creating a balanced and diverse workforce

There is an overwhelming business case for diversity (see article 6.8). Lack of diversity is a close relative of discrimination, so it’s important for employers to know what discrimination is and take steps to prevent it in the workplace.

In addressing initiatives to make the workplace more diverse, the guiding principle is: positive action is legal, but positive discrimination is illegal. According to a recent LinkedIn international survey, diversity is the biggest game-changer in hiring and the most embraced trend, with over half of companies already tackling it head-on and 78% rating it the most important aspect of recruitment today.

Nearly half (49%) of employers surveyed for ‘LinkedIn’s Global Recruiting Trends 2018’ focus on diversity to better represent their customers. Other key reasons cited by respondents included “to improve company culture” (78%) and “to improve company performance” (62%). Diverse groups are more open and make better decisions using their range of skills and perspectives; homogeneous ones tend to stick to one way of doing things. 

In a 2017 survey by PwC, 54% of women and 45% of men surveyed said they researched if a company had diversity and inclusion policies in place when deciding to accept a new position. A further 61% of women and 48% of men said their decision to accept an offer was influenced by their observations of the diversity of the company’s leadership team.

achieving a balanced workforce – what’s legal, what’s not

It is illegal to treat someone applying for a job more favourably than another on the grounds of the protected attributes, unless there is a genuine occupational requirement for doing so. Protected attributes include: race, disability, age, gender, religion/belief, marital status, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender reassignment. 

It is legal for employers to achieve a more balanced workforce by using positive action, entirely voluntarily, to recruit or promote someone with a protected characteristic. However, there are three important provisos to consider:

  • the person in question is as qualified as other applicants. This may be difficult to ascertain, particularly in non-technical or more senior roles where candidates’ experience is likely to be more varied, which could lead to challenges from unsuccessful candidates
  • the employer does not have a policy of treating persons of the particular under-represented or disadvantaged group more favourably in connection with recruitment than persons who do not share the relevant protected characteristic
  • the more favourable treatment is a proportionate means of achieving the aim of overcoming or minimising the disadvantage, or encouraging participation.

targeting under-represented groups

Employers can also focus their recruitment activity in particular areas to encourage more applicants from under-represented groups. For example, advertising vacancies online and in publications with a high readership among a group with the protected attributes needed to create a balanced workforce.

Although organisations may thus encourage applications from under-represented groups, subsequent selection procedures must be non-discriminatory. It is acceptable to set a target figure to achieve a balanced workforce – but not to set a quota, which involves only employing people from under-represented groups or favouring them throughout the application process.

Each Australian state and territory has a local anti-discrimination body, which regulates and investigates breaches of state and territory anti-discrimination laws. For contact details in your state or territory see

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