February 2015

Geoscience Australia’s Inclusive Culture Initiative

  • By Sophie Roberts, Manager, People Strategy and Culture, Corporate Services, Geoscience Australia

Building an inclusive workplace culture through engaging and supporting all staff is a key priority at Geoscience Australia

In April 2013 Geoscience Australia (GA) undertook an in-depth cultural audit, which was in large part prompted by the existing gender disparity in the agency (66 per cent male at the time), in particular at more senior levels. 

A consultant was engaged to investigate:

  • the nature of the agency, its people, the work and workplace practices
  • how valued, supported and respected men and women feel at GA
  • critical success factors for career progression at GA.

Focus groups and interviews were conducted, with 43 per cent of all female staff and 25 per cent of all male staff participating. The audit found multiple cultural practices that could be acting as barriers to female progression within the agency, such as unconscious bias, male stereotyping and exclusion from informal networks. Twenty-eight recommendations were made to support GA in harnessing the breadth of talent across the agency and to ensure women and men have equal opportunity to progress their careers.

Following an agency-wide briefing on the results and recommendations, all staff participated in unconscious bias awareness sessions to learn about how bias can unintentionally shape negative cultural practices.

The CEO chairs a Cultural Reference Group (CRG), which meets monthly to review, propose and champion actions that can help achieve the goal of having a truly inclusive culture. The internal and external members consider internally produced evidence-based research papers on relevant topics, allowing informed discussions and consideration of options that can have a positive impact on the agency. The CRG has workshopped the original audit recommendations into a living recommendation list that is updated for each meeting. These recommendations have been built into the human resources work plan, and are considered by the group regularly in regards to appropriate timelines and metrics for monitoring impact.

Over 2014 the Cultural Reference Group considered internally produced evidence-based research papers on the following topics:

  • talent management
  • performance management
  • GA’s New Values
  • mentoring
  • design thinking
  • flexibility
  • confidence.

An inclusive culture campaign was launched centred on a new cultural vision statement: An inclusive workplace culture that ensures everyone has equal opportunity to contribute, participate and progress.

The campaign commenced with the release of four internally developed posters featuring staff-suggested actions for fighting unconscious bias:

  • Value Individual Differences
  • Keep the Conversation Happening
  • Invite Everyone to Participate
  • Don’t Assume.

A blogging space was also introduced that details the research and activities of the CRG and provides space for staff to post opinions and resources on relevant topics, either with their name or anonymously. To keep the campaign active, new posters were refreshed after six months and new designs were released:

  • Ask for Feedback about your Actions
  • Share Experiences and Perspectives
  • Listen Openly to Others
  • Challenge Assumptions.

To ensure the most valuable work is being carried out, the CRG benchmarked their recommendation list against the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) citation guide to ensure proposed actions satisfied the suggestions set out by the WGEA for a preferred employer. They also reviewed the cultural aspects of organisational metrics to inform and guide the recommendations of the Cultural Reference Group. Additionally, the group developed an annual reporting calendar to ensure the entire agency will be able to access up-to-date metrics with a different focus each month to stimulate staff engagement and feedback.


Other actions taken at GA to date include:

  • the introduction of a staff-driven Diversity Network, whose volunteers run events to encourage staff to socialise and learn more about different cultures
  • the revitalisation of GA Women’s Network, with the support of the CRG and an Executive Sponsor
  • the introduction of a ‘Women in Leadership’ Seminar series to educate our staff on varying leadership styles and paths to progression
  • delivery of organisation-wide performance management training, with immediate process changes made to better support staff
  • running confidence training for interested staff, followed up by ‘empowerment’ workshops for GA women that are being conducted to assist with difficulties uniquely faced by female staff.

The positive messages are being supported by clear and regular communication regarding inclusive culture work from the CEO via monthly emails, from our Executive at their divisional briefings, and on our intranet and blogging space. Resources, best practice discussion papers and organisational statistics are regularly released to stimulate staff engagement and feedback on relevant topics, and ‘Inclusive Culture’ was the focus of the Annual General Meeting Organisational Awards for 2014.

For 2015, the aim is to introduce a flexible working policy, a talent management framework, an updated mentoring program, and focus on inclusive leadership at our senior leadership level.

GA prides itself on being an innovative, educated and high-performing agency, and we’re determined that this cultural change initiative will be no different. While it is only early days of a significant and long-term cultural change process, the Staff Opinion Survey conducted in 2014 demonstrated that a majority of staff already believe the inclusive culture work is going to have a positive impact on the future of the agency.

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