24 November 2021

Are we selling ourselves short with the goal of 'diversity'?

| Zoya Patel
Join the conversation
People standing around a woman in a wheel chair

Real diversity should go beyond stock-image optics and result in tangible, meaningful change. Photo: Canva.

It’s one of those words that seems to be dripping from the mouths of every progressive-minded or savvy professional with a LinkedIn profile – the need for ‘diversity’, in leadership, in government, on boards and in our national identity. Diversity of gender, sexuality, race and culture, ability, experiences, all of it.

Gone are the days of boardroom photos, advertising or corporate marketing materials that only feature white men and fail to recognise the many other groups that make up our communities.

Although some will undoubtedly continue to question its merit, the concept of diversity is necessary.

The power structures in our society have been skewed towards white men for too long, and the need to have representation from different parts of our communities to ensure equality and inclusion makes sense. But while that sounds good in theory, what it looks like in practice is harder to pin down.

READ ALSO NCA approves $500 million War Memorial redevelopment’s main works

If anything, focusing on ‘diversity’ has made it quite easy for organisations and governments to ‘brown/pink wash’ their images by bunging more women and people of colour and others into their photoshoots without meaningfully addressing inequality in their organisations.

As long as we keep the conversation centred around ‘diversity’, we’re also reinforcing the assumption that the majority is white and male, which is the starting point to diversify from. This centres on the dominant existing power structures and only allows minorities to participate from the margins.

So maybe it’s time we stepped away from diversity and set our aim higher?

It wasn’t that long ago that our understanding of inequality in Australia was nascent, and calling out sexism, racism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination was a risky and difficult thing to do. Sticking your neck out to stand up for equality meant being labelled as a troublemaker, argued with, and told that you were ‘too sensitive’.

READ ALSO Spy agency looks to ANU for cyber security recruits with new scholarship

While identity politics and political correctness are bemoaned by conservatives for supposedly destroying our ability to have any fun, those of us who didn’t find the dominant sexist, racist, homophobic context to actually be that much fun are grateful for the progress that has been made. But now that we’re further down the track in moving towards a more equal and inclusive society, is it time to move beyond ‘diversity’ towards economic, social and political equality, and demand more from the systems that hold power?

When we talk about diversity, we do two things: first of all, we suggest that the only problem at hand is a lack of people from different identity groups in the room; secondly, we place the onus and responsibility on those people to represent their entire communities despite them remaining in the minority. It’s a neat way of escaping any responsibility for the injustices that have benefited the status quo, and it means that once visible diversity is achieved, no further action is required.

Suppose we recognised that diversity is just the very first step in the process. In that case, we could call for meaningful change for equality that would benefit more than the small group of individuals chosen to represent their demographics in leadership positions.

READ ALSO Ngunnawal Street Pantry providing formal dresses so everyone feels special this festive season

For example, what if, instead of only asking for more women on boards, we asked companies to also implement gender equality policies that include comprehensive parental leave offerings and domestic violence leave entitlements?

Or what if instead of only wanting to see healthcare providers show non-white patients in their corporate branding and advertising, we also lobbied for more funding to be made available to translating and interpreting services to ensure patients who have lower English-speaking skills are getting the care they deserve?

Or what if instead of demanding that a company implement an LGBTQIA+ network for staff and leaving it at that, we also asked for the provision of gender-neutral bathrooms in all corporate offices? These tangible changes will make a difference to people’s actual experiences on a day-to-day basis and go beyond feeling represented in media and imagery.

We’ve reached a point where people largely accept that a lack of diversity is a problem – but now it’s time for us to ensure that the solution goes beyond optics and towards tangible, meaningful change.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Cath Roo Grassick said “Even today in Australia we are sill seeing significant gender pay differences.”

No we don’t as it is illegal to pay someone less due to gender…

Cath Roo Grassick6:44 pm 26 Nov 21

Suggest you do a bit of research. Gender pay gap is still an issue.

It all sounds a lot like “Animal Farm” to me.

Its called identity politics & it can lead to absurd results. If Norwegian heritage is found in 2% of the population organisations should ensure they employ 2% of their workforce with Norwegian heritage.

And BTW groups only agitate for equity about desirable careers. Haven’t seen too many feminists agitating for 50% gender equity for plumbers or welders.

Frankly franky, you didn’t look too damn hard, did you?

Straw men litter the comments here. Not sure too many people read the article to understand its point before launching their pet prejudices into the ether.. It is exactly about “recognising people as individuals with their own lived experiences” rather than “the window dressing we currently get”.

Cath Roo Grassick8:16 pm 25 Nov 21

???? @phydeaux Thank you.

Cath Roo Grassick8:17 pm 25 Nov 21

Sorry Phydeauz my first comment didn’t translate properly. Yes absolutely agree with your comment.

No it isn’t. Not even close.

Phydeaux please tell me the difference between an experience and a lived experience.

In terms of ‘numbers’ caucasian people are a minority group around the world. So are many indigenous people. You could be considered a ‘minority’ in one country, and yet part of the ‘majority’ in another country. That is what makes it ridiculous to introduce ‘diversity’ policies. Making special exemptions or hiring someone just because of their skin colour or their cultural beliefs; is actually very racist to do so (unless it is for a particular job that requires a special identified person eg. Indigenous health or church clergy etc). Diversity policies are more about virtue signalling, rather than actually genuinely caring about disadvantaged groups of people in society; for example around 10% of Australians suffer from a mental illness, and yet job descriptions and organisations never include, prioritise or cater, to them. I’ve also yet to see a job description or organisation that prioritises employing homeless people.

Cath Roo Grassick8:12 pm 25 Nov 21

Firstly Joriel diversity policies are not introduced globally so your concern is not valid. They should reflect the environment they are constructed within. Targets that have been established on a national basis do not reflect a persons skin colour or cultural belief. The current primary Commonwealth targets are established based on legislative discrimination frameworks and the population/make-up of this country to ensure all are fairly treated ie indigenous, women, CALD, Disability (specific targets for LGBTIQA+ is not legislated specifically bar broad capture under the sex definition in federal legislation). They also demonstrate the need to ensure we have services provided that reflect the community being served. Additionally these groups should have equal opportunity in these workplaces and at times they are elevated to ensure traditional barriers do not restrict them from participating.

You mention mental illness but do not note that it is required under Fair Work legiation for reasonable adjustments to be made in the workplace (and this is identified in job advertisments) for people that may suffer from some form of disability. In addition most government organisations and some private have established Disability Networks to support the people you have identified as not having any additional assistance.

So no ….it’s not virtue signalling.

Correct, ‘diversity’ policies are not applied worldwide, which is my exact point. They are a made up fictional concept that is not based in reality. Someone can identify themselves as a ‘minority’ in Australia (e.g. let’s just say an Asian person), but the reality is that they are not a minority in the world at all. It is simply not true. If the same person went to Asia they would be amongst the great majority of people and suffer no pretend ‘disadvantage’ whatsoever. The same standard does not apply for example if an African or caucasian person went to India and self identified as a ‘minority’ and wanted special treatment, they would be laughed at, and not prioritised for anything; and that is the correct and logical position to take. You cannot have people being given special treatment over others because of how they decide to ‘self identify’. What we are doing in Australia is definitely virtue signalling, and it is really not helpful to society. It is racist and actually creates division, and is inequitable. It allows people to self identify as a ‘minority’ (a made up group not based on evidence or in reality) and receive special treatment over others, which only leads to division in society – division is not diversity.

Cath Roo Grassick11:15 am 26 Nov 21

Unfortunately Joriel even if I am in a majority in some mystical land of your imagination , right here where I work I am not. As such diversity and inclusion are essential for fairness and not virtue signalling if it means I actually get a fair go amongst the boys clubs.

It shouldn’t be up to the majority to change to bend over backwards to cater for minority interests.

People should recognise that rather than the constant rent seeking and expectations that the world should revolve around them, that as an individual it should be up to them to fit in to societal norms which are always going to be dictated to by the majority.

Although I agree with the complaints about the way businesses and government’s handle “diversity” currently.

Instead of the window dressing we currently get, if we actually promoted real diversity, we would be recognising people as individuals with their own lived experiences rather than trying to assign people into groups as though it fully defines them.

Then we could do away with the current discriminatory practices that are allowed to be promoted under the guise of diversity and have true equality.

Cath Roo Grassick11:06 am 25 Nov 21

If you actually considered the make up of the community, the “majority” is an artificial construct in some environments that has been established because of policies and cultural norms of the past. So to suggest that the majority shouldn’t have to have to bend over for minority interests is speaking from a privileged position. Using gender as an example, women make up 50% of the population but that is absolutely not displayed across most workplaces or even in the way services are structured for them.
Policies and practices that support the ability to pursue career opportunities equally while also recognising the general role of females as the primary care givers is a positive strategy. Conversely and positively this would have other benefits such as also opening up opportunities for the acceptance for more males to take on the primary carer role so there are benefits both ways.

Diversity should be about equity not equality. You do this first and then you can move toward equality of individuals and thuer lived experience. But don’t be mistaken to think that by targeting specific groups to improve representation is somehow discrimination. It simply means throwing your lasso wider to capture more applicants for example in places you wouldnt tradiitonally look. Merit still applies. Don’t undermine people’s selection and the value they bring because of the ‘use of diversity practices’.

Using your example, why do you think that women should represent 50% of the workforce just because they are 50%ish of the population?

That’s the exact type of mistaken thinking I’m talking about that lumps people in to meaningless groups assuming they are all a homogeneous entity.

The facts are, individual choice plays far more of a part than any perceived power structures in these outcomes and women represent less of the workforce because they choose to.

“Diversity should be about equity not equality”

I disagree entirely. Using “Equity” is now just code to override individual’s free choices to create an environment that promotes outcomes over opportunities. And this new push for “equity” seems to have been increasingly driven by activists who once they achieved equality of opportunity now want to change the goalposts because individuals didn’t suddenly act how they thought they should.

“But don’t be mistaken to think that by targeting specific groups to improve representation is somehow discrimination”

It’s not mistaken thinking, it literally is discrimination that certain progressives now try to rationalise into a good thing because of the cognitive dissonance created.

And you need look no further than how selectively these “diversity” pushes are applied to see exactly how intellectually dishonest it is. For example, using your gender example, you’ll almost never see a push for more men to enter into areas traditionally dominated by women or for more women to enter into lower status traditionally male sectors.

I’m a bloke, Chewy, and I was born with a disorder called ADHD. I also measure as a genius on IQ tests (? 196!!!!).
This did mean that I was prone to surprising people – and correcting senior people who were wrong – in meetings.

During a later stint in the Public Service at the HIC/Medicare/PBS I made it unnecessary for most* people to go to Medicare / their Private fund for rebates – in 1994 IIRC.

And, I eliminated the necessity going to Medicare / your Private fund for rebates.

I had a degree by then, in Mgmt Science with a Major in Info.Systems. And had tutored in IS from Sem2 onwards. Indeed from year 2 on they had to put me on salary. In between Semesters I would return to my ‘casual’ job at Big W Woden as door-greeter!

(Why? we were still paying off our mortgage!)

But, I was discriminated against before that – despite being selected – after doing the CPS Entry Test – to join a group called Policy Development & Situation Analysis at Dept Trade & Industry. Because back then I didn’t ‘have a degree.’

I also led the way in introducing the use of Mini-Computers and Mainframes for measuring our economic performance. It wasn’t hard to do, but it did cause some amazement!

I also managed to introduce measurement of the extent of Import Competition with ‘Apparent Market Supplies’ which was adopted by the ABS, and the Tariff Board and it’s Successor the Industries Assistance Commission.

? The ABS Classification for locally MF’d goods barely matched, if at all, the International / Customs classifications for imports.

Tim Bailey

Cath Roo Grassick7:38 pm 25 Nov 21

Tim a great example of the value of diversity and having different thinkers instead of a recruiting in your own image!

Cath Roo Grassick7:53 pm 25 Nov 21

1st question for you Chewy is why shouldn’t they be? But what I was referring to is that they should be given 50% opportunity which they currently don’t as the workplace has been established and set up primarily for a different group. When you dont naturally receive the privileges of the dominant group, this is not meaningless as you claim.

Your statement that women choose not to be part of these workplaces simply because of individual choice is a very privileged mindset and is completely wrong. There are many barriers that still exist including thinking such as yours.

You also misunderstand that the want for equity follows equality. If you honestly believe that equality has already been achieved then you really are looking through rose coloured glasses. Even today in Australia we are sill seeing significant gender pay differences. Equity is about providing more assistance to some groups than others. So yes it is a form of discrimination but one that used in a positive sense to achieve equality through equity. This is a recognised and accepted practice around the world.

I have no issue with people being judged equally and to be able to make individual choices but you need to be able to do this if everyone has had the opportunity to start from the same point. I for one are absolutely supportive of seeing more male teachers and nurses and more female tradespeople which these days is hardly one of lower status.


Tim’s example shows what can be achieved if we value the true diversity of the individual instead of attempting to lump people into meaningless groups or promoting discriminatory hiring practices.

That individual experience and choice is far more relevant.

As a clearly white male, under the author’s (and apparently your own) preferred policies, Tim would be classified as “privileged” and thus should be discriminated against because of his membership of that group regardless of his individual experiences or merit.

Under an “equity” model, this would be seen as a good thing.

Cath Roo Grassick11:11 am 26 Nov 21

Tim wouldn’t be considered privileged and by your comment you show your misunderstanding of the concept. Chewy I suspect you have benefited throughout life as a male, perhaps even a white male, so to suggest everyone should just start from the same point now displays your profound lack of understanding. When you have had to deal with real barriers as a minority then you would understand the need for equity. Until then we are not at point. When we get to the same starting point then I have no issue and I agree about individuals competing as an individual. However right now I am really struggling to understand your want to compete against those that are currently well behind you in terms of access to opportunities and standing on one leg….or does say something about your perceptions of your own ability to compete.

“But what I was referring to is that they should be given 50% opportunity which they currently don’t as the workplace has been established and set up primarily for a different group.”

This is completely wrong and is exactly the type of goalpost shifting I’m talking about.

The system isn’t set up for any particular group, it’s mostly about maximising economic outcomes. And I find it hilarious that you think men are somehow “privileged” because if you applied the same type of thinking you are using around women, the conclusion is that men are forced to carry the economic load of society whilst women are privileged with significantly more choice.

In reality though, both men and women individually choose what suits them, they just genrally at a societal level have different priorities.

“Even today in Australia we are sill seeing significant gender pay differences”

Except we aren’t. As per my previous comments, there is no gender pay gap, just an earnings gap that is fully explained by individual choice.

If you actually read the research on this issue, you see how quickly the headline pay gap statistics fall away once scrutiny is applied to the data and why the difference occurs. Almost none of which is due to discrimination.

“Equity is about providing more assistance to some groups than others.”

And this should only occur based on need, not some imaginary grouping that assumes for example that every man is privileged or every woman is disadvantaged as you are doing.

And once again, I’d have more respect for your position if it was universally applied to all areas of societal difference and need. But it isn’t. In the oppression Olympics, the victim narrative is set for certain groups and can never be changed no matter what is achieved.

I love how you assume you can tell my background and experience because of a couple of comments.

You couldn’t have highlighted my point better.

Once you lump people into groups, based on meaningless traits, you can assign them labels and traits regardless of their individual sufferings or experience.

By your own argument, Tim would have benefited from “privilege” as a white male, so you’d have no problem discriminating against him, in fact you’ve already done so by putting forward things like discriminatory hiring practices as a good thing.

The hypocrisy would be galling if it wasn’t so predictable.

Cath Roo Grassick6:44 pm 26 Nov 21

Good lord you know how to turn a fable don’t you. Oh well I have explained this ad nauseum and you still don’t get it. Ultimately those that do get it are the ones who don’t get to enjoy privilege as you do. I’ll certainly continue to be fighting for those that don’t even if it is galling to those that enjoy privilege. Ultimately a fairer world delivers for everyone….even you. Ciao.

I get your illogical and hypocritical points, I just don’t agree with them.

A fairer world does deliver for everyone so it’s a shame that you continue to promote inequality and wear it like a badge. Enjoy your privilege, I’ll keep fighting for true equality.

Au Revoir Roo.

If I had just half of your IQ and was a jet at math like you, I would be very happy. I’ll buy 50 IQ point off you. Deal?

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.