There is so much good stuff going on at the moment within ‘the world’ of D&I and business in Australia, and indeed globally, that at times it is hard just to keep up!! But this is where we’ve always wanted to be, and the results are clear for all to see: greater focus on workplace inclusion and cultural awareness leading to visible results in increased gender representation, diversity audited people processes leading to the rise of Diversity Councils across multi-sector organisations, and the subsequent diversity of thought impacting levels of creativity and innovation within teams, which positively impacts the bottom-line.

These visible results being experienced by organisations in Australia, and globally, is what the Catalyst Awards symbolises, and what the recent conference held on March 28th and 29th this year aimed to visibly celebrate.  Given these positive events, I thought it great for our readers, to interview Heather Price, CEO of Symmetra Diversity Consulting, the aim being to gain a first-hand picture of this year’s Catalyst Awards, and importantly, to understand what business people are feeling and saying about D&I from a global perspective.

The following is a summation of the interview I held with Heather in this regard:

Jude-Martin: “Heather, you’ve just returned from New York where you were invited as a special guest to attend the 2012 Catalyst Awards and Conference. First for a brief context, what are the Catalyst awards, and how are the winners chosen?”

Heather: “Catalyst is the leading gender research and advisory body worldwide, which was established 50 years ago. Once a year, they identify organisations who they think are deserving of an award for their great achievements in advancing women in the workplace.  The assessment process which they use to identify the Global Leader is extremely rigorous and has been linked in jest to ‘conducting a tax audit’ of an organisation. Organisations that win the Catalyst Award, feel extremely honoured for their achievements world-wide, and rightly so! In a nutshell, the Catalyst award is like the red carpet award in the diversity field, it’s like the Oscars of Diversity!” (Chuckling)

Jude-Martin: “From your perspective, how important are the Catalyst awards to the ‘World of Business’?

Heather: “I think that’s a very interesting question. The awards are considered very important to the ‘World of business”, particularly to those organisations that are aiming to position themselves as an ‘Employer of Choice’ globally, wishing to attract and retain the world’s best talent.  I think the importance of the award to the ‘World of business’, was fundamentally underlined for me when I saw approximately 100 CEO’s, from some of the world’s biggest businesses, fly in and attend the awards event on the 29th of March. We had the CEO of Ernst & Young, Shell, Campbell’s Soup, Sodexo, Cocoa Cola, etc present – all big business names – which clearly says that D&I is now at the epicentre of the ‘World business’ space”.

Jude-Martin: “Symmetra’s client, The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), was a winner this year, what role did Symmetra play in assisting them in this big achievement?”

Heather: “Well, CBA had been embarking on a journey to embed gender equity and effect a culture change program since 2004 when they called us in 2010, asking us to provide a solution that would give traction to this process.  They had already, for many years, been conducting D&I training, introduced accelerated development programs for women, set up mentoring opportunities, women’s networks, etc – yet they simply weren’t getting the traction that they desired. At the point at which we were engaged to intervene, they had announced public targets to achieve 35% female representation by the year 2014, and they had heightened Leadership accountabilities by setting up a Diversity Council, which was chaired by the CEO and the Executive Leadership Team. However they realised that they needed to do something to change the hearts and minds of those in Leadership positions. 

After piloting our Unconscious Bias intervention with a group of 40 Leaders, the decision was made by the CEO, Ralph Norris and his Diversity Council, that participation in the UB program would become mandatory for their top 405 Leaders.  In the last 18 months, since

the inception of the program, CBA’s female representation has rapidly accelerated and they are racing towards achieving their target. The new CEO, Ian Narev, has been essential in all this, personally driving the culture change program forward”.

Jude-Martin: “What were the highlights of attending the awards ceremony and conference for you?”

Heather: “The highlight for me was the opportunity to meet and interact with such a large number of Global Heads of D&I from across the world, and learning about the commonality and different challenges that each faced.  I met people from Moscow, China, Sweden – literally from across the world. I even ended up speaking in Afrikaans with a Dutch person!” (Smiling).

Another highlight for me was the tremendous sense of pride I felt for Australia, when the CBA, one of Australia’s biggest businesses, was recognised as a global leader in the pack for workplace gender equity. It is clear there is Thought Leadership emerging from Australia…and of course, I felt personal pride as we had contributed to CBA’s achievements in a very measurable way!” (Smiling)

Jude-Martin: “The Catalyst award attracts Executives and Heads of Diversity from some of the world’s largest and most progressive companies, who come to discuss the latest trends and topics in Diversity & Inclusion. What do you think the next few years holds for this industry?

Heather: “Diversity has been elevated as a strategic item on the corporate agenda in the last few years after languishing in the corridors as a second class citizen for such a long time.  I believe that Diversity and Inclusion will become regarded, increasingly, as a business imperative, placed front and centre in the strategy of many organisations”. 

“I also believe that there is going to be an increasing shift away from a singular focus on previously disadvantaged groups, and more of a focus on ‘Diversity of Thought’ because of the clear links that have been established between ‘Diversity of Thought’ and innovation and higher performing organisations. But it is also very important to mention, that it is not enough to be very diverse without being inclusive. Diversity, now, and going forward, particularly in Australia, will continue to be about penetrating cultures, through challenging the minds and deep-seated attitudes and beliefs of different people actually living in our diverse cities