Igniting Innovation Through Inclusion: AND's 2021 Conference highlights

Thu 24 June 2021

Collage of pictures from the Conference. Two people sitting at a table laughing. A woman asking a question, speaking into a microphone, with a service dog at her feet. Three women laughing and chatting. Two women sitting a table smiling. Crowd of people at the conference.

On June 10 we held our 2021 Annual National Conference: Igniting Innovation Through Inclusion. Emceed by Kurt Fearnley and featuring 23 speakers both from Australia and around the world – we explored how an inclusive culture could inspire innovation in business.

We heard from some powerhouse guest speakers, who shared personal recollections and reflections and provided guidance on how to reap the benefits of an inclusive culture.

With delegates attending both in-person and online, the electric atmosphere of the day moved beyond the ICC in Sydney, entering all corners of the country as delegates tuned in from across the nation.  

If you were a conference delegate, you can relive the conference or utilise the conference materials by visiting the ICC AND conference platform.

The Legacy of Leonie Jackson – removing barriers and planting seeds  

Ai-Media’s Tony Abrahams was the first speaker of the day. Tony gave us a heart-felt rendition on the impactful work and life of the late Leonie Jackson, and the subsequent broad reach of Ai-Media.

Tony set the intimate tone for the day, sharing Leonie’s personal philosophies that were key in helping Ai-Media be the driving force it is today.

In Leonie’s own words, she described her leadership style as being a farmer. Leonie’s farm grew talents, teams, friends, and most of all, community.”

Tony’s moving memory of Leonie also touched on the innovative edge that lived experience with disability can create. For Ai-media, Leonie’s pursual of putting live captioning in the classroom and workroom has now expanded beyond Australia. Ai-media’s live captioning services are now offered around the world, and provide access for not only people with disability, but also for people who speak other languages.

“As so often we see, solutions that are designed for people with disability really then get a mainstream application. Disability is just the leading edge of diversity.”

Collage of pictures of Tony from the conference. First is an illustration of Tony Abrahams and Leonie Jackson. Second is a picture of a crowd at tables, with Tony in the middle looking at the stage smiling. Third picture is Tony talking on stage with an auslan interpreter beside him.

International Keynote Speaker: Innovative ways to drive the disability inclusion agenda

The first international keynote speaker of the day was Caroline Casey, self-proclaimed “trouble-maker,” and founder of The Valuable 500.Tuning in live from Dublin, Caroline energised the audience – both in-person and virtual – through her passionate and personal reflection of growing up with disability.

Caroline’s lived experience drove her to consider key questions that would ultimately lead her on her journey of building The Valuable 500.

How could a minority group be 15% of our global population? How could that represent $13 trillion in spending power? How could a minority group be something touching every human being at some point in their life and how does this minority still remain on the edges of society?”

While the lively audience contemplated the questions, Caroline also spoke of the value and power in business leadership.

Caroline Casey smiling on a big screen. Captioning and an auslan interpreter in the corner. People sitting in the room looking at the screen.

The Valuable 500 was that call, that missing piece, that absolute rage, a callout to 500 of the world’s most influential CEOs and their businesses to break the CEO silence, for once and for all, for the leaders to get their intention and attention.”

Panel discussion: Organisations standing up for disability inclusion through The Valuable 500

You expect what you inspect.” – Andrew Liveris

How can organisations make real change in the disability inclusion space, and where does that commitment begin?  How can organisations stand up for disability inclusion? Who are the Australian organisations committed to The Valuable 500?  

A dynamic discussion between three senior leaders explored these topics in an energetic first panel of the day. The dedicated panelists shared some of their key observations they had gleaned in their experience of building an inclusive culture at their respective organisations, including:

  • an inclusive and diverse workforce widens your consumer base
  • metrics, measurements, and accountability are a key way to gain outcomes in disability inclusion
  • leaders have the power to create the change and create an inclusive culture
  • the time for action is now.

Caroline Casey moderated this insightful conversation.

The panel included three leaders at globally renowned organisations, including Andrew Liveris AO, San Retna from Accenture and Majella Knobel from Westpac.

I’m over think-tanks. I’m into do-tanks.”Andrew Liveris  

Three people sitting on a stage talking and smiling. Big screen behind them with Caroline Casey on it.

Congratulations to our 2020-21 Access and Inclusion Top Performers

The 2020-21 Access and Inclusion Index top performers shared their thoughts on being a top 5 performer. 

Congratulations to the top 5 performers of 2020-21:

  1. NDIA
  2. Medibank and RMIT (tied)
  3. ANZ
  4. IBM

In celebration of 5 years of the Access and Inclusion Index, AND also released our Access and Inclusion Index Benchmark Report 2020-21, with reflections on our five years of data.

Panel discussion: Measuring maturity to create robust roadmaps forward

In our second panel of the day, we heard an open and candid discussion from three panelists about their experience in using the Access and Inclusion Index to drive action in their organisations. The A&I Index had been used in varying different ways across each organisation, as each panelists were able to tailor the tool to suit their exact needs.  

The A&I Index had been used as a:

  • a foundational tool, or a baseline, to establish where an organisation was at in their journey of accessibility and inclusion
  • a way to encourage and shape the internal culture on a broad scale to become more inclusive
  • a way to bring others into the conversation of inclusivity and accessibility in the workforce

a means of recognising achievements and providing a roadmap for improvement.

Our panelists, Donna Purcell, NDIA, Kate Hann, Hanes Group and Meg Dalling, ANZ each spoke transparently about their journey to an inclusive culture. The panelists shared that they didn’t always have all the answers and that was okay. Reaching out for guidance, from colleagues, Employees Resource Groups and AND, was a great first step in the journey and open up the conversation to change.

Four women on a screen talking. Auslan interpreter and captioning shown in the corner.

Leading with kindness

Business can be kind. That’s what Anna Sheppard from Bambuddha Group proved as she led the afternoon session with a powerful presentation on leading with kindness. With humour and heart, she recollected her childhood, and teenage years that eventually led her to create the Bambuddha Group.

Anna injected a spark and liveliness in the room (and virtually) as she intertwined her 5 pillars for the future of business with moving examples of businesses’ that were committed to placing people at the heart of the organisation.

Anna’s 5 pillars included:

  1. Practice kindness
  2. Understand your impact
  3. Inclusivity is essential
  4. Be resilient
  5. Embrace vulnerability

Sponsor presentation: Attorney-General’s Department  

The Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department are big proponents of a “diverse, inclusive and mentally healthy workplace.”

Following on from Anna’s presentation on kindness, Cameron Gifford, Chief Operating Officer and Celebrating Ability Champion from the department spoke about the importance of being inclusive and kind within the department.

And they had three tips on just how to achieve this kind of workplace.

  1. Empower staff to have conversations in a safe space around adversity, inclusion, mental health and well-being
  2. Make a commitment to engage regularly with staff on those topics
  3. Ask leaders to share stories about adversity and mental health.

Man (Cameron) speaking on stage. Auslan interpreter beside him.

International Keynote Speaker: The innovation you get when businesses are allies

Businesses have the power to drive change in culture. Not only in their own organisations, but businesses can drive change and influence their stakeholders and governments to do more as well.

Business has a huge opportunity to influence, to drive and to make actions happen. And no one knows that more than our second international keynote speaker of the day, CEO and founder of Business Disability International (BDI), Susan Scott-Parker.

Susan Scott-Parker shown on a big screen. Crowded room watching Susan. Captioning and an auslan interpreter shown in the corner.

Susan gave an impassioned presentation on the power of business to be the leaders in the disability inclusion space, to make the changes that other sectors aren’t making, and to encourage others to follow. Business have the power to move away from discriminatory practices and continue to innovate in areas of recruitment and embed processes to empower people with disability. Susan highlighted that procurement was a rich field where businesses had the opportunity to innovate. She had three simple yet lasting asks for business in the procurement area, which could see a real shift towards a more inclusive culture.

  1. Challenge your organisation to only buy accessible tech
  2. Purchase HR technology that does not discriminate
  3. Ask your suppliers how they support your access and inclusion objectives.

Susan said that each time business’s take one small step – whether that be employing a person with disability, or having accountability for disability related employment at senior levels, or implementing the strong ethical and economic rationales of hiring people with disability in strategies – we are bettering the culture around us.

“People with disabilities win, you win, we all win.”

The power of procurement

The first in a serious of resources designed to assist in procuring accessible goods and services has just launched. The ICT Tender tool was developed and built by the Accessible Procurement Taskforce, based on a prototype provided by Business Disability International (BDI).  

Matthew Hawkins of ANZ, chair of AND’s Accessible Procurement Taskforce, launched the tool on the day and welcomed organisations to connect if they would like to discuss implementation of such a tool in their ICT procurement practices

ANZ has been passionate about diversity for a long time, including accessibility, and [passionate about finding out] how suppliers can support us in [in accessibility] We have found that a common question from our suppliers was ‘we are passionate about accessibility, but we’re not really sure how to bring this to ANZ.’”

Matthew Hawkins shown on a big screen with a PowerPoint slide that reads 'The power of procurement'. Crowded room looking at him. Auslan interpreter and captioning shown in the corner.

Winning ways and targeted recruitment practices

Sharon Carroll from Australia Post generously shared the experience of Australia Post achieving Disability Confident Recruiter status. Speaking openly and honestly, Sharon spoke around the work Australia Post did in confronting some of the barriers that needed to be addressed to provide an inclusive environment for all.

Sharon Carroll smiling, shown on a big screen. Crowded room looking at her. Auslan interpreter and captioning in the corner.

Through commitment and determination, Australia Post were able to navigate an action plan and direction to truly embrace an inclusive workplace environment.  The organisation consistently looked for areas to improve, challenged their own beliefs and assumptions and have come out stronger for it.

View a more in-depth look at their experience by reading an article written by Australia Post on achieving Disability Confident Recruiter status

Employee Resource Groups front and centre

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and story-telling were cited as two powerful resources to drive change.  

Kate Nash, CEO and founder of PurpleSpace, alongside PurpleSpace’s Brendan Roach, and Suncorp Group’s Henry Macphillamy, shared their enthusiasm for ERGs and affirmed their beliefs that sharing stories of lived experience with disability can create change.

Henry Macphillamy shared his personal story on finding confidence, leading into the announcement of the Networkology Committee. The Networkolgoy Committee is a project being led by AND and PurpleSpace that will look at how we can support the development of Employee Resource Groups, and how we can connect Employee Resource Groups in Australia.

Brendan Roach also touched on the future plans for PurpleLightUp day, where PurpleSpace plans to connect leaders-to-leaders through short video conversations around:

  • Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
  • Economic contribution of employees with disability
  • Exchanging tips on what good leadership looks like.

Many of you are already engage in the purposeful art of storytelling to drive change. It’s one of the most powerful skills to learn, perfect and practice.” – Kate Nash, OBE, PurpleSpace

Kate, Brendan and Henry on a zoom call shown on the big screen. Crowded room looking at them. Auslan interpreter and captioning shown in the corner.

Panel Discussion: The power of language

How does language impact you? How does language impact the way you work? How does language impact the disability inclusion space? How does language shape the culture of inclusion in your workplace? Or in business, generally?

A raw and vulnerable panel discussion rounded off the day, as the final panelists reflected on the effects, the influences, and the pause that language had played in their working lives.

Panelist’s reflected on their childhood anecdotes and shared their visions for the future, and weren’t afraid to get personal.

Because in the disability inclusion space, language is personal.

The spirited conversation was moderated by the MC Kurt Fearnley. On the panel were, Annabelle Williams, Paralympic gold medalist, Alan Dang, LAB3 and Lisa Cox, the multi-award winning writer and author.

Delegates were afforded the opportunity to ask panelists how they believed they could harness the power of lived experience, positive language and stories to encourage conversations that would lead to an inclusive culture.

Two panelists (Kurt and Lisa) on stage talking and looking at the other two panelists (Annabelle and Alan) on screen. Crowded room looking at them. Captioning and an auslan interpreter shown in the corner.

The exciting day came to a close as we said farewell to Suzanne Colbert, former CEO of Australian Network on Disability. Suzanne shared her experiences of 20 years at AND and aspirations for the future. We also said hello to our AND’s new CEO Corene Strauss who will be joining the organisation on 1 July.

Were you a conference delegate? Want to get more out of the conference?

If you were a conference delegate, you can relive the conference or utilise the conference materials by visiting the ICC AND conference platform. Find recordings and presentations from the conference, and continue to unlock the powers of inclusion in your organisation. Recordings will be available until 21 July 2021. 

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