7 essential issues for employers when considering vaccine mandates for employees

How to make workplaces so inclusive people won’t want to leave

By Elizabeth Shaw and Jay Greensill

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Following multiple waves of the pandemic, leaders across the country are struggling to re-engage and reconnect with their workforces. Bringing employees into diversity and inclusion activities is a meaningful way to connect over shared values, create unique collaboration opportunities, and work towards a higher purpose.

The so-called ‘Great Resignation’ is not just a US phenomenon. In Australia, many organisations report that their employees are disengaging and leaving in record numbers. The talent contest, already fierce before the pandemic, is as tough as it’s ever been.

The shift towards hybrid work has only made the challenge more complicated. While some employees have welcomed these new, flexible ways of working, for others, the loss of human connection and spontaneous interaction has led them to disengage from their colleagues and their work. Given the pandemic has changed the engagement playbook for good, many organisations are now looking for more meaningful ways to connect with their people.

Leaders know that organisations that live and communicate their values and purpose are typically better able to attract and retain diverse talent than those that don’t. A powerful way to demonstrate purpose and reconnect with a workforce is by refocusing on diversity and inclusion efforts. This is particularly important for industries and occupations hit hard by the pandemic and also in sectors facing increased scrutiny over workplace safety and misconduct.

But the ‘way’ that organisations approach D&I really matters. The secret is to involve your employees in the process.

Employee involvement in working groups, change initiatives, and D&I networks, such as a Pride Network or a gender equality network, can add significant value to an organisation. Employees can serve as change champions embedded into different business areas, raise awareness of important topics, provide feedback on proposed policy changes, and bring people together in discussion and celebration. If harnessed correctly, engaging employees in D&I initiatives can also help people feel connected, included and empowered to drive important change.

Having helped clients across multiple organisations and industries to develop their D&I Strategies and Employee Value Propositions, we have seen some great examples of organisations engaging their people effectively. But we’ve also seen cases where it can go wrong, where networks and employees are not sufficiently supported, empowered or enabled to make a difference.

Here are eight key principles to adopt to make sure that employee engagement in diversity and inclusion is a success:

  1. Engage and support senior leadership: Leader sponsorship can make or break employee engagement initiatives. It’s essential to have your leaders’ backing to create influence and momentum across the organisation. But senior leaders have a lot on their plate and need to be supported in their roles as sponsors. There must be clear expectations and accountabilities to ensure leaders are set up for success.
  2. Align to the organisational D&I strategy: This seems like an obvious point, but it is surprising how often employee initiatives are developed in isolation and lack strategic intent. Employee initiatives should always align with and contribute clearly towards the organisation’s D&I goals.
  3. Recognise employees for their efforts: If organisations say that they value diversity and inclusion, they also need to value the efforts to achieve it. Employees who lead and drive D&I initiatives should be recognised, formally and informally, in line with other business performance incentives.
  4. Use data and information to focus effort: Too often, we find D&I initiatives target problems that don’t exist or are not the most critical areas that need to be addressed. The most effective interventions are data-driven and evidence-based. Providing employee networks and working groups with relevant insights, such as results from culture surveys or key findings from exit interviews, helps align effort with areas of need.
  5. Adopt a collaborative and intersectional approach: Individuals can experience discrimination on multiple intersecting identities, such as race, gender, disability or sexual orientation. So it’s important to ensure that D&I initiatives don’t take a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Thinking broadly about intersectionality helps elevate D&I initiatives to focus on broader inclusion and cultural change, creating a better work environment for more people.
  6. Value employees for their expertise: Employees are best placed to understand the key issues in their area. But too often, organisations fail to harness the insights within their workforce. Bringing together passionate people across the business, for example, through employee D&I networks, has real benefits. These two-way communication networks provide a way to leverage employee input on policies, procedures and people experiences and act as a platform for change champions.
  7. Be rigorous around measurement, evaluation and accountability: As well as aligning with the D&I Strategy, employee initiatives need clear objectives and measures. These should be reviewed periodically with a focus on continuous improvement. It should be clear who is responsible for delivering what.
  8. Integrate with the broader organisational purpose: Bringing D&I into the organisation's 'main game' should be the ultimate goal. You'll know you're there when D&I is 'baked into' everything you do and inseparable from organisational value creation, rather than just a series of change initiatives.

With increased turnover and scarce resources, leaders are under greater pressure than ever to retain talent and foster an engaging and inclusive work environment. One of the best assets to help them get there might be right in front of them. Leaders should harness the passion and interest that many of their people have for diversity and inclusion. Creating genuine opportunities for employees to lead D&I initiatives will not only engage them but also accelerate progress across the organisation. The outcomes benefit everybody.

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Elizabeth Shaw

Partner, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consulting, PwC Australia

+61 402 853 852


Andrew Tran

Diversity & Inclusion Director, PwC Australia

+61 2 8266 7888


Contact us

Sally Woodward

Partner, Legal Leader, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 410 576 501

Norah Seddon

Partner, Tax, Asia Pacific Workforce Leader, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 2 8266 5864