Alison Woolsey, Director - Diversity & Inclusion at Clayton Utz on why diversity and inclusion is essential to great leadership and organisational success.

What makes a great leader? This was the key topic of discussion at 2018’s Women in Tax National Congress in Sydney.

Alison Woolsey is the Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Clayton Utz. She is a former lawyer and has held senior business development and strategy roles in Australia and Europe. Over the last four years, Alison has elevated diversity and inclusion toa strategic priority at her firm, driving cultural change that continues to deliver results and which has been recognised by the broader business community. Alison is inspired by the role that the legal profession and corporate Australia can play in agitating for social change.

Alison says there’s more to being a great leader than “the usual” set of leadership skills. She cites Deloitte's Juliet Bourke’s inclusive leadership traits as a good reference point.

“(It’s) this real focus on being culturally aware, being committed to the cause, being conscious of your unconscious biases; these are attributes that are key for a leader who wants to create meaningful change.

“These skills will come more naturally for some leaders than others, so it's important that we invest in developing these skills in leadership teams across the board.,” she explains.

Alison says great leadership also comes down to a combination of sheer exposure to different situations and lessons learned, life experience, and a bit of coaching.

“I've seen it in my own organisation. I've seen leaders really develop that skill set with a little bit of help,” she adds.

Diversity fuels innovation

It’s no secret the tax profession is undergoing immense transformation. Administrative tax work is becoming automated and regulatory developments are changing the game.

So how can organisations prioritise diversity and inclusion as we get our heads around these changes?

“It’s such a great question because sometimes you do fear that people are becoming a bit tired of hearing about diversity and that there are other more important things to deal with today, such as innovation,” says Alison.

“My view on that is - don't take your eye off diversity and inclusion because it actually fuels innovation, and if you get that piece right, the rest will follow more easily.

“It’s really about keeping diversity and inclusion at the forefront of everything you do and ensuring that your organisation's strategy reflects that.

“So never let it be just a side bar, never let it fall under just an ‘HR thing’, let it be a strategic priority, like innovation or focus on clients."

Her advice to leaders receiving pushback against their efforts to prioritise diversity and inclusion is to persevere and just “repeat, repeat, repeat” why it's important.

“Don't be discouraged or dissuaded from pursuing diversity and inclusion initiatives - although it can be tiring, it's critical to maintain the momentum. You have to constantly refer to the evidence, the business case for why it is good thing, particularly in a professional services environment.

“The owners of the business want to see the evidence and fortunately there's plenty of it!”

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