DAWN Hough can still vividly remember her first day in the office as the inaugural head of Pride in Diversity (PID) in 2010.

After starting off with only eight foundation members and facing many obstacles, the organisation today has just under 85 members and produces the annual and highly-publicised Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI).

“I get quite emotional,” said Hough, reflecting on how far her organisation has come.

“It’s really hard to put into words because I can remember day one starting at ACON and sitting at a desk having like, eight confirmed foundation members, and just thinking ‘okay, deep breath, here we go’.”

She added that “there was a lot of fear” and backlash with the initial organisations that came on board, with some employees complaining that they did not want their organisation to be a part of PID.

“We worked with [them] on how to respond to and address that and say ‘this is something that we want to be involved in, this is important to us’,” Hough said.

The eight foundation members are Telstra, ING, KPMG, IBM, Lend Lease, Goldman Sachs, Department of Defence and Australian Federal Police.

“Hats off to all of those early employers who, when everybody else was saying no, put their hand up and said ‘we want to be involved in this, this is important’,” Hough said.

“And everybody who’s come along since… Some have come a lot later than others and that’s great but they’ve really showed the world how successful LGBTI inclusion initiatives can be.”

A not-for-profit organisation, PID was established (and continues to be run) by ACON in recognition of the mental health benefits that could be generated through greater social inclusion of LGBTI people at work. It was also created in response to Australia’s need for better workplace equality and visibility, and acts as a member-based program that assists employers with inclusion of LGBTI employees.

“There’s still some nervousness when [organisations] come on board, (but) there’s incredible excitement around and a lot of support,” Hough said.

“We still get some negativity — but that’s human nature. I think the hard part for most organisations is getting it across the board to actually do something in the first place. Once they start, we help them every step of the way and it’s pretty smooth.”

The AWEI that it runs — essentially a leaderboard of the most LGBTI-inclusive workplaces in Australia — is inspired by a similar model used by the UK’s Stonewall organisation.

Hough said that because the top 20 places in the AWEI becomes more competitive ever year, its benchmark for equality and inclusivity is also raised on an annual basis. In addition, PID is beginning to extend what they look for in organisations to meet their standards.

“What we found last year when we released our results was that the entry point, the lowest score, for the bronze tier was the same as our top 10 entries for two years ago,” Hough said.

“Practice has shifted significantly.

“Where initially all the focus was on policies and benefits — that is, making sure all the policies are inclusive, language is inclusive — now it’s things like making sure your staff is trained, your managers and executives are aware, you have accountability within your supplier groups, you have networks that people can participate in and that they can contribute back.”

When it comes to trans* and intersex visibility in the workplace, Hough said PID has been actively working on inclusion policies and practices in these specific areas.

“You’ll find that most people that submit for the AWEI have a transitioning policy or something in writing, and [human resources] practices to support somebody that may be transitioning,” she said.

“However, we still don’t see as many people within LGBTI networks openly identify as transgender.

“Many transgender people in the workplace prefer to identify as male and female, and that’s wonderful, but we are starting to just recently see some people who are happy to openly identify as transgender for the purpose of being a role model and to support other people within the organisation.”

Meanwhile, one of PID’s projects this year included pairing with Organisation Intersex International Australia in a world-first publication of intersex inclusion, so employers can understand what it means to be intersex and what that means in the workplace.

“That’s gone viral globally, and we’ve given it to all of our partner organisations that are doing LGBTI inclusion,” Hough said.

“So there’s now an increasing understanding, whereas years ago people asked what intersex was, we’re now asked about it less and less.”

PID’s major events this year — the AWEI luncheon and annual conference — will continue to raise awareness in the workforce on all issues of LGBTI inclusivity.

“We’re starting to shift [the conference’s] focus to a new area… It was purely dedicated to diversity practitioners before, now we’re going to have streams dedicated to network leaders, to professionals who want to be authentic in the workplace, academic streams, health care streams and community streams,” Hough said.

“We’ve got [one month] until the luncheon, we’ve already sold over 350 tickets. This year it’s five years in the AWEI which is particularly special for us.

“The luncheon is incredibly valuable, it’s not only that we give out a lot of awards, but let me tell you when [organisations] stand up to collect an award, you can tell that they’ve earned it — we’ve scrutinised their evidence-based submissions for what they’ve done.”

And as PID continues to give Australia international exposure as a leader of LGBTI inclusion initiatives in the workplace, Hough said journey was far from over.

“We’ve done a lot of great work in five years but there’s still a lot to do,” she said.

“I don’t think by any shape or form we’ve got there, we’re just touching the edge of the surface.”

Pride in Diversity’s AWEI luncheon will be held on May 15 in Sydney. Details: prideindiversity.com.au/2015-awei-awards-event

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**This article was first published in the May edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.

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