Ideas in Action

December 2, 2016 | Posted by: Laura Mahoney

Thinking about diversity

Cube stands with the community in taking action to end violence against women and children. During this year’s Victorians Against Violence 16 Days of Activism campaign, we’ve had the pleasure to attend several important events discussing the issues of family and gendered violence, diversity and equity. We encourage everyone to get involved during this campaign – more information can be found at   

We think it’s the perfect time to reflect on the inspiring discussion of diversity in sport at our 2016 Grand Final Breakfast, with special guest Chelsea Roffey, the AFL’s first female Grand Final goal umpire. 

Grand Final week marked the end of a season of change for the AFL. A historic Western Bulldogs win, Jimmy Bartel’s beard and the conversation about domestic violence, the launch of the AFL women’s league, the inequitable pay deal for the female players, the first female field umpire, and at least one woman on every AFL board except the Gold Coast Suns. It has been a big year for thinking about social change, fairness and diversity in the AFL, a situation reflected across the country and a range of other industries, in one way or another.

At Cube’s annual Grand Final Breakfast, we were lucky enough to hear the thought-provoking Chelsea Roffey, the AFL’s first female Grand Final goal umpire, share her views on the importance of diversity, and what we can do to help move things along, both within the sporting world and outside it.

A few of the things she said have been playing through my mind since then – especially the importance of diversity being visible and the need for a ‘critical mass’ of a minority to disrupt group-think and effect genuine change. For me, these two things have helped frame the argument for quotas and targets in a different way. I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the idea of quotas, always believing that any achievements of mine should be based on merit alone. But the older and wiser I get, the more I realise that it is not merit or ambition or personality that is holding women back from the most senior positions; it is unconscious bias in recruitment, succession planning and board appointments. Until people see that someone unlike them can do the same job, and can benefit the organisation or group, people will not be appointed through merit alone and therefore women will continue to find it difficult to break into senior ranks and non-traditional areas.

The importance of visible diversity

A requirement for at least one woman on a board, a senior executive team or any other type of structured group may not generate immediately tangible outcomes, such as, increased revenue or improved performance. In fact, to think it may is to place an undue burden on the individual involved who is likely dealing with a range of other challenges. However, the indirect benefits of increased visibility are highly valuable, especially to younger generations and other people aspiring to similar positions.

The Brownlow provided a perfect example. A primary school aged girl was interviewing players on the red carpet – one of the players commented that she could have his job in the future, her response? ‘No thanks, I’m going to play in the Women’s League’. Chelsea Roffey, in her speech, stated that she began thinking about becoming an AFL umpire when she saw a woman umpiring a football game during her teenage years. Young women in Australia will now grow up knowing women can be Prime Minister, having seen it for themselves and all female public servants know that being Secretary of a department is a definite career option.

The need for a critical mass

The harder part is moving beyond the idea that having one woman or minority member of a group is enough to demonstrate that an organisation embraces diversity. One person is a start, equal representation is next. That is where the idea of a critical mass or ‘tipping point’ becomes interesting, and brings the question of quotas or targets back into play.

Research has shown that a minority, such as women, need to have a critical mass of representation on a group to disrupt the group-think, effect change and be accepted as individuals who bring their own ideas and opinions. Without a critical mass, the risk is being ‘the women’s representative’ and it follows that targets or quotas and an associated reporting and monitoring process are sensible ways to get there. Thinking and wishing are nice but they don’t achieve anything. Targets, monitoring and publicising are far more effective methods to get the change we need as organisations and as a society. There are plenty of qualified, capable women who can fill these positions, it is now a matter of making sure organisations see this and enable this, so that it becomes a normal way of running a business, rather than something that needs to be heralded or applauded.

There was one final observation Chelsea Roffey made as a result of the work she undertook through her Churchill Fellowship. While she was conducting research in Sweden she was often met with blank stares or a lack of understanding of her questions regarding improving women’s representation and equality in the workplace. Over time she realised why, women’s equality in Sweden has been standard for so long, people of both sexes can no longer comprehend how the world could operate otherwise. There is no need to incentivise or mandate gender equality, because it already exists. This is the outcome we want for Australia.


*This article was first published in October 2016, following the 2016 AFL Grand Final.

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