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It’s official: There is too much talk and not enough action on diversity

This was the verdict at the Diversity Council Australia and Xplore for Success Annual Diversity Debate held in November in Sydney, voted by a record crowd of over 300 CEOs, HR directors and managers.

Emceed by journalist and ABC TV’s Q&A host, Tony Jones, a high profile panel – including Xplore’s Diana Ryall on the affirmative team – debated the topic, ‘Is there too much talk and not enough action on diversity?’

It was an incisive, passionate and often humorous argument from both teams. While both agreed that talking is a necessary part of achieving action on diversity, the affirmative side argued successfully – 65% to 35% – that talk hasn’t achieved enough.

This was backed up by a survey of the audience that found the majority (84%) said that their organisation had a diversity strategy but fewer said that the strategy included measureable objectives (68%) and markedly fewer said that people were held accountable for not achieving them (24.5%).

Speakers for the affirmative team argued that talking has not led to enough action and, in her opening presentation, Diana called on leaders to initiate some clear actions:

“What would be enough action? Actions that achieve aggressive targets. We need targets with rewards and penalties – carrot and stick – to drive action. We should initiate a pay gap target of zero within five years; a two per cent rise per year in both women in senior management and racial diversity in senior management; and engagement scores that measure other areas of diversity that are publicly reported. Each action needs a substantial penalty for lack of achievement.”

Dr Tim Soutphommasane and Professor Kerryn Phelps added further to the argument for action.

“In business, we don’t measure or collect data on cultural diversity and there is a lack of diverse representation in our parliament, media and corporates. Getting a fix of kebab on a Friday night doesn’t give you insight into cultural diversity,” Tim said.

Building on Diana’s points, Kerryn said, “Diversity should be a KPI and reportable to the Board and shareholders.”

Speakers for the negative team argued that talk is needed so actions are effective:

  • “Unless there is talk and you get buy in, then change won’t be effective. You have to build support and awareness before you can achieve lasting action,” said Dr Anne Summers.
  • “We can never, ever stop talking about diversity. The simple reality is that progress will be minimal without real dialogue that encourages boards to implement change within their organisations that will have a lasting impact,” said John Brogden.
  • “There is nowhere near enough ‘talk’ on diversity and yet we know that ‘talk’ can lead to significant change. Martin Luther King Junior’s speech was called ‘I have a dream’, not ‘I have a list of agreed actions’,” said Chris Lamb.

There was a flurry of activity on Twitter, with #DCADebate trending for over an hour. If you missed it, you can see a summary of the Twitter discussion here and, over the coming weeks, the DCA will feature a video highlights package on its website here. Make sure you check back soon.

Thank you for your encouragement and many messages of support leading up to and on the day of the Debate. It was a wonderful event to be a part of, and we are greatly encouraged by the widespread acknowledgement that only through action will we achieve measurably better outcomes in diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Now, we’ve got some work to do.

Watch video of debate



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