Brunel Australasia’s Diversity and Inclusion Manager Sonya Liddle spoke today at the Women in Leadership Perth Summit on how to deliver equitable outcomes as a leader. In its eighth year, the two-day summit features a diverse line-up of inspiring and influential female leaders, who draw on their wealth of experience to empower delegates on their own leadership journey.

Driven by a strong desire to see equality and inclusion not only discussed, but tangibly enacted, Sonya works with people and organisations to build the pathways and capabilities needed to make ongoing change possible. She shares key pointers from her presentation, below.

Female boss giving presentation in meeting room with diverse group

Stand up for equity

When social issues oppress underrepresented or marginalised populations of your workforce, market or community, it’s critical that your organisation’s leaders support equity and fairness publicly and prominently, advocating for change and protesting issues that contradict your values.

Taking a stand on social issues, whether internally or externally, may have once seemed risky. Today, it’s expected. Our leaders of tomorrow expect more from their organisations, demanding that they speak up, speak out, and act to achieve a more equitable future.

This does not necessarily mean that you need to take a political stand or promote controversial subjects, but anything that goes against your core values should be publicly opposed, with a view to addressing change. Some of the most common examples include racism, gender discrimination, sexual harassment and environmental risks. 

Female boss surrounded by employees speaking casually

Equity-centred leadership

Leadership styles fall into two categories: traditional and equitable. Traditional leadership is a dominant, top-down approach, whereas equitable leadership is a constantly evolving, inside-out leadership. 

Equity-centred leadership is by far the most effective approach for bringing out the best in people within your organisation. By assessing equity within the culture, policies, programs, practices and processes of an organisation, leaders set the direction and shape an environment where equity and excellence are the standard for everything. Equitable leaders develop people personally and professionally, making an organisation ‘work’ so that staff can engage in effective teaching, learning and support.

Regardless of the efforts already underway within your organisation, you can facilitate progress toward equity by examining key activities and everyday choices in three spheres of influence: workforce, marketplace, and society.

Within your workforce, leaders promote equity by giving every member of your workforce the access, enablement, and advancement they need to succeed – and offering the diverse experience and viewpoints that help your organisation serve your customers and grow. Your PEERs (persons excluded due to ethnicity or race) may be particularly vulnerable, so leaders must support them from the sourcing and selecting stage and continue as PEERs rise in their roles and advance in the organisation.

In the marketplace, your organisation demonstrates inclusivity not just by its employees but also by what it offers customers. At all stages – research and development, selecting suppliers and partners, production, marketing – your leaders must make equity and inclusion a key component of what you sell.

Your leaders must bring equity to society. Regardless of whether your business model accounts for barriers to equality, the concerns of the outside world intersect closely with those of your business. Your commitment to equity must be more than who you hire: you should set the standards that promote equity, reject injustice, and elevate all members of society.

Female boss giving compliment to employee

Social change through your leadership

Check your organisational culture. Culture is the way we do things around here. The equity-centred leader must nurture a culture that integrates an inclusive approach where all employees are committed to success. The framework for this must be grounded in equity and designed to achieve inclusivity. Develop a learning-focused culture that establishes high performance expectations, a climate of respect for every person, and collaborative work. 

It must be clear that around here, diversity in ethnicity, gender, culture and language is valued. Around here we recognise that we all bring similarities and differences, and we respect our differences. We engage positively with one another by listening and learning from one another’s stories. Around here, we strive for excellence in all our work.

Improve your organisation’s practices. You can’t achieve true equity when you’re hindered by processes and practices that aren’t fit for purpose. Equitable practices such as culturally responsive instruction and an environment of respect, differentiation, self-assessment, accountability and authenticity need to underpin your organisational structure and employment framework. 

Allocate the resources. What are the varying needs of your employees, and how can you allocate resources equitably to address priorities? Are you doing anything that is not aligned to your goals? What is the impact of the programs or initiatives you are funding? How can you use instructional coaches, mentors and other resources to improve your practices?

Rethink the hiring process. Hiring candidates who possess not only the necessary skills, but also culturally responsive approaches, belief systems and commitments, is essential to ensuring equity in the workplace. Most diversity and inclusion leaders will agree that the standard application and interview process does not give sufficient information about candidates’ values, beliefs and level of cultural competence. Rethink the hiring process and consider adapting to a performance-based process to learn more about your candidates, whether that be through assessment centres, skills tests, real life applications or problem-solving.

Sonya Liddle speaking leadership equity

Sonya Liddle at the Women in Leadership Summit in Perth

Where to next? 


Brunel acknowledges the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people of the many traditional lands and language groups of Australia. We acknowledge the wisdom of Elders both past and present, and pay respect to the communities of today. We recognise their continuing connection to the land, waters and community.

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