True flexible working offers a great opportunity for diversity and inclusion

It's time for business to evolve, and reap the benefits that remote working can bring to a workforce, writes Bare Feat Business founder and former PHD regional head of growth and marketing, Chloe Hooper.

In an attempt to avoid lockdown, I have spent the last three months living and working from a van. We have ended up continuously on the move, finding ourselves in some of the more obscure, less travelled places in Australia. Not only has it made me realise the possibilities of remote working, it has also made me consider how much we, as an industry, aren’t really talking to all Australians in our marketing efforts.

Despite its best efforts, the media and marketing industry isn’t as developed as it should be when it comes to creating a diverse workforce. Businesses know there is a huge missed opportunity through under-representation, resulting in the rise of diversity and inclusion (D&I) consultants being hired and RAP plans being implemented. Diversity in our businesses bring fresh perspectives, interesting insights and representative decision making, all essential ingredients when creating campaigns for “all Australians”. Homogeneity is the enemy of creativity.

Some of the most progressive brands in the world have openly announced they will never be asking employees to come into the office regularly. Australian unicorns Atlassian and Canva have described their future of work as purpose-driven, meaning employees will only be asked to come to the office rarely for specific purposes. I have no doubt these are the companies that will reap the benefits of this from a D&I POV, attracting people that don’t fit a city lifestyle. Campaign Brief comments and the ‘Roy Morgan’ Facebook page may joke, but there is truth that 90% of our Sydney-based workforce reside in the inner west and eastern suburbs, most with private school and university education.

From speaking with HR specialists over the last few months, through supporting their mental health initiatives, the two biggest challenges businesses are tackling (other than employee mental health) are:

  • Retention: The great resignation is real
  • Creating a diverse and inclusive workforce

Instead of focusing on these individually, I would start by addressing flexibility policies. Flexibility isn’t an employee perk, but an opportunity to create a diverse and happy workforce that feels seen, heard and valued.

The restraints of ‘you must be in the office from 9-5’ is left over from the factory model of working, and actually isn’t needed in today’s knowledge-based economy. Coming back to the office is an exciting prospect for many, but it isn’t for everyone. Finding the right balance is what inclusion is all about.

We have seen the positive impacts ‘level 1’ flexible working has had on parents coming back into the workplace. But flexible working offers the opportunity to finally address D&I. By limiting the regions where people must live to cities, we are limiting the talent we have access to. And with the ‘great resignation’ in full swing and recruitment going gangbusters, we cannot afford to ignore this new reality.

There are some good initiatives happening in our industry, but they need all of us to contribute. Never Not Creative are working with agency owners and leaders to explore how to improve the levels of diversity and inclusion. They’re currently running exploratory workshops – the first took place with 20 agency leaders in the UK just a few weeks ago. They’re actively looking for more agency leaders in order to run workshops here in Australia. As founder Andy Wright says: “They don’t have all the answers, they’re just getting people together to share ideas and generate solutions as a community.”

We have the potential to unlock diverse pockets of brilliance, but flexibility policies must match D&I policies.

Chloe Hooper is the founder of Bare Feat Business.


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