Speaker: Jennifer Westacott, Business Council chief executive
Event: 2022 Australian LGBTQ Inclusion Awards
Delivery: Friday, 27 May 2022
Thank you, Jeremy.
Before I start can I also acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we are meeting on today, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
It is such an honour to be here with all of you today.
As many of you know – this is really one of my favourite days of the year.
I want to congratulate all the winners so far and those to come – and acknowledge my Pride in Diversity co-patron and friend Alan Joyce who unfortunately can’t be with us today.
I’m also looking forward to handing out some of the awards.
Events like this don’t just magically happen, so can I please thank the team for their dedication and tireless hard work.
I want to single out Mark Latchford to thank him for his outstanding work, particularly over the last few years when it has been so difficult to engage with people.
Mark has ensured membership has been active and growing – and world class programs are running.
He has truly taken this organisation to another level.
Today is also made possible because all of us here share in a common goal – a vision of a more accepting Australia.
And while we continue to make important inroads in the fight for greater inclusion and diversity – we know there is much more work to be done.
This year our Australian Workplace Equality Index received over 47,000 responses – with about 8,500 people identifying as LGBTQ.
Only 59 per cent of this group was out – down from a high of 67 per cent pre-Covid.
On a positive note, this group is being subjected to less inappropriate language since the last survey.
And while historically, gay women were less likely to be out than gay men – for the first time, it appears the degree of outness in this survey is the same.
Regional workplace inclusion indicators still lag behind the city but we’ve seen significant improvement in the past year which shows the conversation is reaching regional communities.
And finally, in regard to sexual harassment in the workplace, the LGBTQ experience is more prevalent than for straight colleagues.
Given all of this – as we look back over the past few years and all that we have weathered – the focus from organisations on promoting greater tolerance has been an important touchstone in our society.
On so many important issues – climate change, mental health and diversity – it is our workplaces that are leading the way.
Employers in both the private and public sectors are continuing to step up to provide safe and welcoming workplaces – whether that’s for our:
- LGBTQ community
- people in violent relationships
- those battling mental health and health problems, or
- people feeling lonely and marginalised.
Employers have provided a sense of belonging – and importantly they’ve done this even when we are not physically in the workplace.
This sense of connection was critical during the pandemic.
So, today we are here to celebrate and applaud the excellence of employers and their teams for their commitment to advancing inclusion and diversity.
It’s the right thing to do.
And not just that – it’s also smart business.
When every person can be their best selves at work:
- they’re happier
- they’re more productive
- they’re more creative
- they’re more loyal, and
- they’re more likely to stay with their current employer.
Doing the right thing is a win-win.
It’s why I’m so proud to represent both the Business Council and Pride in Diversity.
Because you know what – I do not believe that any person should be made to feel excluded.
I do not believe that any person should be made to feel less than they are.
I do not believe that anyone’s personal struggle should be used as a political football.
So today I want to spend the bulk of my time apologising.
I want to apologise to our transgender colleagues.
I want to apologise:
- for the hurt you have endured
- for the cruelty you have been subjected to, and
- for the fundamental misinformation and unfairness that has shrouded the discussion over the last year, but particularly during the election.
During the election, there should have been deeper conversations about priorities such as:
- how do we advance economic opportunities for Indigenous people?
- how do we drive new industries and new technologies so we can create a new era of prosperity?
- how do we skill people – really skill them – so we have the most skilled people on the planet?
- how do we make sure that every Australian has the opportunity to advance, and
- how do we secure our country?
We talked about those issues a bit but we rarely had a deep engagement with the community about the how.
Instead, we had a national pile on in some quarters on one of the most vulnerable groups in our society – the transgender community.
We saw incomprehensible hatred.
And to what end?
Tess Shannon – my great love and partner of over 35 years – who is here with me today.
We would scratch our heads and say, ‘why are we picking on these people?’
They don’t harm us.
I just find it bewildering that we would pick on this group of people.
Of course there are complex transgender issues to discuss but let’s have those conversations based on information with respect and compassion – not with disdain and contempt.
Alan and I – as co-patrons of Pride – want to apologise:
- not because we said those things
- not because we caused the hurt
- but because someone must.
So, on behalf of all of the Australians who want our society to be kinder, more understanding and vastly more respectful and civil – Alan and I humbly, respectfully and sincerely apologise.
I do not have lived experience of transgender issues, obviously.
So I do not fully understand what you confront day to day – but I understand this.
I understand that for you every day of your life – particularly when you are young – is an agonising realisation that you are not going to meet your family or societal expectations.
And I understand that this realisation is often a form of crippling loneliness and isolation.
I understand what it means to be rejected by your family and friends.
I understand the hurt that you experience when you are say banned from family events like Christmas in our case for nearly a decade.
Of course, in my later life, I came to realise that for me this was a form of cumulative economic and social efficiency.
I didn’t actually have to buy presents for ungrateful children for years or endure years of tiresome family conversations.
And I do understand about the humiliation we experience in so many day-today encounters like when a doctor wrote on my file ‘Jennifer has social problems, she is in a relationship with a woman’.
I do have many social problems but being in a relationship with a woman isn’t one of them.
I understand the fear and worry when you turn up to work and every single new encounter is potentially:
- a rejection
- the loss of your employment status, or
- the loss of your job.
I understand that there is only one choice you have to make.
It is not a flippant or superficial lifestyle choice.
Instead, it’s a difficult and often agonising acceptance to either be yourself or to pretend to be someone else.
And that’s why today we celebrate – not lament.
We celebrate those employers here today who run inclusive and respectful workplaces.
We celebrate companies like Coles and Westpac with their ambitious transgender agendas.
They’re not doing this to tick some woke box – they’re doing this because they understand that having inclusive and respectful workplaces means you bring out the best in your people day after day.
They know the competition for talent will define organisations.
And by bringing out the best in your people, you bring out the best of your organisation.
So today we celebrate.
We show the power of respect.
We show the power of good people working together for a better society.
Today we move forward.
Thank you very much.
I’d now like to ask Mark Latchford to come up to the stage, to present the A.W.E.I Small Employer Awards.