In 2017, Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, discovered that certain equity groups in their staff were not experiencing a workplace culture of diversity and inclusion to the degree that the organisation intended in their strategy.

Dr Larry Marshall,  CSIRO’s then CEO, recognised that this was an important challenge for the institution to address: “We know it’s our diversity that drives our innovation, and so building an inclusive culture where differences are celebrated is essential to our success”.

CSIRO has spent the last few years building their culture of inclusion. That work has now earned them a SAGE Cygnet Award.

The Cygnet Award recognises that they have developed effective interventions to improve inclusive workplace practices, demonstrating positive outcomes and impacts on staff experiences.

Building a shared culture of inclusion and belonging

CSIRO embarked on introducing a suite of materials and interventions to ensure that inclusive work practices were consistently understood and applied in the workplace.

The organisation produced procedural supports, including a guide on how to lead and work in diverse teams, an Inclusive Meeting Guide, and Inclusive Planning Calendar, which identified key dates (such as school holidays) that might affect some staff.

They provided online training course in a variety of inclusive practices; frequently emphasised leadership’s commitment to inclusion, and increased the focus of diversity and inclusion in internal and external communications, ensuring they all went through a diversity and inclusion checkpoint before being published.

They also built inclusion priorities into leadership programs and Annual Performance Agreement objectives and indicators, among other interventions.

Discernible change

The result of this work was that in 2023, Diversity and Inclusion ranked in the top five themes that surveyed staff would choose to preserve about the organisation’s culture. In open feedback, one member of staff commented, “CSIRO’s focus on diversity is genuine, heartfelt, awesome and rare in Government. … I’m delighted to work for an organisation that takes diversity in all its forms so seriously.”

Dr Janin Bredehoeft congratulated CSIRO on their achievement.

“This Award recognises a huge amount of hard work to not only prioritise equity diversity and inclusion, but to embed those principles in workplace culture.

For some groups this approach made a very discernible impact: people who are gender diverse, the LGBTQIA+ community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reported a marked improvement in their experience of inclusion.

“In their application for this Award, CSIRO also demonstrated a commitment to acknowledging challenges and areas for improvement. That willingness to assess where they are truly up to in their improvement journey and be transparent about it is a sign that they’re determined to make real change.

“A big congratulations to everyone who was involved in driving this work forward.”

Next steps

Results from the staff surveys also point to next steps for the organization, especially in supporting specific priority groups. For example, despite significant improvements, people with disability still report lower experiences of inclusion on some measures. These insights show CSIRO where they can focus their future efforts to increase the consistency of positive experiences.

About the Cygnet Award

Cygnets are awarded to organisations that can demonstrate they have achieved sufficient progress and impact in removing or reducing a key barrier to equality.

This SAGE Cygnet Award is CSIRO’s first. It builds on the organisation’s 2018 Bronze Award, the foundational level of accreditation under the internationally recognised Athena Swan framework. Organisations working with SAGE must earn a total of five Cygnet Awards before being eligible for the next stage of accreditation: the Silver Award.

The Athena Swan framework has been designed to support improvements in equity, diversity and inclusion in the higher education and research sector. Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) is the only organisation that administers the framework in Australia.

Learn from CSIRO’s actions

This work shows how to go about transformative change that fixes the system, not the people. Like all SAGE Cygnet Awards, CSIRO’s work demonstrates some of the current best practices in Australian’s higher education and research sector towards improving equity, diversity and inclusion.

You can learn from these actions and replicate them in your own organisation. CSIRO’s full application for their SAGE Cygnet Award – detailing their interventions and how they made change – is published and available here.