Do we really value diversity? Really?

CCA CEO David Crosbie thinks Imagine Canada is right – and it probably applies in Australia – diversity in our sector means diminished pay, diminished conditions, diminished opportunity. And that’s not good enough. 

Do we really value diversity? Really?  Pro Bono News, 17 November 2022

Diversity is good: in communities, in organisations, in leadership, in decision-making, in most areas of human endeavour. We know this from extensive research over many years. We also know this from our life experiences in all our teams, in sport, in music and the arts, in charities. 

We talk a good diversity game in Australia, but we are not so good at researching or documenting diversity, especially across the charities sector.

Imagine Canada (a sister organisation to CCA) has recently investigated employment in the Canadian charities and not-for-profit sector.  It is important to note that in both Australia and Canada, charities employ just over 10 per cent of the entire national adult workforce.  It is also worth acknowledging that there are many similarities and some differences between charities in Australia and Canada.  In this instance, I think drawing on Canadian research can provide a useful reference point. 

The Canadian report Diversity Is Our Strength: Improving Working Conditions in Canadian Nonprofits | Imagine Canada has provided some remarkable findings:

  • The average annual salary for those working in community not for profits  is $38,716, compared to $57,137 in the economy overall.
  • The not-for-profit sector’s workforce is older and more highly educated than that of other parts of the economy.
  • Women make up more than three-quarters of the not-for-profit sector’s workforce.
  • Almost half of sector workers are immigrants, and nearly a third are racialised.
  • Half of all jobs held by immigrant women and almost a third of jobs held by Indigenous and racialised women are in the not-for-profit sector.

These are confronting figures. Canadian community not for profits employ people who are, on average, better educated than Canadian workers in other sectors, older and therefore more likely to have greater work experience, paid significantly less than other workers. 

It could be argued that employees in community nonprofits are on average giving up a third of their salary simply by choosing to work in a mostly female and culturally diverse community sector.

Diversity might improve organisational performance (as the studies have shown), but this Imagine Canada report tells us that policy makers and those who set the funding levels of community organisations are not paying for diversity. In fact, it seems the opposite is true.  Governments and other funding authorities are apparently able to achieve their community nonprofit engagement at a discounted rate partly because a higher level of diversity is involved.

Would the same findings hold true in Australian charities and community not for profits?  While we do not know for certain, it is not unreasonable to assume that similar trends are likely to apply in Australia as they do in Canada, even if the figures may vary to some degree.

Australian data tells us 85 per cent of the 588,000 welfare workforce is female ( Welfare workforce – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare ( ) 

We know that much of the lower wages for community work reflects gender bias, the downplaying of the real value of care work which has historically mostly been undertaken by women.  There are numerous articles and research reports addressing the issues associated with women’s work, pay gaps, caring roles, and real work values.  In many countries around the world including Australia and Canada, female dominated industries and jobs tend to attract lower salaries. We know this structural inequality is baked into our employment systems, but that does not mean it cannot be addressed. 

Some have argued that the pandemic highlighted the value of many caring roles, but we should also acknowledge that the pandemic exposed a yawning chasm in opportunity across Australian communities and workplaces. Canada, like Australia, has yet to fully come to terms with how the lessons from the pandemic can inform the future policies.  Most of us would like to think higher pay and better conditions for caring roles would be high on the pandemic recovery agenda.

I would also question how much of the lower wages and worse working conditions revealed in the Imagine Canada report reflects the impact of employing people with lived experience?

I have worked in education, youth offending, prisons, alcohol and drugs, and mental health. I know the incredible value of having lived experience peers, fellow workers with a level of understanding that goes well beyond learned credentials.  Sometimes it is not about the words those with lived experience can offer, their insights, or even their actions; it is more about the fact that someone with lived experience is there, in that organisation, in that setting, being paid the same as others, being valued.

The Diversity is Our Strength report makes these recommendations:

  • Funders need to provide funding that allows for decent work for sector workers and does not reinforce gender and racial inequality. 
  • Federal, provincial and local governments need to treat the nonprofit sector as a valued partner, on par with the way they treat other industries of similar size. 
  • Nonprofit sector leaders need to adopt decent work and anti-racism/anti-oppression practices to help ensure they are providing respectful, fair jobs where our diverse workforce can thrive.

These are good recommendations that we could well adopt in Australia.  I would add one additional recommendation: Australian governments and funders should invest in research that will enable the charities and not-for-profit sector workforce to be accurately profiled with a view to regular ongoing monitoring of the health and wellbeing of people who choose to work in our sector. 

We are big on diversity in Australia, but often our principled commitment to diversity translates into not much more than decorative phrases neatly cut and pasted into hollow policy documents.  In practice I suspect Imagine Canada are right – diversity in our sector means diminished pay, diminished conditions, diminished opportunity.  And that’s not good enough.  If we really value diversity and its capacity to improve our performance, why aren’t we investing in it? 

Read on Pro Bono News: do-we-really-value-diversity-really