Jennifer Westacott interview with Johanna Nicholson, ABC News Weekend Breakfast

29 May 2022

Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Johanna Nicholson, ABC News Weekend Breakfast

Speakers: Johanna Nicholson, co-host ABC News Weekend Breakfast; Fauziah Ibrahim, co-host; Jennifer Westacott, Business Council chief executive and co-patron Pride in Diversity

Date: 29 May 2022

Topics: 2021 LGBTQ Inclusion Awards


Fauziah Ibrahim, Co-host, ABC Weekend News Breakfast: Awards were held this week recognising employers going above and beyond to create more inclusive workplaces for members of the LGBTQ+ community. The results are based on a set of benchmarks that measure progress and impact on the community. One of the speakers at the ceremony was the CEO of the Business Council, Jennifer Westacott, who is also co-patron of Pride in Diversity, which runs the event. There was a particularly moving part of her speech, where she apologised to members of the queer community on behalf of business, take a look.

Jennifer Westacott, Business Council chief executive [speech excerpt]: I want to apologise to our trans and gender diverse colleagues and friends. I want to apologise for the hurt you have endured the cruelty you've been subjected to and for the fundamental misinformation and unfairness that has shrouded this discussion over the last year. But particularly during this election. Alan Joyce and I, as co-patrons of Pride in Diversity, want to apologise. Not because we said those things, not because we caused the hurt, but because somebody must. So, on behalf of all of the Australians who want our society to be a bit kinder, more understanding and vastly more respectful and civil, Alan and I humbly, respectfully, and sincerely apologise…

I understand the fear and the worry when you turn up for work and every single new encounter is potentially a rejection, a loss of your employment status or the loss of your job.

Fauziah: Powerful words.

Johanna Nicholson, Co-host ABC News Weekend Breakfast: Yeah, very powerful indeed. Jennifer Westacott is the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia and she joins us now. Jennifer, it's great to have you on the program this morning, thanks for your time. Why did you make this apology?

Jennifer: Well, I felt very strongly about this. Alan and I both felt strongly about it. We talked about it at length. You know, we are the co patrons of Pride and Diversity. It's our major awards celebration of the year, celebrating employers stepping up to make their workplaces better and more inclusive. But I really felt that during the election in particular that our trans and gender diverse community was basically piled on, when there were so many other things that frankly, I think the community wanted us to talk about in the election. People decided to pile on to one of the most vulnerable groups in our society, and I felt very upset about it. I know the pain and hurt that it caused many people and I felt it was important that somebody said sorry about it.

Johanna: You also shared some personal reflections about things that you've faced in the past. For example, not being invited to some family gatherings at Christmas. What about in the workplace? What do people face? What have you faced in the workplace?

Jennifer: Yeah. Look, you do live two lives or certainly I did in my younger career. I think people forget that when you are LGBTQ, every single encounter you have with someone, every new encounter is an encounter where you could face rejection and could face the loss of your job. So, certainly in my early life, I felt I lived two lives. I never talked about what I did on the weekend, people didn't ask. I don't know why they didn't ask, maybe they thought something horrific had happened like you'd gone out for dinner or something. You just lived a very dual existence if you will. You were always worried that if people found out, you'd lose your job or you'd certainly lose your chance of getting a promotion. So, you kind of lived under the radar and it was very isolating and quite lonely actually.

Johanna: There are some ways that the business community really leads our society on these sorts of issues. Do you find in this area, this is an area where business is leading or is it yet to take up that opportunity?

Jennifer: Oh, no, business is leading on this and that was the whole point of our awards. We had 186 organisations participate in the index, the survey, and we had 45,000 individuals participate. I handed out award, after award, after award to small and big businesses and to public sector organisations. Business  is leading  away on so many issues, whether it's climate, whether it's gender diversity, whether it's LGBTQ recognition, business does that. They're not doing it - and this is a really important point I made on Friday - they're not doing it to tick some ‘woke’ box. They're doing it because they know it makes good business. They know that if their teams feel included, if people can be themselves at work, then they're productive, they're happy and they're more creative. They stick with their employer. That's why they do it. Not because ‘we better tick some woke box,’ I always get frustrated when people say, ‘oh, they’re just doing this to tick a box,’ they're not doing it for that reason at all.

Johanna: Progress clearly has been made in many areas and is being made. What is there left to do?

Jennifer: There is a lot left to do. You know, what was interesting in the survey was that pre-COVID more people were out at work than this time, there were less quite substantially. One of the indicators that we sort of celebrated, but I also found it a bit depressing, was that people were being subjected to less offensive language but sexual harassment amongst LGBT communities is still higher. We've got a long way to go on these issues, on gender diversity, on so many issues in the workplace. But the whole point is for business to lead the way and they are leading the way. I'm proud to represent them. But boy, as a society, we've got a lot of work to do. I think the election campaign and the language that was used to describe people, shows as a society, we've got a lot of work to do.

Johanna: Just finally and briefly, what have you, what's been the response to the speech?

Jennifer: Just a huge response, huge support from so many quarters. Obviously, there are a thousand people at the event, people were moved. So many people when I presented their awards, they were still very distressed. They were very sad but they were very, grateful is not the right word, but they were, they were saying ‘thank you for saying that, thank you for acknowledging our pain and our hurt’. You could see that you'd really touched on that pain and that hurt in people, people were very moved. Lots of my friends rang me and said they were very moved by it. So, hopefully, as I said on Friday, we draw a line in the sand from the events over the last six or seven weeks and over the last year and as our new Prime Minister wants we are kinder, nicer and more caring.

Johanna: I'll have to leave it there. Jennifer Westcott, chief executive of the Business Council, thank you.


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