobering[2], and indicated that a large percentage of Australian workers did not feel accepted at work ‘as they were’.

For example, about one in five workers from a different ethnic or cultural background, or who identified as LGBTIQ+, felt they were not treated equally where they worked.

So what is diversity and inclusion?

The words diversity and inclusion have been used a lot in recent years, but what do they actually mean?

Kristy Macfarlane, Consultant at Diversity Partners, defines ‘diversity’as:

‘…people’s unique characteristics, including all the differences we bring to work. It encompasses diversity of background — such as gender; cultural background or identity; sexual orientation; gender identity; disability; age; religious beliefs; education; professional discipline; industry experience — as well as diversity of thinking approaches’.[1]

And what of ‘inclusion’? Diversity Council Australia says that inclusion is about:

‘…creating a work environment where all team members feel valued and respected, have a sense of belonging and can be their true self.’

Inclusion and diversity obviously go hand in hand: an inclusive workplace allows all workers, each with their special life experience, strengths and attributes, to bring their whole self (and true self) to work.

Why does it matter?

The Indeed Report found that over half (57%) of Australian workers say that their workplace employs people from different cultural, ethnic and social backgrounds. And yet research clearly proves that workplaces that actively seek diversity perform much better than other workplaces. According to research published in the Harvard Business Review article, ‘The Value of Belonging at Work’[1], a ‘strong sense of belonging’ is linked to a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days. The article then does the following maths: ‘For a 10,000-person company, this would result in annual savings of more than $52 million’.

The data suggests that diversity and inclusion policies are holistically beneficial to employees and cost effective to employers.

Hiding your true self

One of the most depressing statistics in the Indeed Report was that 46% of Australian workers say that either some or all of the time, they feel unable to be their ‘true self’ at work. In particular, 62% of workers said they concealed part of their identities from their colleagues, either some or all of the time. Exploring this further, the attributes that respondents typically felt the need to hide included sexual orientation (61%), gender (14%) and disability (14%). In addition, 33% of Boomers hide their age at work.

Disability is one area where workplaces could do much better at inclusion. 2.1 million Australians of working age (15-64 years) have a disability. Apart from the inherent right of all Australians to work, and to be treated equally while at work, this presents a tremendous pool of often untapped talent that could be included in workplaces.

What would bringing your authentic self to work look like?

So what can organisations can do to make their workplace be more inclusive of difference, and enable employees to be their true selves at work?

Firstly, there is a consensus that diversity and inclusion must come from the top, but it also needs to be embedded at every level of the employment relationship. Research shows that, while it’s important that diversity and inclusion is front and centre of the recruitment process and onboarding, the welcoming public face of the organisation often seems to fade after the first year of employment, as long-entrenched and often unconscious biases come to the fore.

Some of the things that organisations can do to actively welcome and then support people from diverse backgrounds, include:

  • Ensuring job descriptions and job application processes actively seek those from different backgrounds;
  • Promote flexible working arrangements: this allows a focus on outputs, which is known to support people with diverse needs;
  • Ensure that your company meets accessibility standards for those with a disability;
  • Providing mentors for new workers with a disability;
  • Find ways to celebrate and support employee diversity, including those with disabilities; and
  • Ensure that all employees are aware of the support they have available to them.

[1] The Value of Belonging at Work ( See also the startling statistics reported in the following article in Medium: Top 5 Workplace Diversity Statistics.

[1] Quoted in the Indeed Report, above, at pp 32-33.

[1] By ABC social affairs correspondent Norman Hermant:

[2] ‘Indeed: Diversity and inclusion in the workplace: Fostering an environment for all employees to thrive’:

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