- Inclusive leaders can access deeper labour pools, a critical advantage when labour is expected to become scarcer.
- The accounting profession is not as inclusive as it could be and needs to foster psychological safety rather than put processes or quotas in place.
- Creating an environment where people feel safe to express themselves enhances feelings of inclusivity.
We have entered an era of shallower labour pools and leaders who put diversity and inclusion front and centre will be better positioned to benefit. That was the message from social commentator and business analyst, Bernard Salt AM, in his keynote address for a summit on inclusive leadership hosted by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) on 2 September 2022.
CA ANZ will release its diversity, equity and inclusion strategy later this year.
Salt forecasts that labour pools are going to become scarcer, requiring leaders to adapt. “This is not an issue that is specifically linked to the pandemic but that was accentuated by the pandemic. It’s an era of change where we need to develop solutions to get more productivity per labour unit,” he said.
“Diversity and inclusion is a way organisations can swim in a deeper labour pool. Businesses are strengthened when they can choose the very best talent, regardless of age or any other category.”
Pictured: Bernard Salt AM.
“Businesses are strengthened when they can choose the very best talent, regardless of age or any other category.”
Salt said other western countries are facing a similar challenge, including Canada, the US, the UK, France, Germany and Japan. What makes Australia and New Zealand’s labour shortage distinct is the cultural make-up of the countries and their proximity to Asia, where deeper labour pools exist.
“Australia and New Zealand are unusual in terms of the sheer scale of immigration coming to our nations,” Salt said. “We should have the world's best practices at accommodating and including migrant skills and culture into our economies.
“Many of the nations within our broader region offer reservoirs of talent. There are very strong pools of talent and labour coming out of India, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia,” he added.
Building inclusive cultures
Pictured: Bernard Salt AM, Karen Loon FCA, Leatigaga Jason Tualima, Nurain Janah CA (from left).
The upsides to inclusivity are manifold. Deloitte Australia reported organisations with inclusive cultures are eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes and six times more likely to be innovative and agile.
According to summit panelist Karen Loon FCA, accounting leaders in Australia and New Zealand are missing out on productivity and talent because they are not as inclusive as they could be.
“Sometimes when you are under pressure as leaders, it is easy for us to work with people who are similar, because working with people who are different can take longer, create conflict or feel uncomfortable,” said Loon, author of Fostering Culturally Diverse Leadership in Organisations: Lessons from Those Who Smashed the Bamboo Ceiling.
“We need to be more empathetic and create environments where there is psychological safety and people feel comfortable to ask questions and be themselves, rather than putting a process in place which can create resistance,” Loon said. “That’s not to say targets and policies don’t work, but I think we should be asking instead, ‘How do people feel?’
Pictured: Nurain Janah CA.
Panelist Nurain Janah CA understands feeling excluded. A manager in turnaround and restructuring strategy at EY in Auckland, Janah also founded Authenticity Aotearoa, a not-for-profit empowering women of colour to express their authentic selves.
“It doesn’t matter how much work we do as minorities, we cannot succeed because the norms are set by the majority culture,” she said. “After lockdowns around 90% of redundancies were women. And it was worse for Māori and Pasifika women, and women of colour. A lot of the women I mentor are burnt out and dealing with anxiety and depression.
Janah added: “It’s the culmination of not being able to express ourselves truly and not being our authentic selves. How do we shift that? There’s a lot of power in being able to tell our stories.”
Panelist Leatigaga Jason Tualima relayed a story from early in his career where expressing his true self in the workplace caused tension with his manager and resulted in him leaving the job. “I left because I kept on getting the feedback that I spoke unprofessionally,” said the deputy secretary and CFO of New Zealand’s Ministry for Pacific Peoples.
Pictured: Leatigaga Jason Tualima.
“I realised it was because I did not speak the same language that my middle-aged white manager spoke,” said Tualima. “When I left, I gave that feedback in my exit interview. I know the manager has learned from that feedback.”
Tualima said it comes back to authenticity and whether people in your organisation feel safe and included. “In Pacific culture, we talk about having a space where we can relate to each other and nurture the relationship.
“I had a mentor, an old white male very different to me, who took me under his wing. I wouldn’t be where I am now without him. One of the random things we had in common was model planes. He still sends me photos of planes and that’s pretty cool.”
Five tips for leaders wanting to be more inclusive:
1. Mentor or sponsor someone from a diverse background. This creates a level of support and a smoother pathway to career success for those from minority backgrounds.
2. “Create a safe space for people to question and challenge management and an organisation’s direction, and harvest that feedback.” – Bernard Salt AM
3. “Open the team up to discussions around family and life experience. Family shape who we are at work. Talking about that will bring humility into the workplace.” – Karen Loon FCA
4. “Give dignity to every team member by acknowledging their story and where they come from, and even how they pronounce their name. Sharing creates connection.” – Nurain Janah CA
5. “Former All Black Richie McCaw said one of the reasons their team was so successful was because they had an acceptable standard of behaviour. Set standards for behaviour with your team, so everyone feels like they belong.” – Leatigaga Jason Tualima
Watch a recording of our online member event on inclusive leadership with Bernard Salt AM, Karen Loon FCA, Nurain Janah CA and Leatigaga Jason Tualima.Find out more