Envato and Telstra share its ups and downs in achieving diversity and inclusion change
Even companies adamantly striving to make the corporate world a more inclusive and diverse world can stumble. Two companies share their stories.

Envato – admitting it had a problem was the first challenge

Like many tech companies, Envato had a problem. Employing a bevy of technical specialists to build and run its online marketplace – which trades digital media such as Wordpress templates, photos, videos and graphics – it realised its diversity and inclusion achievements were dismal.

“A couple of years ago we decided that we would highlight that problem and follow in the footsteps of businesses like Twitter and Facebook and release our data and statistics on gender, which were poor,” says James Law, Human Resources Director at Envato.

“We needed to positively contribute to changing those numbers and also ensure that the minority of females that were with us felt included and part of Envato in a more meaningful way.”

The Melbourne-born global business employs more than 250 people in technical, marketing, business intelligence and shared services roles. In addition to its direct employees, it has tens of thousands of contributors around the world. Small steps had been made. The business already had two diversity-championing groups that were growing organically within the business. Two male staff started the League of Extraordinary Inclusiveness group because they were frustrated that within their industry there was such a gender imbalance.

“They have come up with some of the ideas that we have implemented around unconscious bias training, more flexibility and baby feeding rooms, and making sure our job ads are not unconsciously discriminating or alienating or not encouraging women to apply. They’re a lot of the brains behind the actions,” says Law of the group, which meets regularly.

A second group – Our Envato – is focussed on LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and/or intersex) inclusion. One of the biggest challenges Envato faced was admitting it might have a problem in the first place. As a progressive company that hires on values – particularly inclusiveness – many assumed it was doing its level best on diversity and inclusion.

“You need to make sure that your assumptions around how inclusive an organisation is are not just assumptions, they are backed up with data and you can prove or disprove that is the case,” says Law. “I would say in 99.9% of organisations there is room for improvement. But if you don’t ask and you assume that there’s not [a problem], you might not be providing the environment you need.”

For now, Envato is focussing on two areas of diversity and inclusion – women and LGBTI. There is also a secondary focus on mental illness. “Doing two things well rather than 10 things badly is our basic philosophy,” says Law. It is, says Law, a “marathon not a sprint”. The business has increased paid parental leave periods for primary and secondary caregivers and is invested in ensuring females and males doing the same role are equally paid. It is also in the process of hiring a diversity and inclusion specialist. A couple of years ago the business had no female developers, now it has five.

“In a team of 60, that’s still a small percentage so we’ve got a long way to go,” says Law. “But… it’s something that we want to be sustainable about. There’s no point implementing some whizz-bang program but then falling away the following year, sustainability is very important for us.”

Telstra – the journey isn't always smooth

Telstra has won a swag of honours – including the respected Australian Human Resources Institute Diversity and Inclusion award – for its diversity and inclusiveness gains. But even companies striving to make a difference can stumble, showing the journey isn’t always smooth.

Telstra openly states that “everyone has a role to play in being more inclusive” and has a particular focus on supporting people of varying sexual orientations. However, earlier this year, Telstra attracted widespread criticism when it appeared to have bowed to pressure from the Catholic Church and withdrew its name from a list of more than 800 companies backing a campaign for marriage equality in Australia. But within a week – following a flurry of complaints and negative social media – Telstra had renewed its “active position” on supporting marriage equality.It was a surprising hiccup for a company that for the last decade has boasted a Diversity Council made up of the telco’s senior leadership team and chaired by the Chief Executive.

“Driven by business strategy, our diversity and inclusion work involves strategic oversight by our CEO leadership team (the Telstra Diversity Council), a council in all 10 business units and partnership across human resources, sustainability, customer-facing, marketing and operations areas to deliver initiatives impacting gender equality, Indigenous, disability, cultural diversity, LGBTI inclusion, flexibility and inclusive leadership,” says a spokesperson for the company.

“Our diversity and inclusion work has, through many years of consolidation, begun to result in measurable outcomes of improved gender balance, a shift in flexible working, attraction and retention of diverse talent into Telstra, customer and community impact and appreciation, and improvements in employee engagement among diverse segments and overall.”

Telstra still has a way to go to reach equal representation on the gender front. Across the parent company and its wholly-owned subsidiaries, 31% of employees are women – substantially lower than the proportion of the overall Australian workforce who are women – 46%. A similar proportion of non-executive directors on the company’s board – 30% – are women. This is well ahead of the average for ASX 200 companies where 21.9% of directors are women. For younger workers, things appear to be improving. More than four out of 10 (44%) of graduates selected to enter the business in 2015 were women.

“Our challenge and motivation has been to integrate an active and effective diversity and inclusion program across a large and complex organisation, and ensure that this can be achieved in the context of measurable outcomes and results,” the spokesperson says.

What good I&D looks like for medium-sized businesses

At Envato, the end-goal is for the diversity of its workforce to reflect the differences in broader society. Women, for example, should make up 50% of the workface, says Law. And all employees should feel equally included and empowered. That’s why the business is putting its staff through unconscious bias training and spending time understanding factors that potentially prevent everyone in the workforce feeling like they belong.

At Telstra, Chief Executive, Andrew Penn, says the path to achieving greater diversity is doing things differently than in the past and putting bold ideas – such as that every role at a business can be worked flexibly – into action. “Innovation and change sometimes comes in flashes of brilliance, sudden light bulb moments. But that’s relatively rare,” Penn wrote in a blog on the topic last year.

“More often it is many small intentional and creative actions, iterations piled one on top of another coupled with a real determination to achieve a better outcome.”