Rather than assuming I know (and can count) ‘people like you’, maybe it’s time we appreciated that identity is much more complicated (and valuable) than that.

For the longest time, we’ve ‘counted’ diversity.

For just as long, it’s bugged me.

We simplified the nuances of people down to a percentage of the workforce and put people in singular boxes. A certain percentage of women, First Nations, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD), of each age group, from the LGBTI community, with disability, with neuro-diversity, and with veteran status, just to name a few.

Lots of very specific boxes and a percentage or ‘headcount’ attached to each one.

From there we designed Diversity and Inclusion Strategies for each group.

In doing so, we paired down the amazing complexity and possibility of each of us into homogenous blobs of ‘people like us’. In creating these easily digestible tag lines and campaigns, at some point, with good intention, we stopped appreciating that each group has massive diversity within it.

The high-profile examples sounded something like this:

  • “Childcare is the biggest issue for women”
  • “All people with disability need reasonable adjustments”
  • “All First Nations people have an agreed set of ideas on the future and national identity”
  • “All CALD people have strong views on religion and language”

While we yearn for simple slogans with clear messages, the reality is more varied and complex.

Only 71% of women will have children, and even then caring responsibilities are increasingly shared across a family, however it may be structured.

People with disabilities want work and careers, and the ‘reasonable adjustments’ are really just one small aspect to get their foot in the door.

First Nations people are suitably as diverse in needs, wants and opinions as any other part of society.

The CALD community is literally from the whole world, and sometimes second or third generation, so ‘language’, or even religion, is a very varied issue across the group.

So, we moved to ‘intersectionality’

To give our diversity counting system more flexibility, we then decided what people needed was access to more than one box. This is where ‘intersectionality’ entered the room.

Instead of one box, like gender or culture – we allowed people to sit in two boxes, like culturally diverse women.

We then developed strategies for women, strategies for CALD employees, and strategies for CALD women and multiplied these by every possible intersectionality, across the long list of recognised – and counted – diversity buckets.

And diversity and inclusion got so complicated, and expensive – with every action requiring its own budget and resources.

Volunteers abdicated their ‘second job’ (often done after hours) of voluntarily leading employee networks, and companies responded with long discussions about recognising volunteering, but eventually acknowledged that while appreciated, volunteering was rarely recognised in the talent processes.

At the same time, Executive Teams and boards, despairing at the pages and pages of ‘strategies’ declared a ‘priority list of diversities’, that sounded like ‘only First Nations, women and CALD could be supported this year and disability will be next year’.

Things got complicated, fast.

In all that, we forgot four really important things

  1. We are all really unique. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.
  2. Diversity and Inclusion is a long-term societal system issue, not a one-year plan.
  3. We have lots in common, regardless of how different our differences are.
  4. Diversity is a strength to be leveraged and appreciated, not a weakness to be accommodated.

Let’s unpack just a little.

We’re all unique

No matter what box you count me in, I’ll have a unique opinion on a topic, that could be totally contradictory to the majority of others in my box.

For example, let me use my own circumstances to make the point. For my husband and I, based on our own childhoods and lived experiences, we decided to navigate childcare our way. Three children, three countries, a corporate career and an entrepreneurial business. We made it work in a way we loved. I may be a woman, but there are bigger diversity issues that sit on my agenda for women and also more broadly for society. For me these have always been socio-economic diversity (and its strong correlation and often unrecognised correlation to opportunity) and disability, from a lifelong passion after the quality of life for everyone and from having a special needs child. You won’t know that about me, but I do. Ask me and I’ll let you know how I identify and what matters most.

So, from all of the boxes we’re put in by others, we actually hold the unique weighting on what’s most significant. We understand our differences, our work needs and our life preferences. We’re also equally capable of joining these discussions, with contrary views, and finding different solutions than ‘one size fits all’.

Diversity is a long-term societal issue

I always love the ‘this year’s diversity agenda is X, and next year we’ll do Y’, as if X, unsolved for hundreds of years, was going to be completely resolved in the particular budget period. This all came from the ‘business case for diversity’, and trying to slot what is a complex social issue into an annualised agenda. An action, a budget, a result, a tick off the list, and on to the next!

This mindset and way of thinking is so ingrained in how we all do business, that it’s no wonder we just picked the frameworks up and took them across to diversity. But an annualised agenda doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

You don’t have to read much to know that First Nations issues have been fought in every country, since ‘the others’ arrived. So, in Australia, that’s 1770. I’m not sure who’s doing the budgets, but any positive change in this area is likely to take longer than the annual commitment, and considerable more thought and action than a ‘plan-on-a-page’.

All in all, beyond just creating more boxes, it becomes obvious that we need to find a different way to think about diversity strategies, that went beyond the ‘business case’ or weighing up of one diversity against another?

We have lots in common, no matter how different our differences

When we look at diversity strategies at the aggregate, they all follow the same path.

  • Ask 1 – let me have a job and a chance at a great life
  • Ask 2 – let me do it well, and make my life a little better
  • Ask 3 – let me progress and grow, so I can have bigger possibilities
  • Ask 4 – let me bring all of my unique experiences and views to do it differently, and perhaps better than someone without my uniqueness

So when you put these threads together, writing a D&I Strategy, starts to look something like this:

  • Step 1 – ensure recruitment allows diverse people in
  • Step 2 – make sure people have the agency over their work to do it well
  • Step 3 – ensure everyone is supported, coached, and mentored to grow, and that they’re expected to. Always assume that everyone wants to grow and will want possibilities as much the next person
  • Step 4 – get to know your people so that they can confidently bring everything they’ve got

Diversity is a strength to be leveraged

When you look at purely accommodating difference, you miss the whole point. We live in a diverse and wildly interesting society, and it’s rich because of that.

It’s rich because we’re not all the same, but we are all of equal value. We have the same human right to work, the same need to contribute well and do our best, the same need to participate in work as a route to economic freedom, participation and a great life.

Work is just one aspect, but it’s pretty fundamental.

So, what’s the answer?

We think it starts with a different approach. We’ve been thinking about it and working on it for years, and this is simply where we have landed.

You need three data points:

  1. Census
  2. Identity
  3. Belonging


It starts with a simple census. Who is on your team, mapped against society? How are you lining up? This is the good old-fashioned ‘counting people’ stage. If you’re missing a whole group of people or they’re grossly under-represented you need to know and you should be getting back to that recruitment piece. Where are you getting people from, and what’s stopping everyone else from getting through?

You want to represent society, not just because it’s good for business but because it’s good for society too. Diversity (with the right conditions) brings new and bold ideas or solutions that can shift your team, your organisation and society more broadly through any situation. After all, we’re all of equal value and hold equal potential to make a difference.


Now you need to understand how your people see themselves.

With all of the different and multiple boxes your people fit in, what is most important to each of them? How do they define their identity? How do they weight these differences?

Now, you’re seeing how identity works, as opposed to boxes just being counted. It’s the different combinations, different bridges to each to each, and different perspectives that change our lives, our experiences and our contributions.


Now you know who’s here, and how they identify, it’s time to deeply understand what matters at work. How are they going inside your organisation? Are they able to thrive? And if not, why not? How are they impacting each other? After all, work is the ultimate team game, and it’s how all the different positions and possibilities come together that create a dynamic and winning combination.

What are the data points or measurements?

After all of this, there are just two data points or measurements that matter:

Identity. A census that is ‘weighted’ by the individuals themselves. Not who you think I am, but who I know I am.

We call it a Diversity Identity Index.

Belonging. These are the aspects shown to impact on an individual’s ability and confidence to fully participate and contribute at their best. It’s that wonderful feeling where your unique differences are appreciated and playout to allow you to reach your potential and play your best possible role on the team. Just as importantly, it’s where everyone relies on you to bring your best.

We call this the Belonging Index.

And when you map Identity against Belonging, you know what’s working and what’s not for every person, and so often, despite all our differences, it’s the same things. Whether it be broken recruitment not allowing great diverse people in, broken work tools so people can’t participate properly, broken talent and development so people cannot grow, or broken culture where people don’t feel that perfect combination of safe and accountable.

When you measure Belonging it’s about creating the roadmap for how to get the four diversity strategy steps right, and how to do that in an evolving way over time:

  • Step 1 – ensure recruitment allows diverse people in
  • Step 2 – make sure people have the agency over their work to do it well
  • Step 3 – ensure everyone is supported, coached, and mentored to grow, and that they’re expected to
  • Step 4 – get to know your culture and make sure it enables people to confidently bring everything they’ve got

That’s the roadmap, that is never ‘done’. You must be continuously reassessed, considered and understood, in step with every evolving societal expectations. Not an ‘annualised agenda’ – but a new way of putting diversity at the centre and in the DNA of how you and your people come together.

Call us

I’ve never finished a blog with “call us”, but it’s time.

We’ve worked on this for so long. There’s now a way to stop ‘counting people in one box’ and to start understanding and deeply appreciating difference, and then leveraging everything those differences bring. And best of all, we’re finding that it’s simplifying the complex old approach to diversity. And when you do this you create an integrated approach that sits right in the heart of how you do great business, with great people.

Our Culture Dashboard will give you deeper insights and more understanding of culture and possibilities than you’ve ever had before, and Belonging and Identity are at the very core of that dashboard.

As we reach this point and stop counting people in very tiny boxes and start genuinely appreciating all they can bring, please don’t tell us it’s too hard. We all live complicated, vibrant, lives and are part of communities and societies that infinitely richer than a set of boxes. We’re also all capable of bringing these unique strengths and stories to work. And besides, the way you’re doing it now is a) too complicated and b) not working.

Call us.

This topic is beautifully bought to life through the “All That We Share” campaign created by TV 2 Danmark. If you haven’t seen this video, we highly recommend that you take 3 minutes now to watch this amazing video!