Some of the most frequently asked questions that come up when discussing diversity and inclusion are tackled on this page by the SSSDLN Conveners. Our aim is to help those in the Space, Spatial and Surveying industry in navigating the discussions that naturally arise when championing change in our organisations. We would welcome suggestions for any further questions on diversity and inclusion you may have for the SSSDLN Conveners.
Why do we need a panel pledge?
Many high-profile conferences, events, taskforces and media outlets lack gender balance, despite there often being no shortage of qualified women to contribute. The WLIA (Women’s Leadership Institute Australia) 2019 Women for Media Report snapshot found that only 18% of voices represented in major newspapers’ business pages were those of women; and it is estimated that only 30% of event speakers in Australia are women. The impact of imbalances such as these has consequences for women in leadership, gender equality, organisations and our community.
A lack or absence of women leaders in public and professional forums is a consequence of an entrenched system of inequality. When speakers or contributors are usually men, audiences may be provided a narrow perspective on the issues being canvassed. This lack of diversity limits the quality and range of a conversation, and the potential outcomes or actions that might arise from it. When visible role models and spokespeople are predominantly men, the absence of women and a lack of diversity in leadership becomes normalised. Fewer women choose to speak.
People also have limited access to knowledgeable women leaders they can learn from. Without the opportunity for women to be recognised as thought leaders, women miss out on profile-building opportunities – an important contributor to both experience and recognition of their expertise. The community also misses out on the perspectives drawn from the insights and experiences of women in the community. The invisibility of women of colour, women with a disability or older women further compounds these consequences.
 Source: The Panel Pledge: Gender balance in every forum, https://championsofchangecoalition.org/commit-to-the-panel-pledge/
What’s the role of men in gender equality?
Gender equality cuts both ways. Men may face discrimination or disapproval when taking on career paths, caring responsibilities and activities traditionally reserved for women.
But by and large, men hold positions of power in our community, so it is really important for men to step up beside women to advance gender equality. Change needs everyone and will benefit us all.
For example, men account for only 5 per cent of the early childhood education and care workforce and are radically under-represented in the maternal child and health workforce. This creates challenges for men seeking out careers in these industries.
While many men want to take more equal responsibility in caring for children, workplace practices often prevent or discourage them from taking extended parental leave or from working flexibly.
Men who have better access to flexible work are more productive in their jobs, report higher work performance, cope better with higher workloads, have fewer absences and have lower levels of personal stress and burnout.
 Source: Safe and strong: A Victorian Gender Equality Strategy, https://www.vic.gov.au/safe-and-strong-victorian-gender-equality
What is the difference between Diversity and Inclusion, how do they relate?
Diversity is connected with the mix of people in a group or organisation. There are many different aspects to the diversity of individuals’ identities in a group, which can include diversity in genders and sexualities; in physical or cognitive abilities; in socioeconomic backgrounds; and in cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity.
Inclusion is connected with the extent to which the mix of people in a group or organisation is valued and respected. Inclusive groups are able to work together more effectively, because people in the group feel they belong and are empowered to make their best contributions.
A group cannot be inclusive without also being diverse. However, a group can be diverse, but not inclusive. For example, a committee with a good balance of genders is more diverse than one without that mix. However, if the only members of that committee who feel able to make their views known, lead the group, and influence the decision-making are men, then that group is not inclusive.
Therefore, diversity is on its own not enough; we need diversity and inclusion together to build effective and respectful teams. Nevertheless, diversity is an important first step on the road to inclusion, and many groups find that they can make an important start on increasing inclusion simply by increasing diversity.
What about quotas? Are they good, are they effective?
In many cases, organisations may use quotas to tackle stubborn problems of diversity in the workplace. In 2003, for example, the Norwegian government mandated that all publicly listed companies must have a minimum of 40% female board members in order to address a longstanding lack of diversity in that sector.
Quotas are undoubtedly effective at increasing diversity. In the case of Norwegian companies, for example, all listed companies had reached 40% female board members by 2009, up from less than 4% female representation prior to 2003. Many other countries today employ similar quotas. Although increasing diversity does not guarantee increasing inclusion (see related question above), diversity is an important first step on the road to inclusion and often brings knock-on benefits for inclusivity.
However, despite these benefits quotas are sometimes controversial. Those people who are excluded by a quota may feel their exclusion is unfair. Even those included by a quota may find that their suitability, ability, or value is subsequently questioned by others unhappy with the quota.
The argument most frequently-deployed against quotas is that they may prevent the selection of the “best” person for a job, so the argument goes. Such merit-based arguments usually don’t stand up to scrutiny, however, for at least two reasons:
- Selection processes are subject to biases. We know that humans are subject to a range of unconscious biases that impair our ability to select the “best” person for a job. We tend to feel more comfortable selecting people who look like us, come from similar backgrounds, speak our language, or share our experiences. Most recruitment and hiring processes struggle to correct for these biases, and as a result can’t truly claim to be able to identify the “best” person for a job. Certainly, the clearest evidence that selections in an area are not currently based purely on merit is a lack of diversity in that area (the reason for quotas in the first place).
- Selection processes fail to account for advantage. A person’s qualifications, resume, and track record are a reflection not simply of their abilities, but also of the advantages they have previously experienced. Two equally able people may present with starkly different track records if one has been discriminated against, excluded, and marginalised, while the other has been supported, included, and championed. Some recruitment and selection processes do attempt to document some of these advantages (for example, by assessing achievement relative to opportunity, ARtO, and acknowledging career breaks, disability, and other factors that may impact advantage). However, selection processes largely conflate ability and advantage when assessing suitability for a role, frequently leading to the selection of more advantaged rather than more able candidates.
Quotas can therefore be an important tool in addressing manifest inequity (i.e., where there is a demonstrated lack of diversity), especially when the criteria select for a factor known to relate to disadvantage (such a gender, ethnicity, Indigeneity, language, or cultural diversity).