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What it Takes to Be an Inclusive Employer

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 — March 16th, 2022

What it Takes to Be an Inclusive Employer

Last December, when Diversity Council Australia named Aurecon as an Inclusive Employer for the second time in a row, I was elated, yet not entirely surprised.

At Aurecon, for many years, we have been investing consistently and significantly in creating an inclusive culture.

Why?

Partly because we operate in Australia – a highly multicultural country – where local organizations simply don’t reach their full potential if their employees don’t reflect the community. In this environment, organizations with a diverse, equitable, and inclusive (DEI) culture become employers of choice. 

But also because, in our game – design, and engineering – diversity and inclusion is a major indicator of achievement and excellence.

How to Promote Diversity & Inclusion in Your Workplace — Employee Storytelling

At Aurecon, when we consult on large and complex projects, diversity gives us a competitive edge. We’ve learned that the best ideas usually come when we can canvass a variety of viewpoints – and when everyone has an equal voice at the table.

I am convinced that bringing diverse perspectives into an inclusive culture is our most powerful lever to help us solve our clients’ and society’s most complex problems.

How we walk our talk

Our recent recognition means people have been asking me how we've become an Inclusive Employer. It’s a goal to which a lot of organizations give lip service – but not everyone takes the action needed to make their aspirations a reality.

So what does it take to actually become an Inclusive Employer? In my view, it starts with listening. It’s instructive to look at how the Diversity Council assesses its Inclusive Employers (hint: they don’t ask the employer!).

Instead, 1,000+ of our people reported to the Council on their lived experience of what it’s like to work for Aurecon. 

If your company has never really listened properly before, be prepared not to love what you hear.

As the global Josh Bersin HR Academy puts it, “DEI work is uncomfortable. Always. It forces us into hard conversations. It reveals awkward truths about our life at work.

It touches on some of the most intimate and complex parts of ourselves: our beliefs about justice; our experience with oppression; our hopes for a better future.”

Inclusive policies and leadership training

Inclusion starts at the top. If you want to truly honor the uniqueness and personal circumstances of your people, you have to set explicit expectations through policies and training, so every leader models inclusive behaviors.

As a matter of policy, we require all Aurecon leaders to demonstrate their ability to lead diverse teams and create an inclusive environment where everyone feels a sense of belonging.

And we don’t just say it. We show them how to do that. Our inclusive leadership training programs, such as Beyond Management – Leading Inclusively program, make line managers aware of the influence they wield: what they say, how they act, and what they prioritize and value.

Policy-wise, we have recently expanded our three primary pillars of diversity (gender, Indigenous and LGBTI+) to officially include disability and cultural diversity.

Our policies also facilitate parental leave, flexible working, and provide additional support to victims and survivors of domestic and family violence.

Language and behaviors matter

At Aurecon, we know actions speak louder than words. So we have a wide range of activities to encourage participation and support inclusion, with a strong emphasis on language and behaviors.

For example, we proactively make it safe for employees to speak up without fear when they hold contrary opinions. And we hold regular storytelling events where individuals share their personal experiences of diversity and inclusion with their peers.

Two recent activities have really caught our employees’ attention.

Our Active Bystander Campaign is an educational email-based program launched in November last year to encourage all Aurecon employees to take action against sexism and sexual harassment.

How to Promote Diversity & Inclusion in Your Workplace: Employee Storytelling

The campaign was built on an internal survey we conducted before the campaign. Drawing on the survey results, we partnered with third parties to design practical prevention strategies.

The program offered vivid example scenarios and recommended actions for people wanting to take a stand against sexism and sexual harassment. From my conversations across the business, I know it really hit the mark. 

Another popular initiative is our employee-led Neurodiversity network. Established last year, to build acceptance, dispel myths and misunderstandings, and support people with neuro-differences.

The point is, people with neurodivergent conditions often exist in a persistent chronic state of stress as a result of 'masking' – acting neurotypically to avoid negative reactions. But give them support and understanding, and these employees flourish.

The job is never done

No matter how ‘enlightened’ your organization, the pursuit of DEI requires continuous and concerted efforts. Making sure every employee has a voice and feels heard, valued, and connected takes time, effort, and, frankly, dollars.

As a senior leader at Aurecon, where our purpose is bringing ideas to life, I consider it one of our most important areas of investment. 

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