BSBTWK301 Use Inclusive Work Practices

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Chapter 2

Use inclusive work practices


Learning outcomes

In this chapter, you will learn how to:

  • Establish practices that support individual differences in the workplace
  • Work effectively with individual differences
  • Assess the use of inclusive practices

Since the introduction of mass transport by Thomas Cook in the late 19th century, people have taken advantage of every opportunity to move about the globe. As a result, our world has become a place of great cultural diversity—a rich cultural tapestry that filters through all aspects of our lives. People also differ from each other in many other ways, including age, ability, wellness, gender identity, religion, ethnicity, opinions and associations. When communities and human organisations act to embrace and welcome everyone as equally valuable, they are participating in “inclusive practices”.

Building Inclusive practices into workplaces requires an understanding of the diversity that exists within both the workforce and the general community. Inclusive work opportunities have enabled many people to gain employment who may have previously been excluded from the workforce. Although more needs to be done, many more women participate in work today than in 1980. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has found that only 45 per cent of women were employed in 1980, compared to 63 per cent in 2022 (Gustafsson 2021). Changing attitudes and values, political movements, and changes in work practices, leave provisions, laws and policies over this period have resulted in women increasingly sharing in the benefits of paid work in Australia. Similarly, the World Health Organization (WHO) has found that great progress has been made in recent decades in making the world more accessible for people experiencing disability (World Health Organization 2022a).

Inclusive practices provide great benefits to some individuals, but they also offer great opportunities to businesses and other organisations. The Australian government has identified the following benefits for businesses that embrace diversity and inclusive practice:

  • better business performance and productivity from employees
  • more creative and innovative thinking among staff
  • improved staff health and wellbeing
  • lower risk of discrimination and harassment in the workplace (Australian Government 2021).

Conversely, ignoring diversity and inclusive practice poses a serious legal risk to businesses, as federal, state and territory laws in Australia require businesses to act in ways that protect people from exclusion or discrimination. Currently, it is illegal in Australia for an employer to discriminate against someone on the basis of their:

  • colour
  • gender
  • sexual orientation
  • age
  • physical or mental disability
  • marital status
  • family or carer’s responsibilities
  • pregnancy
  • religion
  • political opinion
  • national extraction (place of birth or ancestry)
  • social origin (class, caste or socio-occupational category)
  • industrial activities (such as belonging to a trade union).

(Adapted from Australian Government 2021.)

Recognising diversity is an important issue. In our everyday lives, it is unlikely that we will deal only with people of similar nature, background, abilities and ideals as ourselves. We come into daily contact with many different people among our customers and colleagues, and we need to recognise and accept this diversity as a strength while adjusting our practices to welcome and accommodate people with additional needs.

 Establishing practices that support individual differences in the workplace

Given that our workplaces offer such rich diversity, it is important for organisations to establish practices that take account of individual differences and provide guidance on inclusive practices and policies. Organisational codes of ethics, policies and procedures manuals, and government legislation may assist in supporting workers to positively embrace individual differences in the workplace.

Identifying individual differences in colleagues, clients and customers

Australia is a multicultural nation. As well as being the home of the world’s oldest continuous indigenous cultures, Australians can trace their heritage back to over 270 different countries of origin. Figure 2.1, from the Australian Human Rights Commission, provides some interesting statistics and facts about cultural diversity in Australia.

Because of this diversity, it would be very difficult for anyone to understand the complex and vast range of backgrounds, needs, beliefs and practices that exist in Australia, or even within a single workplace. Although it can be helpful to research information about particular nationalities, religions and ethnic groups, it is usually more effective in a workplace simply to ask people about their culture and if any particular considerations should be made at work to accommodate their needs. Similarly, it is helpful to ask everyone if there are any adjustments or flexible arrangements that need to be made to a workplace or to workplace conditions that will help them to perform to the best of their abilities.


Falsely held beliefs about any group of people may be referred to as “stereotypes”. Stereotypes are beliefs that are based on a very small amount of information and are falsely thought to apply to everyone who fits with a particular label or grouping. Australians are occasionally stereotyped when they travel overseas when it is believed they ride kangaroos, live with venomous snakes and spiders, own surfboards and live at Summer Bay.

It is discriminatory to make workplace decisions based on stereotypes or on what you assume a person may need or about how they will perform. The Australian Public Service Commission found that four common assumptions or stereotypes were made regarding people with a disability in decisions regarding staff selection. These were:

  • People with disability are best suited to unskilled work.
  • Insurance costs will increase if I hire someone with disability.
  • People with disability are less productive.
  • People with disability will not fit in.

(Australian Public Service Commission 2021)

Although each of these assumptions has been shown to be completely false, they may influence hiring decisions and may lead to someone being treated unfairly.

The best approach to overcoming stereotyping in the workplace is to listen to each individual and get to know their particular needs and requirements. It is also the most respectful and courteous way to embrace diversity.

What is social diversity?

In order to fully understand the value of a socially diverse workforce, however, we must first understand the meaning of the terms “social” and “diverse” in a workplace context. “Social” relates to the way in which society is organised and the way in which people interact with one another. “Diversity” relates to the many ways in which people differ from one another. Social diversity, at its simplest, therefore refers to how we interact and work with people regardless of who they are, what they believe in, what their capabilities might be, or where they come from.

Cultural background

Culture is made up of the values, beliefs, systems of language, communication styles, and practices that people share in common and that can be used to define them as a group. Culture is in a constant state of change: as conditions change and new generations are born, cultural groups adapt and grow. Culture has many layers; what you see, on the surface of a person, may only be a small part of the complex whole person, so generalisations never tell the full story. This is why there is no substitute for building respectful, supportive personal relationships with the individuals you work with.

Religious background

Although religion is becoming less popular across the world, it still forms a significant part of most national identities, with 84 per cent of the world’s population identifying with a religion. Currently, the world’s major religions represent the following numbers of people worldwide:

  • Christianity: 2.38 billion
  • Islam: 1.91 billion
  • Hinduism: 1.16 billion
  • Buddhism: 507 million
  • Folk religions: 430 million
  • Other religions: 61 million
  • Judaism: 14.6 million
  • Unaffiliated: 1.19 billion.

(World Population Review 2022)

In Australia, there has been a pronounced shift away from religion, particularly since 1971. Although 43.9 per cent of Australians continue to identify with Christianity, a similar number (38.9 per cent) report having no religious affiliation at all. Other world religions are also represented in Australia, including Islam (3.2 per cent), Hinduism (2.7 per cent) and Buddhism (2.4 per cent) (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2022).

Some followers may adhere to the customs, practices and traditions of their religion, while others may not. Religious practices are very diverse, but they might include rituals for prayer or worship, celebration of festivals and holy days, fasting and dietary restrictions, wearing particular styles of clothing or headwear, refraining from some activities on certain days, attending funerals, or partaking in “sorry” business. Being able to listen openly to, and to develop an understanding of, others’ religious beliefs and practices is an important step towards working harmoniously with customers and colleagues.

In all Australian workplaces, religious understanding and tolerance is supported by anti-discrimination law. However, it is the attitudes, values and actions of individuals that really make inclusivity happen at the workplace level. It is important to understand that being tolerant of people of different faiths doesn’t require anyone to compromise or question their own religious beliefs. The opportunity to learn about different cultures, religions and beliefs at work enables us to broaden our own world view and to develop a more diverse social network. Displaying an attitude of understanding and tolerance is also beneficial for business, as it communicates acceptance of and interest in the lives of clients and colleagues.

Family structure

Not all families are the same. The traditional family with two parents, where the father works and the mother looks after the home and family, is no longer the norm. There are a number of possible family structures and situations, including:

  • Families where one or both parents return to work after spending many years raising their family. Some mothers and, increasingly, some fathers will choose to step away from work to raise their children or to search for a more satisfying work/life balance. Whatever the reason, after spending time away from a work environment some people may feel unsure of their abilities and might need extra assistance and understanding from their colleagues. People who return to work after a period of raising children usually have a great deal of practical knowledge and experience that can be helpful in organising and improving working conditions and work relationships.
  • Single-parent families, where there is only parent to look after children and also provide an income. This type of family can often be a struggle for the parent involved. Juggling school timetables, and supervising and caring for children, can have an impact on their ability to work.
  • Families where both parents work while still raising their family. There are many families where both parents work either full time or part time. This could be for financial reasons, or because both parents enjoy their work and wish to continue their careers. Again, this can involve a lot of juggling of timetables.
  • Family situations influenced by cultural considerations and norms. People from other cultures place varying degrees of importance on family, which may affect the way they work. Some cultures have an “all-hands-on deck” attitude, with every family member working for the good of the whole clan, while other cultures don’t allow women to work while their children are still young—if at all.

Flexible work is on the increase—and not only for workers with families. Many single or child-free people enjoy working from home, or working reduced hours, in order to better manage their work/life balance. These workers still contribute effectively to the workforce and may even be more productive because of the flexibility the arrangement offers them.


People in today’s society can be categorised into generations by their birth years. These categories are:

  • baby boomers—those born between 1946 and 1964
  • generation X—those born between 1965 and 1979
  • generation Y—those born between 1980 and 1994
  • generation Z—those born between 1995 and 2012
  • generation alpha—those born between 2013 and 2025.

Certain behavioural characteristics have been attributed to members of the baby boomer, X and Y generations, as shown in Figure 2.2. Remember that these are generalisations—not everyone fits neatly into these categories!

  • Baby boomers. The term “career” is associated mostly with baby boomers, who expected to stay in one job or with one company for many years.
  • Generation X. Said to be generally more interested a series of work-related experiences interspersed with “lifestyle” events such as cross-cultural learning.
  • Generation Y. These employees begin and may stay with part-time employment. They see their working life as an ongoing process of balancing their personal priorities and their work experience.
  • Generation Z. These employees are keen to avoid burnout and being time poor, like their parents have been. Gen Z are said to be more interested in flexibility and social and environmental responsibility than big pay packets. They are more willing than older generations to walk away from a job that doesn’t meet these needs.

We can also see that, as people age, their values and participation levels in society change. How the generations interact with each other and balance their participation in the workforce will determine the workplace of the future, especially given that the youngest baby boomers are entering their sixties in 2024.

We often hear of the “generation gap” and of how people of different age groups have difficulty communicating with each other. However, with a little effort, some understanding of the other person can be achieved. Every generation has a lot to contribute if they each recognise the opportunities, constraints and unique experiences of the other. For example, young people have:

  • the vitality, drive and high energy levels to work productively within a team or enthuse a customer
  • an eagerness to learn
  • a fresh perspective
  • a working knowledge of the latest trends and fads.

More mature people have:

  • experience and expertise that other members of the team can draw on
  • the ability to help nurture and educate younger people in their respective industries and jobs
  • the confidence that comes from having years of experience to handle most crises calmly and professionally.

Through speaking and listening to each other, both all generations can work towards a common understanding and appreciation of their different and diverse experiences and perspectives.


Workplaces also need to be gender inclusive. Historically, women have faced many barriers in the workplace simply because of their gender. Females are still typically paid 15.3 per cent less than their male counterparts for the same job (Australian Government 2018).

People often subconsciously apply stereotypes to genders. Stereotypes can be both positive and negative. For example, even today it is often not as acceptable for a man to take extended leave on the birth of his child as it is for a woman. Women who are strong and assertive can be viewed as bossy and aggressive, while men who display these same traits are seen as natural leaders.

While things are changing in the workplace, there is still a lot of catching up to do. One of the main things you personally can do to help create a more inclusive environment for all genders is to be aware of your own stereotypes or beliefs.

Transgender and non-binary

The WHO refers to gender as “the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed” (World Health Organization 2022b). This is distinct from biological sex, which is generally assigned at birth and based on physical characteristics such as genitalia. “Transgender” is a commonly used term for people whose gender identity doesn’t conform with the sex they were assigned at birth. “Non-binary” is a term that is used by people who don’t identify exclusively as a man or a woman.

As with gender stereotypes, the first step to inclusivity is to  …. continued in the textbook…