Blog Header Test 05 Talking about diversity, mutuality and health

April 3, 2018

Australian society is often described as diverse and multicultural, and this is especially evident in Melbourne’s West. Dr Martin Plowman has been working in the diversity space of public health and most recently on HealthWest’s soon to be released Standards for Workforce Mutuality. Martin shares with us a little about his background, his passion about diversity, why the term “workforce mutuality” was coined, and more.


How did you get involved in the workforce mutuality project? Was this area something you have always been interested in?

I’ve been working in the diversity space of the health sector for about six years now, although before that I’d worked in disability for close to twenty years. I come from a culturally diverse background myself. My father is Anglo-Australian (as you can see from my very earthy and English-sounding surname), while my mother and her family came out from Italy in the 1950s. Growing up I was very aware of the challenges that faced my family in finding work in Australia and getting used to a completely new country. Being born here and having English as my first language, I feel I’ve had a pretty good run. So I guess I wanted to work in the diversity space to give back to the broader community – which is now more diverse than ever before – some of the advantages that I’ve enjoyed.

But this project is not just about cultural diversity. Our aim is to build a set of standards that are inclusive of all aspects of diversity, including (but not limited to) gender, sexuality, ability, religion and age. I’m a firm believer that diversity makes us a stronger society, better able to care for each other and face the challenges that face us all as a community. I think health is a perfect place to start – after all, having good health is the basis for empowered individuals, engaged families and strong communities. If these standards go even a little way towards improving health outcomes for all people in the community regardless of their background or identity, then I would feel like I’m doing my job.


What has the diversity of the workforce got to do with health?

A lot, it seems. There is a lot of evidence that shows when the workforce of the health and community sector is in synch with diversity of the community it services, many health indicators go up. Consumers feel they have a better connection with their service providers, and are more likely to access services again. This in turn helps improve consumers’ understanding of the health system, and works to empower consumers’ self-advocacy and the ability to be decision-makers in their own health system.

There are many benefits for health and community organisations, too. Employing a more diverse workforce reflective of the actual diversity of the community opens up the talent pool of candidates to choose from, while staff from diverse backgrounds bring with them a diversity of thinking which leads to innovation, plus a better understanding of the needs of the actual community. HealthWest’s Standards for Workforce Mutuality are therefore designed to support organisations in building more inclusive employment pathways with the community, and in making their services more responsive to the needs of a hugely diverse community.


“Workforce mutuality” is a term I have never heard before. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

An important decision that needed to be made early on was around the terminology used. We decided to go with “workforce mutuality” to define the extent to which the diversity of the workforce of an organisation or a sector reflects the actual diversity of the community.

While building upon the rich and varied work done in diversity and inclusion over the past few decades, “mutuality” as a term was preferred as it seemed a more inclusive term that speaks to the dynamics of a rapidly changing Australian community. This is particularly reflected in the design of our Standards – in addition to cultural and linguistic diversity, the Standards are also inclusive of gender diversity, sexual identity, different levels of ability and other diverse aspects of people’s identity.

The term “diversity” has also come to sometimes represent an us-versus-them division between so-called “diverse” and “non-diverse” people. Because workforce mutuality is about responding to the needs of your community, these Standards are also built to look to the needs of people who might normally think of themselves as being excluded from diversity-themed initiatives and programs. These Standards are for all of us, working together to ensure that everyone in the community has a fair go at enjoying good health and finding the sort of work they want to do.


What’s next for the project?

Well we’re planning to announce the Standards at the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria’s state conference in May 2018. The next step is to run a pilot phase implementation with several of our member organisations in the second half of 2018. I’m connecting with HealthWest member organisations who are interested in participating in this pilot.


Diversity, Employment