Speaking at the Australian Institute of Company Directors at the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) census launch on 28 October, ANZ chief executive Mike Smith spoke about the business case for increasing diversity in the workplace and amongst the ranks of senior management.

According to Smith, there’s a correlation between organisational diversity and business performance.
The need for more diversity in corporate Australia has historically been promoted in ethical terms -” that is, having a workforce from a range of backgrounds was seen as the correct thing to do from an ethical perspective. The various benefits to the business which may result from having a diverse workforce have largely been unexplored.

If the latest figures are to be believed, it appears that corporate Australia is yet to heed the message.
According to the Australian Women in Leadership Census, women chaired only four boards and held little more than 8 percent of board directorships in 2008. No comprehensive statistics exist on whether employees from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds or non-heterosexual identifying backgrounds are represented in the upper echelons of management.

There are at least two obvious business reasons why organisational diversity makes sense. Firstly, where management make-up is representative of the diversity of the market, it is likely that the business will have a more nuanced understanding of marketing their product/service to particular segments of the market.

Secondly, being able to make claims to equal opportunity employment allows an organisation to strategically position itself in the market, and as a result, will enable the organisation to attract the best talent.

A campaign currently running in America seeks to capitalise on this principle to advance the rights of gays and lesbians in the corporate world.In the United States, an organisation called the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) runs a number of campaigns each year focused on obtaining equality for the GLBTI community in the workplace.

One such campaign is a scorecard for major employers in respect to their GLBTI policies. Employers with policies granting rights and recognition to gay and lesbian employees are publicly acknowledged for their efforts.

Given that the majority of the GLBTI community will be employed at some stage in their lives, it is essential that gay and lesbian rights groups focus some of their energy on promoting more GLBTI-friendly workplace policies.

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