Not long ago Australians chucked stuff out of car windows without blinking, teased fat kids at school, told ‘abbo’ jokes, laughed at ‘poofs’ and ‘pansies’, giggled when Benny Hill chased women around, called anyone who was different a ‘spastic’ or ‘veggie’ and smoked at home with the windows closed. Things were no different at work where people routinely discarded office and industrial waste without too much thought, avoided employing the disabled and anyone of questionable gender, let women be the brunt of anything men wanted to say or do to them, allowed (even encouraged) managers to be aggressive and heavy-handed – oh, and had an ashtray on every desk.
In less than two decades a series of initiatives; sustainability, diversity, women-in-business, workplace equality and indigenous rights, have converged to become the ‘social conscience’ at a rate of change that is accelerating. As a result, we now live and work in places that are better, fairer and safer and we’re seeing institutionalised unfair business behaviour genuinely giving way to our highest morals and ethics.
On the road to business diversity and inclusion, the challenge is not just to come up with ideas for righting wrongs, it’s to find ways to mobilise these ideas to achieve real outcomes and to make sure that other agendas don’t compromise things along the way. A case in point is the federal government’s Indigenous Procurement Policy set up to leverage 3% of the Commonwealth’s multi-billion procurement spend by 2020 to drive demand for indigenous goods and services. This has created a demand for indigenous enterprises disproportionately higher than the numbers that are open and ready to conduct mainstream business.
Out of this an unwelcome phenomenon known as ‘Black Cladding’ has emerged where established non-indigenous businesses at risk of missing out on government contracts are setting up JV’s with nominal indigenous representation, positioning themselves to reap most of the financial rewards. Black cladding and other cynical tactics by supply companies only prevents indigenous people moving into the real economy in meaningful numbers.
For now this is inevitable because the indigenous population makes up about 3% of the Australian total, but lack of options, education and healthcare makes it difficult for them to suddenly be represented proportionately and fairly in business activities. Herein lies opportunity. By shifting its indigenous focus from welfare to economy, government has tapped into the commercial backbone of Australia – but the chance to do much more is limited. It’s up to the corporate sector to start using its influence, to extend its networks, to untie its bonds, to let go of old prejudices and to make this and all big social conscience initiatives work. Getting it right will require a new kind of determination and effort by companies to transfer skills and enhance the capabilities of people beyond what they’re used to. The WIFM is that this could also be a wise investment into new profit horizons.
The social messages of the 70’s and 80’s aimed at the individual to get us off our couches, start exercising, stop polluting, then the global effort in the 90’s confronting us with the dangers of smoking and the value of preserving our environment and wildlife, then the awakening of the last decade (even if controversial) around the importance of focusing on global issues such as climate change, and most recently, the widening views on social behaviour in our homes and workplaces – have all led to a wonderful opportunity. We are at the precipice of a great socio-economic revival. It is loud and it is personal.
To answer the old coaching cry ‘Just Do Something!’ Well, we are.
Reassign is re-branding as Reassign Group and bringing its social conscience into day-to-day business. Inclusion, Diversity, Social Trading and anything that is best for the world – not just the moment. It’s a sustainable message filled with good intent. We are pleased that the world is changing and in our small way, we will help it. Let’s all be sincere in our approach and recognise anyone who is out to cynically profit from governments and corporate goodwill. We look forward to working with you for our future!