Seek and you shall find, that is a phrase many of us have been taught many times over. It is that philosophy that Seek.com.au has created itself in, best known as Australia’s largest job search website. They recently hosted #QueerAndA a twitter forum on the topic of diversity in the workplace with some of Australia’s largest employers; Australia Post, NAB, Hobsons Bay City Council. I caught up with Seek’s HR Director Meahan Callaghan to understand more behind #QueerAndA and what diversity in the workplace really takes? This is our conversation.
Meahan, at what point did diversity in the workplace go beyond just a good business idea?
I saw the impact on a much deeper level when a person I knew was considering suicide because of a traumatic experience he was going through in his family and their lack of acceptance. Being in human resources, quite often people share their personal situations in the event that we can help. To be honest, it can be very difficult to listen to someone say they’d prefer to commit suicide than go through what they’re going through. That experience showed me, first hand, a problem far bigger than pure acceptance, and I saw the impact of acceptance on a level I hadn’t before. It made me very angry.
In the Twitter #QueerAndA forum, the tangible benefits of diversity in the workplace were touched on. Can you expand on the business benefits?
One, it permeates a culture of acceptance on all levels. People see acceptance in one form, then it helps people come forth with other matters, and then mental disability can be raised, gambling can be raised and physical disability can be raised. It not just for the LGBTI community, it’s a culture of acceptance that allows for multiple benefits to come to the forefront for everyone.
The second benefit is you have a bigger talent pool. Everyone is looking for the best person who has the required skills, and if you are accepting of them then you can benefit from them as opposed to those who choose to not accept them.
An accepting culture usually achieves more because the culture is just more accepting of a lot of things. You see better performance, I don’t have any evidence for it but eliminating discrimination from the organisation eliminates a whole world of problems like court cases and saves times. Instead of fighting each other, who is gay and who is not, it’s a much better idea to put that energy into creating something worthwhile for one’s customers.
For those who are sceptical or deny that diversity in the workplace is important, what would you say to them?
I would appeal to their decency and remind them that accepting people of the LGBTI community is apart their job. It just is. It is also arrogant to assume that you know what everyone’s sexual orientation is and it’s dangerous to assume because while some people declare their sexuality, the fact is a lot of people don’t. It’s just extremely naive and dangerous thing to do. If somebody in human resources is doing that, then quite frankly they’re not doing their job.
If a Human Resources team want to write an LGBTI policy for their workplace, what would you advise as they embark on this process?
My first tip would be, not to write an LGBTI policy because it implies that you have a problem. Unless you’re planning on writing a policy for religion, age discrimination and all sorts of things then you’re singling out a group who don’t want to be separated. My second tip would be to do a lot of research with professionals who have experience in this area. Remember the definition of discrimination is treating somebody different than you treat others just because of who they are. Sometimes by writing a policy like this you may inadvertently treat them differently.
Can you share one of your favourite moments from the #QueerandA twitter forum and why?
I don’t have a favourite moment, but I what I loved was how happy people were to share. I thought it was terrific when they said “as a gay man…” or “as a lesbian…”. Everyone’s tweet was responded to and no one was discriminated against. I felt no one had to be careful and I thought it was very accepting.
Is there anything you are particularly proud of in regards to the work achieved at Seek and standing for diversity in the workplace?
The thing I’m most proud of is, at Seek, you can fall into this community and never tell Seek. We’ve never pushed people to declare their position. I think it speaks volumes we’ve respected their privacy. We don’t force anyone to waive the flag, we’re just very accepting of everyone.
I remember when we supported the Trevor Project, we were working with an external organisation who advised that if we supported the Trevor Project it would make all our customers run away. We took their advice to the board and the board said, “well, we don’t want those customers.” I was pretty impressed, I must say.
Looking at both sides of the spectrum, what has been the most difficult thing for people in the workplace when it comes to adjusting to a diverse and inclusive environment?
We can educate and inform people but unless you’ve walked in their shoes you really don’t understand. We can keep educating people around it, but it is hard for people to understand. It’s not easy and I don’t want to pretend that it is. We’ve had a few people gender transition and that’s extremely hard because you can’t go up and say I know how you feel. We simply don’t know how they feel, so I think one of the hardest things is accepting that it is extraordinarily difficult and not pretending that it’s easy. Unless you’ve been a gay male or female you can never assume what it’s like to walk in their shoes.
For LGBTI people who work in secrecy, fearful of losing their jobs for simply being gay, what words of encouragement do you have for them?
I would say that I absolutely empathise and that unfortunately it is a reality. If someone is remaining in secrecy, fearful of losing their job, it means they may have seen something that tells them that it’s likely. I would encourage them to find a better a place, to seek one that is accepting. A workplace that doesn’t just say it on their website but you know that the culture is accepting. Of course, you can hold on to your job until it gets better but it possibly won’t change fast enough for you. So it’s okay to look for another job, don’t be afraid to have a plan B.
When you’re leaving, I would also let the organisation know why you’re leaving. Let them know because you don’t know whom you’re leaving behind and who else is working in secrecy.
If you had a magic wand, what world would you create?
I can’t imagine. I just can’t. What I do know is that it would take a leader from the LGBTI community. If you look at Iceland, where they have the worlds first openly gay Prime Minister, there’s been huge change in that country. If I had a magic wand, I’d put someone from the gay community in charge of Western countries and see if that drives better outcomes.
Gay Aussie and on behalf of our followers, thank you Meahan Callaghan.