Optimising inclusion and diversity in the public sector: an evidence-based approach  

By Judy Lundy

Wednesday January 19, 2022

A modern, diverse and inclusive workforce brings a wealth of organisational benefit. (tirachard/Adobe)

The case for a diverse public sector workforce with a social infrastructure supporting inclusion is compelling; indeed, a number of national governments have recently issued strategic orders for a renewed focus on diversity and inclusion. 

It is clear that without a modern, diverse and inclusive workforce — one that not only represents differences but where people of all identities can contribute as full and valued members — public sector organisations will fail to leverage the wealth of benefits offered, such as greater agility, alternative perspectives, greater creativity and innovation, and enhanced community responsiveness, to name but a few.  

But how do public sector organisations successfully embed inclusion as deeply as diversity into their culture and practices? 

There is now a practical and evidence-based answer to this question. Motivated by the gap between recognising the benefits of diversity and inclusion and realising them in practice, researchers from Edith Cowan University have developed the Diversity and Inclusion Capability Maturity Model (D&I CMM).

Capability maturity models are self-assessment tools designed to assist organisations in understanding the potential of different approaches and self-assess their strengths and weaknesses (their ‘maturity’) in given areas against current and future objectives. 

The D&I CMM provides public sector organisations with a practical, evidence-based and — most importantly — ‘next-practice’ approach to ensuring diversity and inclusion become guiding organisational principles. The tool offers a comprehensive yet simple way for organisations to self-assess their current approach to diversity and inclusion, using professional judgement and informed by widespread collaboration and rich data while allowing them to create a roadmap for where they want to be and how they need to get there.

Incorporating four key, evolving maturity levels of diversity and inclusion approaches — compliance, managerial, integrative and transformative — the D&I CMM addresses four functional areas that need to be addressed to embed diversity and inclusion into the workplace successfully: drivers/focus, responsibility/leadership, measurement, and mechanisms and defining features. 

Each maturity level of the D&I CMM increases in its potential to deliver enhanced outcomes for public sector organisations, incorporating key and required elements of the previous levels while expanding to engender a truly inclusive and diverse workforce setting. 

The first and most basic level is the legalistic, HR-dominant compliance approach, focusing on complying with legislative requirements. Actions at this level are primarily reactive; conceptualisation of diversity is limited and inclusion — if considered — is a secondary concern. 

Second is the managerial level, where diversity is leveraged primarily for organisational advantage and the notion of inclusion is largely espoused, not enacted.  

The third level, the integrative approach, involves more robust interactions between people and processes, with inclusion becoming an integral and integrating component. At this level, primary responsibility shifts from HR to organisational leaders to drive and build an increasingly inclusive work environment.

The final level adopts a ‘next-practice’ approach. Rather than relying on ‘what we know’ (i.e., often outdated, current best practices), a next-practice approach is about looking to the future and being prepared to ‘do things differently’. This transformative level focuses on adapting and responding to emergent and often disruptive technological and social changes, such as COVID-19. Driven primarily by inclusive and relational leaders at all levels, the organisation harnesses an individual and collective sense of belonging, with people operating in an environment where they feel genuinely valued for their uniqueness and difference.

Grounded in industry-based studies and academic literature, the D&I CMM’s recognition that inclusion is often an afterthought combined with its integration of a ‘next-practice’ approach set it apart from other diversity maturity models. Moreover, by distilling the core operating elements at each level, the D&I CMM offers public sector agencies a practical tool to create fit-for-purpose diversity and inclusion strategies, allowing them to plan for level-to-level transitions.

Public sector organisations that embrace diversity and inclusion as guiding principles set themselves up to better engage with diverse communities and provide enhanced solutions to contemporary public issues. 

Despite the strong business case for increasing diversity and especially inclusion across public sector workforces globally, fully optimising these has proven elusive. The D&I CMM supports public sector leaders and managers in better-informed decision-making, enabling them to adopt a strategic, ‘next-practice’ approach to realising and leveraging the full benefits of diversity and inclusion.

Interested readers can access the full practice-focused article here


This is an adapted version of an article published in the Australian Journal of Public Administration.

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