Lisa Annese: Leaders Can Make a Business Case For Diversity
As CEO of the Diversity Council Australia (DCA) since 2014, Lisa Annese has led research into the gender pay gap and produced guides to help companies measure their cultural diversity. For all the complexity of that work, she’s able to sum up diversity, equity and inclusion [DEI] for companies in a single sentence: “Figure out why this matters to your business.”
Speaking at Qantas magazine’s Think. event, held at harbourside restaurant Sala in Sydney’s Pyrmont, Annese says leaders need to understand that DEI is not about throwing an International Women’s Day breakfast or putting a float in Mardi Gras. “This work is tough to do and people really underestimate its complexity,” she says.
She advises that businesses focus on one element at a time. “It helps to take a narrow, targeted view. This is about transformational culture change. If organisations want to be successful at it, they firstly have to identify why. Make sure that you can answer that, not just in moral terms but in business terms. If you can’t articulate it in business terms, you’re never going to engage all the stakeholders you need to in order to ensure this transformation is successful.”
Maintaining that laser focus on your agreed strategy means you can’t tackle everything – and Annese says that’s not only OK, it’s critical to success. “Companies can’t jump on every bandwagon or you would be on bandwagons forever. You have to get back to: why are we doing this and what does it mean to our business? If something’s important to an organisation and the CEO and the board are committed to it, they resource it.”
When gender equality initiatives are supported by the men in an organisation, especially leaders, companies report a healthier culture overall, says Annese. “In best-practice organisations, the men are onboard as allies because nothing shuts down a sexist joke like a man calling out another man. In organisations that have invested in leaders who act as allies, when they celebrate International Women’s Day, women know that this isn’t tokenistic. They feel safe in this workplace and that they have opportunities in this workplace.”
Annese says leaders need to really dig into their own learning to transition to a truly inclusive culture. In doing that, they will unlock all of the talent across their workplace.
“The goal is no matter what your gender, sex, race or disability, whether you’re First Nations or LGBTQIA+, that you are able to realise your full potential in the workforce and in life, and that you have genuine choice.
“Talent, ability and ambition is found across all pockets of the population. The fact that we don’t see people who are more diverse represented in leadership or in particular industries doesn’t have much to do with merit. Real inclusion means that there are no barriers to people fulfilling their potential, no matter who they are.”
Think. is a thought-leadership event and content series, presented by Qantas magazine and in association with LSH Auto Australia – the country’s leading Mercedes-Benz dealer group. Find out more about LSH Auto Australia.