“If you asked businesses as little as a decade ago about diversity and inclusion, they would have looked back at you with blank faces,” Zahra told Inside Retail.
“We’ve come a long way since then and the retail industry has a lot to be proud of with the steps they’ve taken to create more diverse, equal and inclusive workplaces. But there’s more to be done to create long lasting change.”
Leaders from The Iconic, Kmart, Coles, Woolworths, Costco, Cotton On, Officeworks, Country Road and JB Hi-Fi join the aforementioned businesses as part of the committee.
Zahra described the committee as a “platform for change” and believes that it will allow retailers to share and learn from each other.
“We’ve brought together a coalition of influential retail leaders to advocate this agenda. Businesses represented on the committee have their own diversity and inclusion initiatives, and they are to be applauded,” he said.
“It’s important we continue to share and learn from them and ensure key objectives are met. Together, we will have a united voice and be a champion for a more diverse, equal and inclusive retail sector.”
Officeworks MD Sarah Hunter told Inside Retail that she’s looking forward to working as part of the group.
“We value the importance of diversity and inclusion at Officeworks, including the sense of belonging team members feel when they are valued and accepted. It’s an important part of our commitments towards the safety, health and wellbeing of our team,” she said.
“The Diversity committee is a great initiative by the Australian Retail Association and I look forward to contributing and sharing knowledge to ensure we have inclusive working environments in the retail industry.”
Leading diversity and inclusion expert Natasha Stott Despoja, has been named as a specialist advisor to the committee. She is the founding chairperson of Our Watch, a foundation to prevent violence against women and their children, and has been Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls. Elise Sharpley, who leads national Workforce Strategy, Planning and Analytics practice at Deloitte, a strategic partner of the ARA, will act as chair.
The ARA said the committee will “walk the talk” with clear action and advocacy to support all retail employees to feel valued, through individual, organisational and industry change. The leaders have also agreed to set measurable objectives and that they will maintain accountability over results.
Its goals include defining an “authentic vision across the retail industry” and committing to specific priorities; taking a public stance on social issues that impact employees, customers and the community, and working as a unit to implement “progressive, powerful and durable change” across the retail landscape.
Diversity in Asia Pacific
Many of the retailers involved in this initiative have already established themselves as progressive leaders in this space.
In 2020, Woolworths Group took the top spot in Australia in the Refinitiv Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Index, placing 48th on the global list. Woolworths was recognised for its continued focus on LGBTI inclusion through its “Proud” network, refugee employment programs, and the company’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).
Nine Australian companies from a range of industries made the top 100, including supplements company Blackmores, but there was a noticeable lack of retailers on the list.
According to Refinitiv, the cultural diversity of board members globally has increased from five years ago but has stalled at around 30 per cent. The average board in Asia Pacific is 12 per cent female, behind the global average of 19 per cent. The report found, however, that Australia has the largest overall percentage of female managers in the region.
Data also showed that businesses in Malaysia and Singapore are becoming more diverse.
“Our data also found that Malaysia and Singapore have seen an 89 per cent and 88 per cent rise in board gender diversity respectively over the last five years, which are among the largest increases in proportion of women on boards globally,” said Vernice Moh, managing director, ASEAN at Refinitiv.
“While there is still room for Southeast Asian countries to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce relative to global and regional peers, transparent reporting of D&I data and targets will enable ASEAN companies to share best practices and further the region’s progress in the years to come.”
Leaders involved in the ARA’s diversity committee include 7-Eleven CEO Angus McKay, The Iconic CEO Erica Berchtold, Kmart MD Ian Bailey, Mecca MD Jo Horgan, Coles CFO Leah Weckert, Bunnings Group MD Michael Schneider, Cotton On CEO Peter Johnson, Officeworks MD Sarah Hunter, Mimco MD Sarah Rovis, JB Hi-Fi CEO Richard Murray, Woolworths Supermarkets MD Natalie Davis and Costco MD Patrick Noone.