VIEW: Diversity is not just about how one looks

Madison Page is a proud Wiradjuri woman, currently working in the construction industry as a Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Advisor, while also modelling with WINK models. In this interview, Madison outlines her broad-ranging career, from studying marine biology to working with Aboriginal business leaders, as well as her views on diversity – or lack thereof – in the modelling industry.

  • As a Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) advisor, what does your day-to-day look like?

Each day is really different which is why I love it so much. I spend a lot of my time working on tenders and projects coming up with different engagement strategies to ensure we are providing equal opportunity to minority groups. The main minority focus group is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people not only because I, myself, am an Aboriginal woman but because we are mandated by a policy called the ‘Aboriginal Participation in Construction Policy’. I also work a lot with keeping relationships with Aboriginal businesses and Social Enterprises to ensure they are given the opportunity to work on our projects. 

  • What initially drove you to pursue a career in D&I, and how has your interest in this field evolved over time?

Funny story actually! I had studied Marine Biology at university and when applying for an Environmental role at my company I was given the opportunity to work in the D&I space given my previous work experience. I jumped at the idea as any opportunity not taken is wasted. I fell in love with making a difference in people’s lives and encouraging an inclusive workplace. There’s a lot of work that needs doing in the D&I space to break various stigmas and shift ancient mindsets, so it’s a challenge. For now I’m super passionate about what I can do to make things business as usual in the space and encourage change. 

  • You also have a modelling career – what have been your experiences as a Wiradjuri woman in the modelling industry and how do you think the industry currently responds to or embraces diversity?

Since I am white-passing and have been told a lot I look Asian, I have been cast in Asian roles. I understand the industry is very based on looks however, I am not an accurate portrayal of an Asian girl. I think this is where the industry misses the mark.

Diversity is not just about how one looks. When people from different cultural backgrounds come together you get a ‘diversity of thought’. Understandably, the modelling industry does not really require one to ‘think’ per se but it should have accurate representation and equal opportunity for cultures. I have felt terrible for taking opportunities for work from girls who are Asian and have felt very out place when on those jobs. 

  • If you could change one thing about the modelling industry, what would it be? Why?

It would be how biased it is. But every industry has a bias. It’s whether you know someone, how many Instagram followers you have, your height, your shape, your measurements, your look. Granted each client has different requirements but it can be so hard to get your foot in the door when subconscious bias is a thing. 

  • Who are your greatest role models, and what influence have they had on your life?

Growing up I loved Jessica Mauboy because she was an Aboriginal woman who made a name for herself and at the time I wanted to be a professional singer, so it seemed to fit. More so now, it’s my mum. She managed to juggle being a single mum and raising two kids. She’s showed me how to be independent and to work for what you want. 

About the expert

Madii is 23 years old and a Wiradjuri woman who has grown up in Sydney, Australia. She is currently working as the Diversity and Inclusion Advisor for NSW/ACT at a construction company and has worked in the modelling industry. She loves spending my time in the ocean and with friends, and is passionate about making a difference to people and to the planet. 


ADVICE: Why Businesses need to be as transparent as possible about diversity – It’s not about being perfect

After a decade in the technology sector, Gemma Lloyd recognised some key themes about when she was most and least empowered to perform and be recognised for her talents. One of the standout keys to success was having visible female leaders and a workplace environment that consciously acted on diversity and inclusion issues.

This is what led Gemma to develop and build WORK180, a platform that connects recruiters and job seekers, with the mission “to empower every woman to choose a workplace where they can thrive”. From her own experiences and based on research, Gemma started to gather and assess the various attributes that provide an empowering workplace for women.

WORK180 now has 35 different criteria, including flexible working, parental leave and pay equality, where employers transparently list their policies and initiatives on each issue, so potential employees have as much information at hand as possible to make an educated decision on where to apply for work.

The dialogue on transparency is changing

Today, WORK180 partners with some of the largest and most respected enterprises and businesses across Australia, the UK, and the US. But it wasn’t always easy.

Gemma explains, “In the early days, companies asked, ‘What do you mean you want us to be transparent?’ After they had started using the platform, it was easy to show the benefits of transparency. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about sharing what you do and don’t offer. Employees just want to know what they’re getting into.”

Companies that partner with WORK180 experience a range of different benefits. BHP, for example, which has been working with WORK180 for five years has experienced a 21% more engaged workforce and a significant decrease in safety incidents since starting their diversity and inclusion journey.

Gemma says, “I haven’t seen any negative impacts from being transparent. Even if their policies aren’t great. Companies that talk about their improvements, like BHP, speak volumes. That journey is really important. BHP is an inspirational company to look at.”

Diversity can’t sit solely with HR

Gemma has seen a stark difference in success and impact among different organisations trying to get the most from their diversity and inclusion initiatives. Many businesses are committed to closing the gender pay gap, which is bigger for women of colour and women with disabilities, and many businesses also seek to benefit from the innovation and creativity that comes from diverse teams.

Gemma believes the businesses that do this successfully have the entire leadership team involved, with everyone understanding why these initiatives are in place, not just what they are.

She says, “It needs to be driven from the top and driven by all the business leaders. If you want success, it cannot be an HR initiative.”

WORK180 provides an online HR health check for businesses to help them get a full understanding of where they stack up and where they can improve. Gemma encourages business leaders to assess four key areas – policies and benefits, inclusive culture, storytelling and job ads.

She encourages businesses to interview women working at and with the organisation to understand why they are there and how their experience could be improved.

Even during these tumultuous times, Gemma encourages any women currently looking for work to explore the WORK180 platform as many of their clients are still hiring, including Woolworths, Atlassian, BHP, Microsoft and NAB.

About the expert

Gemma Lloyd is an award-winning entrepreneur, whose focus is on empowering women and improving workplace equality.

A passionate advocate for gender equality, Gemma is a keynote speaker, takes part in expert panel discussions and provides commentary for media outlets such as ABC Radio, Channel 7 and Sky Business News.

In 2017, Gemma was a finalist in the Telstra Business Women’s Awards 2017 in two categories (For Purpose and Young Business Woman) and in 2016 won WIT Entrepreneur of the Year.

Also in 2017, WORK180 won the Victorian Innovation Minister’s Diversity Award, Tech Diversity Award Winner in Media, in 2016, won the #Techdiversity Award in the Leaders in Advertising category and was a finalist in the 2015 ARN Women in ICT Awards in the Innovation category.

In 2015, Gemma and Valeria Ignatieva established WORK180, an international jobs platform that pre-screens employers on policies around paid parental leave, pay equity, flexible working and more than 30 other criteria.

Those that meet the required benchmarks are able to join the WORK180 network and advertise their jobs to an extensive audience of talented women. Workplace policies and initiatives are also made public so that candidates are able to see where an employer stands before they apply.

In 2018, Gemma and Valeria launched WORK180 in the UK and a US network is currently being developed.

People: Why Leroy created Dhiira ‘out of necessity’ to humanise HR

Leroy Wilkinson-Maher is on a mission to change the way business leaders think about HR, inclusion and diversity. Having worked in a range of different businesses, he saw first-hand the gap between what was being said and what was being done on the issue of diversity and inclusion.

From these realisations and a drive to act, Leroy started his own business ‘out of necessity’. Here, he shares the journey so far, and why he is so passionate about creating truly inclusive workplaces.

  • What drove you to build Dhiira?

Dhiira was born out of necessity. From my experience working in both corporate and Aboriginal organisations, I saw a stark difference in the intrinsic nature of human resources, what HR represented and how HR was delivered, strategised and executed.

I saw all elements of HR – from advertising and recruitment to policy and performance management – having a completely different ethos. The ‘humanility’ was paramount in Aboriginal Organisations, where they were human first and solutions focused. Meanwhile, HR in corporate organisations were attempting to be human-centric and actually systematically a practising control methodology – ‘How do we place boundaries around our staff as to how they act, be and do whilst representing our organisation?’

This was interesting to me, and being a head of People and Culture, using my experience in both types of businesses I saw an opportunity for HR across organisations to explore the ‘humanility’ once more and question, ‘How do we dismantle the system of control to make it one of true inclusion?’ I come with a First Nations lens but this opens the door and the thought leadership opportunities for other groups of people, be that religious, ethnicity, cultural, LGBTQI+ and much more.

This is the starting point to explore how we value our people as the most integral part of any business. Without your operators you cannot deliver.

Our vision is ‘Humanising HR through Culture’.

  • What have been your biggest challenges in building Dhiira in the last few months, and how do you intend to tackle those challenges?

Dhiira is merely 7 months old. I was fortunate enough to get into the MURRA Indigenous Business Masterclass through Melbourne University and the Melbourne Business School. The prestigious program not only taught me critical business skills delivered in a way that was relevant to me as an Aboriginal man, but also gave me the networks and the collective I became a part of. These people became my brains trust. These people had lived experience in business where I had not.

Without talking on the COVID-19 and global economic impacts of this as this situation is still developing daily, I am not allowing myself to fall into the mindset of fear and anxiety but one of hope and perseverance. My culture is resilient. Survivors and I will survive this.

The main challenge I am facing is forging a new lane for this discussion. This will take time just as it did for Reconciliation Action Plans (RAP) and Cultural Awareness/Capacity Training did for those items now to be regular actions for businesses of all sizes.

There are other organisations out there dabbling in this space. However, collectively we have the challenge of bringing the importance of how HR contributes to ‘cultural safety’ inside businesses and allow businesses to have greater outcomes under their Aboriginal Employment Strategies or targets to make a true social impact whilst reaping the rewards of a happy and culturally diverse workforce.

  • Why are you passionate about Aboriginal engagement and employment? 

I am passionate about Aboriginal Employment firstly as I am a product of Aboriginal Employment Programs. At the age of 15, I was presented with an opportunity by the Aboriginal Employment Strategy (AES).

They came to be when I was in Year 10 and said, ‘Who wants to work at the Commonwealth Bank as a trainee?’

As I was finding ways to spread my wings and gain my independence to alleviate the burden of my financial needs on my family, I asked, ‘Will I make money?’

I also had a goal for myself. As the oldest of a generation I have an obligation to lead by example, to work hard to show my brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews what they too can achieve. This has always been my goal in life and in my career to be a leader, to show what is possible, what can be achieved through perseverance and a dream.

I see Employment as one of the main interjection points on deciding where my life is going and how I am going to spend my time. Employment provides purpose (in most cases), how I am contributing to an overall goal, vision or how am I on the journey with my employer. This comes with the other rewards – the skills you learn, the money you make, the people you meet and the satisfaction you find in self when you accomplish.

Aboriginal Employment is one measure to not only contribute to our communities in hopes to right wrongs that have affected our people over generations but also starts the conversation for how we work together to a brighter future. This will take time. However if you get the opportunity to work next to someone who is profoundly different to you, be that cultural, religious etc. you have an opportunity to learn, to disrupt your own experiential learning to learn about people, about humans.

This is why I LOVE this space; I get to see people being exposed to NEW.

  • In your view, what are businesses most commonly getting right and wrong about Aboriginal engagement? 

If I was to drill down on one fundamental thing I see all the time it is this: The right intention cannot produce real change without the right components.

You can write a strategy, be on a mission for social change however you CANNOT execute without engaging Aboriginal People in your narrative, your strategic development or your execution. Stop undervaluing the cost of engagement, the importance of having the people at your table who can inform you from their perspective, rather than taking your assumptive view of what this may look like.

We need to take one thought in this: ‘We need to do WITH not TO’.

Without being an Aboriginal Person, without the genuine experiences, learnings and ways of being, you will not produce innovation and legacy linked outcomes under your strategies. You need to invest in the right resources to make this work.

  • Looking at the year ahead, what’s your advice to business leaders on effective HR practices?

Now more than ever my advice is simple, in these times we are seeing the emergence of the humanility in all of us being brought to the forefront. Whilst we are facing one of the most challenging times in recent history I have seen both great and terrible human behaviour, however remember to be human, in the way you think, in the way you interact, in the way you lead.

When we return to normality, and it will happen, we need to carry the lessons of the past with us, what we saw, how we felt, and your employees will be looking for human leadership.

Join us on the movement to humanise human resources through a first nations lens and capitalise on the potential of your people through a workplace that shines all different colours.

About the expert

Leroy is a Worimi and Ngarrindjeri man born in Taree, regional New South Wales, and having spent the majority of his life in Newcastle, New South Wales, Leroy is a young Aboriginal leader that has a passion for innovation and positive change.

Leroy has had a successful Executive Leadership career in the Aboriginal Not-For-Profit Employment sector with a background in Banking and Finance.

Leroy is the Founder and Managing Director of Dhiira Pty Ltd, an Aboriginal Consultancy Business focussing on bringing true inclusion into the HR realm through ‘Aboriginal HR’, Humanising business through Culture. With Leroy’s lens on the world being one of opportunity not challenge or obstacle he is forging a new lane.

Leroy is an innovator, a creative, a fresh thinker, non-conventional, far too energetic, does not have an ‘inside voice’ and is on a mission to change the game and flip the script.