Workplace diversity: going beyond gender Friday, 03 February 2017

Opinion piece by Trang Pham GradIEAust.

Trang Pham GradIEAust is a civil engineer with the Queensland Government and Chair of Young Engineers Australia, Queensland. She has been actively involved with Engineers Australia since her University of Queensland Engineering and Business studies. A passionate advocate of the STEM professions, Trang aspires to create an inclusive community where young engineers can feel connected to industry and to their peers in order to empower and foster growth in their careers. 

It has been said that your workplace should reflect the market that you represent. With Australia being such a richly diverse nation, why do our companies rarely reflect this?

In recent years, there has been a greater and more public focus on increasing workplace diversity, with rising numbers of companies actively working to employ more women and espouse the benefits of diverse workforces. However, diversity involves more than just balancing a gender ratio – what we’re missing from our discussion about diversity are inclusion and intersectionality.

Without an understanding of what intersectionality is, we cannot have a truly inclusive workplace and industry. Applying intersectionality to discussions of diversity involves considering a range of social factors beyond gender, including race, sexuality, age, class, religion, ability, and many more categories and combinations. The term ‘intersectionality’ recognises that everyone’s identity is a multitude of these different categories and identities that interrelate with each other simultaneously, representing membership to categories where conditions of oppression and privilege co-exist. For example, I am an engineer, but also a woman with Vietnamese heritage, an Australian, a young home owner, and an advocate for the revival of the apple crumble. As you can see, all our experiences create a multidimensional and complex person that we bring to the office every day.

Many of the existing frameworks and support networks are focused on the current status quo within the workforce. You’re forced to segment your identity into traditional categories, which means you’re involuntarily made to compartmentalise the ‘diverse’ parts of your identity away. Identity erasure has tangible effects in a workplace – employees may avoid discussing personal or professional problems with their manager if they fear prejudice from being open about a major part of their life, potentially leading to a downturn in productivity, poor mental health, and a lack of engagement with their work and colleagues. If individuals cannot be their authentic selves in their organisations, and their concerns are not addressed or heard, these employees may ultimately need to leave, costing organisations time and money in terms of replacing lost corporate knowledge and addressing associated staff turnover.

As such, companies need to be designing new programs that look beyond one variable of someone’s identity if they want to create a truly inclusive workplace.

But, how can you help?

We all need to be open and accepting in learning about the differences in others’ perspectives and backgrounds and to recognise and embrace the differences at every level of a workplace. Become an ally, especially if you’re in a position of power, and loudly advocate on behalf of someone who otherwise would not have an equal voice. Use your platform to help move the discussion forward in creating an inclusive workplace that recognises the positive contributions that diverse people from our community bring.


Image: Trang Pham GradIEAust (left) with Hon Karen Andrews and Sebastian Torralba GradIEAust at an executive breakfast.