Talking Diversity with the RBA Deputy Governor

In 2016/17, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) refreshed and launched its new diversity initiatives by creating employee driven resource groups. These Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) have been key to driving the diversity and inclusion agenda. Each ERG has an executive sponsor and chair and consists of 15 to 30 active members.

There are six ERGs and each champions a different aspect of the RBA’s diversity and inclusion strategy, namely;

  • Accessibility
  • Flexibility
  • Gender equity
  • Indigenous Australians
  • LGBTI+ Allies
  • Race and cultural identity

We interviewed Guy Debelle, the Deputy Governor of the RBA, on the diversity initiatives, and explore how they came about, the impacts, feedback) and what lessons they have learnt in the process.

Tell us about your role, within the RBA as well as around the diversity initiatives.

Along with being the deputy governor of the RBA, I chair the RBA Diversity and Inclusion Council, which coordinates the activities and approach to D&I. I’ve been in this role for two years, which is about the same time as the ERGs. Although the RBA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion has been around for much longer, it is now getting a lot more attention and clarity through the new structure. We are tapping directly into our staff and their enthusiasm for the issues, there is a real desire for change and it’s now about drawing those resources out.

What have been the results and feedback of these initiatives, positive and negative?

On the more obvious and visible front, we have an indigenous Reconciliation Action Plan. One of our first actions was to have the Aboriginal flag flying from the building. Truthfully, we were a little late to the party – the indigenous flag on top of the building was something most other agencies were already doing, we were the exception in not flying it before now. We have an intern program in place for indigenous students, which is working well and staff in the ERG spend time with indigenous communities across the country. As a side note, we also source our coffee cups from an indigenous company.

Regarding disability and accessibility, this has been readily accepted; it’s very clearly a good thing, so there’s been no negative feedback there. We have two interns as part of the Stepping Into programme. This programme provides university students with a disability an opportunity to complete a paid internship of a minimum of 152 hours during the semester break.

The gender equity and flexibility ERGs – they’re somewhat integrated, for example gender looks at job descriptions, and makes sure that none of them affect flexibility or discriminate by gender. We’ve moved to flexibility as a default position, rather than employees having to make requests for flexibility. Of our 1,362 people, 52 accessed our purchased leave scheme and 35% of that group accessed the scheme last year. In addition, 45% of employees accessed carers leave. We’re also looking at pay differentials; seeing where we are compared to other agencies, talking to others about their successes and seeing what is and isn’t working to learn from that.

The race and cultural identity ERG: this has been a source of positive interaction with the Human Rights Commission. What we’re doing is looking at the Census data around diversity in the Australian population, to assess where we sit comparatively, and see if there are any gaps or issues.

On the LGBTI front, we’ve participated in the Mardi Gras parade, and renewed our membership with Pride in Diversity, a not-for-profit employer support program for LGBTI workplace inclusion. We’ve sent ERG members to their national conference; staff participate in their workshops and roundtables.

All the groups have done such a great job. They all participate in a great speaker program, whereby we regularly get in speakers to talk about each of the issues, about how other organisations overcome these types of challenges, and what issues they are currently experiencing. It really increases visibility. We have cultural awareness days and staff engagement is high. For those directly engaged, it’s been great; they are recognised for their participation.

Has there been any pushback on the initiatives?

Largely, no. Most of our people agree that it’s simply the right thing to do. Race and culture, accessibility, flexibility, LGBTI, indigenous representation – people here are very comfortable with these initiatives and there has been little negative feedback. The only interesting feedback/change has been on gender. Last year in our engagement survey, men indicated that they thought women had the same opportunities as men, women indicated that they had less. This year both say, they are disadvantaged to the same degree!

What do you think is driving men to feel disadvantaged?

In previous years, our target for women in management roles was 35% women; this year we reached 34% and have now increased the target to 50% Through this statement, we are indicating that things are changing. The target could potentially be perceived as disadvantaging one group over the other. This is not a new conversation. The gender ERG, having been around much longer, knows best how to deal in this space. I suspect we’re not alone here. I don’t think we have anything unique, I think other organisations have similar problems and programmes. Mostly, outside of isolated instances, these changes have been positive and well received.

What are three pieces of advice you would give to other organisations or agencies?

First, use your employees! They’re a great resource; because our ERGs are well structured, it conveys to our staff that as an organisation we are invested in the programme, that it isn’t just a HR initiative. It helps the groups feel validated, provides them comfort, and it lets them know that they’re being supported by the administration and executives.

Secondly, tap into the enthusiasm of staff. The people who are in the ERGs are very passionate about the one that they are in and use their discretionary effort to get things done. They know that it’s the right thing to do, they know what they want from their workplace, and they want to get involved. So definitely, utilise the energy and motivation of the staff.

Thirdly, well, at this stage of the process it’s not hard to do. We’ve been late-comers on this front, which has had its advantages. We haven’t repeated the mistakes that others have made. Talking and sharing has been a great advantage, and looking at things that didn’t work elsewhere has meant that we’ve avoided pitfalls of other agencies and organisations. There are so many resources available; Reconciliation Australia, LGBTI organisations, on the accessibility front there are many resources to help there as well, like the Australian Network on Disability – there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

For more information, contact Jacinta Evans


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