Walking through the floors of the broadcaster SBS on Tuesday was like taking a trip to the United Nations – men and women of every hue and age group working together.
The chief executive officer, Michael Ebeid, guesstimates that about 70 per cent of his people have a non-English-speaking background, which shows that diversity really isn’t too hard if you really set your mind to it.
Of course, SBS is a multicultural broadcaster, and so having native speakers of foreign languages is part of its purpose. However, even SBS has found it necessary to adjust the balance of its diversity recently, in order to reflect the changing ethnic mix of the Australian population.
The broadcaster’s decision in April to change its radio schedule was not without controversy or pain. It meant reducing the number of programs broadcast in some of our older immigrant languages and increasing programs in Mandarin, Cantonese, Hindi and Punjabi.
Changes also had to be made to staffing. Some people had to go and others were hired.
While other organisations set up working groups, hire consultants and stress about improving the diversity of their employees, SBS shows that a focused management team can just do it.
This was a point also made on Wednesday by one of Australia’s most respected directors, Graham Bradley, who urged companies to stop procrastinating.
Bradley was launching a set of guidelines that aim to help organisations with their gender-balance performance and reporting, under the new Workplace Gender Equality Act.
“Companies cannot continue to ignore the reality that not enough is being done to advance women into leadership positions. The findings of the 2012 Australian Census of Women in Leadership report makes it very clear that while companies are hiring, training and developing women from the ground up, they are failing to arrest the significant shortfall of women in middle to senior management,” Bradley says.
The guidelines are provided by the Women on Boards organisation as a practical and relevant framework to help organisations measure, report and improve performance in relation to gender balance.
Women On Boards (WOB) executive director, Claire Braund, says the guidelines aim to get beyond the tick-a-box approach to reporting.
“While there has been some progress addressing gender imbalance at board level in the ASX 200, the same cannot be said for women in senior management roles. In fact, less than one in 10 key management personnel in the ASX 500 are women,” she says.
“If anything, we appear to be going backwards, as the number of women in senior executive positions appears to have peaked at 12 per cent in 2006 and since reduced to 10.1 per cent in 2012. Clearly, we need to make some strategic and structural changes in how we work in this country.”