You have one free articles for this month. Sign up for a CCIWA Membership for unlimited access.

How can diversity, equity and inclusion improve workplace morale?

By Emily Roberts

Embracing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace is not always a straightforward path but its potential benefits are transformative, according to CCIWA Member idobas Sarah Coleman.

idoba CEO Sarah Coleman

Embracing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace is not always a straightforward path but its potential benefits are transformative, according to CCIWA Member idoba’s Sarah Coleman. 

“We need to configure working and teaming environments that work for people, instead of making people work for the organisation, and that is how you harness innovative and creative thinking,” says Coleman, CEO of two-year-old idoba, the technology-focused mining services arm of mining contractor, Perenti. 

“For innovation to show up, we need diversity; for diversity to matter we need inclusive workplaces, but for inclusion to materialise, we need our people to be the authentic, courageous, messy, imperfect, vulnerable, curious humans they uniquely are.”

The importance of differences 

DEI is about embracing, respecting and valuing individual differences. It involves recognising the importance of a diversified workforce and the positive impact it can have on an organisation while creating a working environment where differences are not just tolerated but actively encouraged and celebrated. 

While current research underscores the significant advantages of implementing DEI programs at the individual, team and organisational levels, misconceptions about why and how to successfully integrate DEI are hindering many businesses from fully realising these benefits.  

In 2021, professional services firm Deloitte set out to reimagine its DEI strategy. 

First, it applied a design-thinking approach to understand and unpack the current state, and then conducted targeted focus groups with hundreds of people from all levels of the firm to deeply understand the root causes of challenges and barriers that could prevent diversity from thriving. 

“Continuously listening to our people about DEI and, in particular, those with lived experience, has allowed us to activate a truly impactful strategy that not only fosters belonging, but has started to unpick systemic barriers to create meaningful and measurable outcomes that impact the lives of our people, our clients and our communities,” says Deloitte Chief Human Resources Officer Tina McCreery.  

“Recent feedback from an organisation-wide survey showed that 90% of Deloitte’s people believe people of all cultures, identities and abilities are valued and respected in their workplace.”  

DEI promotes new thinking and ideas 

DEI provides a safe working environment and enables employees to feel valued and respected. The feeling of trust that inclusive DEI cultures create can lead to improved job satisfaction, increased performance and productivity, and strong organisational commitment, resulting in improved employee engagement. 

idoba actively promotes diversity of thought. 

“We believe diversity of thought is critical to innovation and solving the gnarly problems of tomorrow in more creative and more sustainable ways,” Coleman says. 

“With the ever-increasing complexities of ESG [environmental, social and governance] and the need to rapidly decarbonise, the thinking that got us to where we are today is not necessarily the thinking that will get us to where we need to be tomorrow.” 

Deloitte has implemented several DEI initiatives over the past few years across five impact areas: gender equity, LGBTI+, race and culture (including First Nations), accessibility and neurodiversity. 

Last year the company expanded its Making Work, Work for Families strategy which enables parents to work a four-day week and get paid for five days, for 12 months after returning from parental leave. 

Deloitte says there has also been a shift in gender norms related to parental leave, including a 20% increase in men returning part-time in the past 12 months, and more than 50% of those who take parental leave now are men. 

Deloitte has also developed an ‘understanding neurodiversity’ learning program, and this year had more than 50 participants complete its third neurodiversity mentoring program. The program provides an opportunity for neurodivergent colleagues to connect, learn and share experiences and perspectives to help navigate the workplace and Deloitte’s support systems. 

“The neurodiversity mentoring program has been transformative for many participants,” says Steve Rayment, Deloitte Consulting Partner and Neurodiversity Pillar Leader. 

“Being able to share and learn from the experiences of a neurodivergent colleague provides value from both a personal and work perspective, and it’s also a way for our coaches to gain a better understanding of the daily challenges faced by our people who are neurodivergent.” 

Breaking away from 'business as usual' approach

Coleman says idoba is continually experimenting to find better ways to foster psychological safety and harness the collective knowledge of its diverse team. Recent initiatives include its Talk, Play, Make, Grow framework, Can I Ask That? Neurodiversity program and leadership training sessions. 

A key focus is to support the desire to break out of ‘business as usual’ structures and constraints, she says. 

“We are a team of divergent work preferences, personalities and perspectives but sometimes we behave as if everyone knows how we operate,” Coleman says.

“This cycle of high expectations without the understanding leads to confusion, frustration and misalignment. We believe that if leaders have the toolkit and employees have access to the right tools, then team effectiveness and behaviour will be positively impacted and this impact will be visible through delivery and cohesiveness.

“We continually reinforce that this journey is not all rainbows and butterflies. It’s hard, like really hard. It requires a huge willingness on everyone in the organisation to acknowledge and understand their own biases, remove their corporate armour, challenging their own beliefs and being willing to adapt and change their own perspective based on the new knowledge diverse thinking brings.” 

How CCIWA can help 

CCIWA has created an Equal Opportunity and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Guide to help you understand DEI and how to implement systems that promote DEI in your business.  

Our Employee Relations Advice Centre is also available to respond to your questions on (08) 9365 7660, or via [email protected].   

What is diversity, equity and inclusion? 

Diversity: describes the real and perceived differences and similarities between individuals, which includes attributes such as gender, age, race, culture, sexual orientation, disability and religious beliefs. 

Equity: acknowledging individuals have different circumstances and, therefore, creating equal opportunity through the allocation of resources and opportunities, ensuring individuals can reach the same equal outcome as others. It is about giving everyone what they need to be successful, not giving everyone the same thing. 

Inclusion: occurs when individuals with a variety of differing attributes feel accepted, valued and respected, have access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute their perspectives and talents to improve the organisation. 

Embracing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace is not always a straightforward path but its potential benefits are transformative, according to CCIWA Member idobas Sarah Coleman.

You may also be interested in