The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has taken a holistic approach to improving diversity and inclusion as part of a broader transformation program which is designed to improve organisational capability, innovation and adaptability.
ASIO operates in a challenging, rapidly evolving, and somewhat uncertain environment, explained Deputy Director-General, Wendy Southern.
“To continue our success in anticipating and navigating major security developments affecting Australia, we must now operate at a speed and scale unimaginable just a few years ago,” she said.
“Harnessing and supporting clever, creative and committed people is essential to help ensure ASIO is well placed to undertake its critical work.”
ASIO, which employs almost 2000 people and operates with a budget of $533.4 million, is undergoing a transformation program which Southern said “recognises the need for change to ASIO’s business model to continue fulfilling our mission in a threat environment that is increasing in scale and complexity”.
As part of this transformation program, she explained that ASIO has created a focused people strategy team that has responsibility for ASIO’s approach to diversity and inclusion, including how to address challenges in engaging and recruiting diverse talent.
“Focusing our approach on diversity and inclusion is key to achieving ASIO’s strategic objectives. It’s also the right thing to do,” she said.
“Equally important, is an organisation that is diverse and inclusive as a basis to encourage our collective productivity, engagement and innovation.”
ASIO’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategy was released last year, and this strategy articulates the organisation’s diversity and inclusion goals, and paves the way for it to broaden its staffing profile and harness the diversity of its existing workforce.
ASIO has also developed a leadership charter which prioritises inclusivity as one of the four key pillars of leadership within the organisation (others being enterprise mindedness, mission focus and commitment to building people).
“Focusing our approach on diversity and inclusion is key to achieving ASIO’s strategic objectives. It’s also the right thing to do”
Inside ASIO’s diversity networks
ASIO has established a number of staff-initiated and -led diversity networks as part of the above, and Southern said these are an essential part of creating a diverse and inclusive culture where all staff feel valued, respected, included and safe.
ASIO provided the framework, governance and funding, and invited employees to build their own networks with colleagues who faced similar obstacles, or who wished to offer support, and to share information back with the D&I team to set priorities and goals.
ASIO’s Director-General of Security, Duncan Lewis, is leading the organisation’s commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive environment, and each network has a senior leader sponsor who are responsible for bringing issues to the attention of other senior leaders and cascade messages to middle managers and operational staff.
Each network also includes members of the central D&I team, which then works to make sure specific initiatives reflect employee needs and maintains a central resource of D&I information for the organisation.
Involving a broader group of employees – from members of diverse groups and those who support them, to senior leaders and D&I program managers – in the D&I process has accelerated the impact of ASIO’s employee networks.
“The networks have enabled ASIO to understand employee needs, change policies where we need to, and celebrate the diversity of our organisation,” Southern added.
Flexibility and other initiatives
ASIO also uses flexible working arrangements to help improve diversity and inclusion across the organisation, according to Southern.
“ASIO officers are members, and representatives, of the community,” she said.
“They are parents, carers, members of sporting, recreational and community groups, and like most people, are often juggling many responsibilities.”
Recognising the value in promoting a work-life balance, ASIO adopts an ‘if not, why not?’ approach to flexible work arrangements.
“Six staff-led diversity networks have been established, and are taking an active role in engaging and supporting the workforce, holding events and providing input into corporate initiatives”
As a result, a sizable portion of ASIO’s workforce make use of part-time, compressed or otherwise flexible work arrangements for short or extended periods.
ASIO is also in the process of strengthening its employee engagement program for staff on long-term leave and establishing family room facilities to provide support for staff members with caring responsibilities.
Other initiatives include creating a community of support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees, and delivering a number of cultural awareness initiatives, including a cross-cultural communication week and training packages.
ASIO also participates in the Male Champions of Change program, and has established a dedicated EL1 position to support this program, with a commitment to reviewing current targets, actions and transparency in relation to gender equality, particularly for shortlisting and promotion at the EL1 level and above.
Diversity and inclusion results
ASIO’s diversity and inclusion efforts are tracking well, according to Southern, who said the organisation has embraced and built upon diversity and inclusion as integral elements of ASIO’s already strong culture.
“Six staff-led diversity networks have been established, and are taking an active role in engaging and supporting the workforce, holding events and providing input into corporate initiatives,” she said.
In terms of numbers, 902 of ASIO’s 1980 staff members are female, while 333 are from a non-English speaking background and a further 91 per cent of staff report high levels of job satisfaction.
“Through the hard work of one our diversity networks, ASIOpen, this year ASIO received silver level accreditation as an employer of choice at the Australian LGBTI Inclusion Awards, which celebrates Australia’s top organisations for LGBTI inclusion,” said Southern.
The Australian Workplace Equality Index is Australia’s definitive national benchmark on LGBTI workplace inclusion produced annually by Pride in Diversity.
“ASIO is committed to a diverse and inclusive work environment, and this accreditation demonstrates the positive community and culture within ASIO,” said Southern.