A new report suggests Australia could reap the benefits of billions of dollars of economic and social benefits each year, provided it becomes a world leader in social inclusion.
A new report has found that if social inclusion can be better harnessed, it could amount to a $12.7 billion annual boost to the Australian economy.
The report, commissioned by SBS, found improving social inclusion can lift GDP growth as it can improve health and employment outcomes, increase workplace productivity and reduce the cost of social services.
The report's author, John O'Mahony from Deloitte Access Economics, says building inclusivity is much more than combating racism.
"Australia is a very diverse country, almost one third of Australians have come from overseas, there's over 270 different ancestries, LGBTIQ Australians, older Australians and Australians with a disability - all of that diversity can be an asset if we can be socially inclusive, that means more than being tolerant," he says.
"It's about giving people all of the opportunities to have the most prosperous life they can - that is access to health services, education services and participating in the community."
SBS Managing Director, James Taylor says the report proves inclusivity is not only a public benefit but can also be a major economic opportunity.
“Australia has a well-earned reputation being a multicultural and inclusive society. A place where irrespective of who you are, where you are born or what you believe, you can participate,” he says.
“What this Deloitte report demonstrates in economic terms is that we can do better and if we can create teams and workplaces that are more diverse and more inclusive, there are economic benefits for all Australians, not just those who are being included.”
Sophea Chea runs social enterprise Angkor Flowers and Crafts based in western Sydney, a floristry business which reinvests its revenue in a social mission.
For Ms Chea, the social mission is to help migrant and refugee women when they first arrive in Australia gain communication and business skills.
She offers introductory floristry training - with hopes such training would also help build English language competency.
“I realised that a lot of migrants and refugee women coming to Australia, many have limited English and so that makes them feel not confident in what they can do,” she explains.
“The women have told me that doing the program is really useful for them in building confidence, even when I have a lot of struggle in my work when I hear that this is what they want, that keeps me doing my work.”
The training program’s first course started with a class of 10 women in 2015, thanks to financial support from the Fairfield City Council.
Ms Chea, who immigrated to Australia in 2007, says her own migrant experience inspired her to start a small business grounded on embracing inclusivity.
“From my experience as a migrant, I found when I came to Australia even when I go to order the food for example, it was difficult and most of the time I don't have confidence that I can do a lot of things.”
While previous studies show that workplace inclusion in Australia has improved over time, there is still significant scope for improvement.
Workforce participation of people with a disability is almost 30 per cent below those without a disability, the gender pay gap remains at about 15 per cent and reported experiences of discrimination because of ethnic origin or religion has more than doubled between 2007 and 2017.
"If you compare Australia with countries overseas, it can be sobering reading," says O'Mahony
"We are only in about the top 25 per cent on comparable statistics internationally which means there is some way to go if we really want to be the world leader in this space."
Increasing the share of women in senior leadership is estimated to increase Australia’s GDP by $5 billion through more creative and innovative workplaces, according to the report.
International accounting software business, Xero, employs over 2,500 people across a range of ages and cultural backgrounds.
The business has a special focus on gender diversity as a priority to encourage more women to work in the tech industry.
One of its general managers, Rebecca Gravestock, says the company has seen clear benefits from having policies on diversity and inclusion.
"For us, it makes good business sense," says Ms Gravestock.
"We find in creating a diverse and inclusive environment, people want to come to work, and can bring their whole self to work which really means that people are engaged and that has an increase in productivity as well.
"Half of our leadership team is female and 43 per cent of our board are made up of women."
A recent report by Diversity Council of Australia found that even when businesses try to drive change for diversity and inclusion in the workplace, it often fails.
It found three out of four agents of change in an organisation report attempts at change are only sometimes, rarely, or never implemented effectively.