Diversity - See The Possibilities

By Angela Tatlis

Published on 16-02-2013

Diversity - See The Possibilities

Angela Tatlis, Chair of the National Women in Operations (NAWO) and Managing Director of Invoke Performance, stresses the benefits of a diverse workplace and suggests what employers can be doing to capitalise on this.

Did you ever see an episode of Bewitched? Made in the 1960s/70s the TV show is about a witch who marries a mortal and tries to lead the life of a typical suburban housewife. In today's mad rush work/life style, many of us wish we had a little magic to help us out, but reality forces us to leave the fictional suburb, with white picket fences and 'man-goes-to-work whilst mum stays home' tale behind. It simply is not the way of life in Australia today. Family finances, the economy, and generational expectations have seen to that.

Proudly Australia has the #1 tertiary education rates for females in the OECD, yet our workforce participation rates are not equally as impressive. Depending on age group, we are ranked #17 through to #50 for participation - of tertiary-educated women aged 37-45 years old only 38% are in the workforce. 59% of women are in paid work, compared to 72% of men.

Economically this has a massive impact. We do not utilise these resources nor do we collect taxes from these individuals; whilst at the same time we bleat about a skills shortage, migration policies, city congestion, etc. If we could match female participation to male then Australian GDP would improve by 11-12%. Further, if as a nation we could close the pay gap between men and women, currently at 17%, then we would add $93B to GDP.

And the benefits are not purely related to improving social justice.

A diverse workplace, where people think and act in different ways, has been proven to improve business performance. Let's reflect on a couple of recent instances illustrating this:

  1. Five white 45 year old Board members narrowed a list of 17 prospective CEOs to a short list of five white 45 year old males - until one noticed and called for a change in the Board's selection committee. After some heated debate he won the argument;
  2. One 55 year old highly regarded high profile Supply Director said, after having led manufacturing & distribution for 25 years, "but women don't want operational roles do they?" Ironically the first person he poached when changing organisations was the one female direct report he had;
  3. And a Chief Logistics Officer said "I like you 'Mary' better than 'Janet' because you are not afraid to dress like a woman" - like that has anything to do with competence!

So what can you do to encourage diversity, and reap the benefits for your business?

As an employer - Remembering high performance is not a result of a homogenous workplace, how diverse is your business? You have a massive untapped talent pool out there, of well-educated, able females. Consider what you could do differently to attract and retain those people? Shift the paradigm on how to structure work and release the potential - both on labour availability and on alternative approaches to problem solving;

As an employee - have a look around your workplace and see the mix of people at your level and below. There are many markers of diversity, including age, gender, race, and religion, so note and embrace the differences. Ask yourself what challenges some of them face that you don't, simply because they are a minority. Perhaps you can try something different to help them out;

As a family member - would you like the females in your family to earn fair pay for fair work? Perhaps you would like to close the $100k gap in superannuation between men and women at retirement age? One way this can be done, is to make it a little easier for the female in your life to manage home/work life.

Already, several companies have recognised the importance of diversity and should be applauded for their actions. These include:

  1. CCA recently had a dozen female operational leaders available to run a site tour at their Northmead site;
  2. Sugar Australia's CEO Tim Hart wowed his counterparts at the Australian Food and Grocery Council conference in June with his informed and passionate stance on what organisations can do differently;
  3. GlaxoSmithKline won the Equal Employment for Women award for 2011.

And hopefully, with an increasing emphasis on diversity and the benefits it can bring to business, the list will continue to grow.

The move by the ASX to mandate Diversity Action Plans and Metrics for Australian listed companies, has seen some key industry movement around these issues. One such outcome has been the formation of the National Association of Women in Operations (NAWO) whose purpose is to attract, develop, and retain the pipeline of women in non-traditional roles and industries. Founded by female executives in large business in 2009 the group formalised as a not-for-profit in 2011, and now has 30+ part time volunteers (men and women) from industry helping out 80+ companies and 300+ members.

The group holds regular professional development forums, industry solutions working committees, and runs a mentoring-circles program. At this stage Melbourne and Sydney are up and running, with Perth due to commence late 2012. Interest and support from business has been outstanding so if you would like to find out more go to or call Angela Tatlis on 03 9836 8578. If there are people in your business or your network who should know about this, forward on the news.

Angela Tatlis is Chair of the National Association for Women in Operations (NAWO) as well as MD of Invoke Performance, and convenor of the Chief Supply Officers Forum, ANZ. She is in high demand as a business advisor on workforce and performance strategy, and through Invoke offers a range of advisory services, diagnostic tools, process maturity, and training programs to maximise performance; as well as contract and outsource labour solutions.