Despite the afterglow of last year’s historic marriage equality act, diversity and inclusion in our nation’s workplaces is still a pressing issue, former senior relations manager at ACON’s Pride in Diversity, Jack Meehan, told Urban Village.

Physical abuse, exclusion and discrimination are still rampant, said Jack, and a 2018 ACON survey revealed that the number of homophobic jokes and comments overheard in the workplace has actually risen.

43% of people still feel in the closet in their workplace, and the study revealed that coming out can still have a negative impact on an employee’s career.

Jack works across organisations in corporate Australia including big law firms and banks, Australian public services and media companies. He provides strategy, workshops, training and policy through Pride in Diversity, an initiative of ACON.

Pride in Diversity now works with almost 300 organisations across Australia, accounting for around 2.5 million employees.

“A lot of the time you’re walking into organisations that have a lot of privileged people working for them,” Jack said.

“I recognise my own privilege as a white gay male in relation to the other communities within the LGBTQ population, and I guess that allows me to walk into meetings with executives and tell them what needs to improve.”

Disbanding the ‘boys’ club’ culture is a gradual process, Jack said, but it’s in every business’s best interests to do so.

“Last year after marriage equality we were in this beautiful zone. But I think the plebiscite was bad in that it gave us camps; you were either yes or no.

“We need to do more to bring those camps back together. We have this right and left thing happening at the moment and there needs to be more authentic conversation happening in the middle.”

At some point every single person has felt like an outsider.

Unconscious bias accounts for the majority of exclusory behaviour in the workplace, Jack told Urban Village. There’s an insider vs outsider dynamic which is inherently systemic.

“An insider will be someone who’s from a privileged position and therefore able to speak and have things in common with people at the top, in leadership roles,” said Jack.

“An outsider does not have that same freedom. It’s about looking into those outsider dynamics and making sure those conversations can still be had despite having little commonality with the straight white men sitting at the top of an organisation.”

According to Jack, outdated recruitment systems and unconscious bias negate many corporate workplaces’ claims that staff are employed purely based on merit.

“Recruitment is set up based on old rules and old ways of working.

“There are new ways of working now and organisations need to understand that otherwise they won’t survive.”

While many organisations are making significant progress towards inclusivity, much work is still needed to educate and rid Australian workplaces of stigma, prejudice and archaic glass ceilings.

Established in 1985, ACON is a community organisation based in Surry Hills committed to supporting people living with HIV and advocating for marginalised voices in the community. To learn more, visit the website.

*At the time of publication Jack Meehan left his position at ACON.