PEOPLE: Leading inclusion for thousands of staff and an ecosystem of millions of customers

It is well documented that more diverse teams generate more revenue and innovation for companies, and can also be positive drawcards for new talent, yet many companies are still struggling to development and implement effective diversity and inclusion policies.

In this interview, Ross Wetherbee, Talent & Inclusion Leader at TAL, shares how he and his organisation are addressing diversity and inclusion with staff and stakeholders, how these approaches have evolved throughout the pandemic, and how they are looking ahead to drive diversity and inclusion across the organisation in 2021.

  • What is your approach to measuring the impact of your diversity and inclusion policies at TAL? How do you know when something is or isn’t working? 

It’s important for organisations to focus on creating an environment that promotes diversity and inclusion.  

When it comes to encouraging diversity and inclusion in the workplace, leaders can’t just ‘talk the talk’, they also need to ‘walk the walk’. Fostering diversity and inclusion starts at the top and business leaders have a critical role to play in bringing diversity and inclusion to life. 

At TAL, a real marker of success internally is seeing our leaders and the broader business taking ownership of inclusion and diversity. For me personally, I feel very proud when I see our leaders really thinking about the diversity of their people and being thoughtful and considerate in their priorities and what they promote within their teams.  

From a metric perspective it is also important to measure the diversity of your people – what are their backgrounds, who are they and how included they feel as part of the team. This ultimately helps us to stay on track. 

  • Have you ever had a ‘failed’ diversity or inclusion policy? If so, what happened? 

Not personally, or professionally, however it is important that when you’re designing an inclusion policy or strategy, that you consult your people. It’s also of utmost importance that when a policy specifically addresses the needs of a particular group of your people, that they are at the centre of its design.  

A number of years ago at TAL, we introduced standards and procedures to support any of our people affirming their gender identity at work. In creating these we did so in close consultation with our TAL Pride (LGBTQ+) Employee Network in addition to consulting with external experts to provide additional guidance. The end result is a document that not only supports individuals, their manager, and team, but also the broader organisation to understand the experience of others.  

  • As a large company, there would be a broad range of views across the organisation. How do you address situations when someone is not supportive or is dismissive of the D&I work your team is  doing? 

As an organisation, TAL’s inclusion priorities are determined by our people. This ensures that they are reflective of our people’s needs and what they want to see the business prioritise. It’s important to understand that large companies are made up of an incredibly diverse group of people and customers. This is what makes large organisations great – we can ensure that we truly reflect the diversity of our customers to meet their needs. 

For me, it is of great importance to focus on inclusion for all of our people, and not only the specific priority areas to address. It’s critical that everyone at TAL feels they can be their true selves at work, in order to unlock their potential and enjoy a rewarding career. 

  • How has your team’s approach to diversity and inclusion evolved since the pandemic? 

The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the importance of maintaining a strong company culture and the role that diversity and inclusion play within that. Despite the challenges experienced since the pandemic began, business leaders must ensure they continue to prioritise initiatives and invest in resources, so their teams remain diverse, inclusive, and equal. 

Through the pandemic I have seen leaders bringing their teams together virtually in some very thoughtful and creative ways. Through what has been an extremely challenging time, as an organisation we have learnt how to pivot quickly to maintain connection with our people and there are some practices that I am sure all  organisations will continue into the future – namely more consistent access to different ways of working, and utilising technology platforms to better work as a dispersed organisation. 

At TAL, we have a strong track-record of commitment to inclusion, diversity and belonging for all of our people and this has not changed since the pandemic. We take a considered approach to understanding our progress in the diversity and inclusion space and we participate in external benchmarking programs like the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s (WGEA) Employer of Choice for Gender Equality and Pride in Diversity’s Australian Workplace Equality Index. These insights are then overlayed with feedback from our people as we value the opinions of our people and we want them involved in our decision making.  

As an organisation, prioritising a commitment to diversity and inclusion and creating a sense of real belonging for your people enables to you achieve better results. 

  • How are you seeing conversations around diversity and inclusion changing and what does this mean for corporate Australia in 2021 and beyond? 

Creating change and momentum in diversity and inclusion is a process that requires conscious thought and investment. Businesses need to encourage people to be themselves by celebrating people for who they are. This is an ongoing process and one that requires constant support. Measurement is a critical marker of success, and clear measures to track efforts when it comes to diversity and inclusion can help organisations stay on track.  

Diversity and inclusion is not something that can be implemented overnight, and it takes time to get it right. It took a long time to get to this conversation, so it’s no surprise that it’s going to take a bit of time to manifest real change in the space. 

The future is bright, and I look forward to continuing to see more positive conversations being had around  diversity and inclusion.

About the expert

Ross Wetherbee is Talent & Inclusion Leader at TAL, a leading Australian life insurance specialist. At TAL, Ross is accountable for group-wide Diversity & Inclusion, Talent, and Emerging Talent strategies and programs.

Image description: Ross is wearing a navy collared shirt and a red ribbon badge. He is in an office in front of a blurred TAL logo, which is green in capital letters.