Compassion, Telstra, and carving my own path as an Indigenous employee
By Justin DolmanNovember 13, 2020
I grew up seeing racism and prejudice all around me, faced by myself, my siblings, friends and family. But I quickly learned that as a fairer-skinned Indigenous person, I didn’t face the same level or types of prejudice that darker family members and friends did.
I’ve struggled throughout my life with what it means to be Indigenous, and I don’t always know whether to introduce myself as Aboriginal or not. It’s common for people to lump Indigenous people together, but the differences between us can be vast.
My experience as a Telstra employee has been great though. I think there’s a good balance here between supporting Indigenous employees, while also treating them to the same as other employees.
Being myself, and not “that Indigenous employee”
What being an Indigenous-friendly organisation means to me is being able to work in a place where “diverse” employees don’t have their background in the spotlight. I’ve also seen the passion of employees across the organisation when discussing issues faced by marginalised groups of people.
I believe that creating a space like this is only possible when an organisation is committed to hiring diversely, and puts it into effect, rather than just pledging to do it.
I’ve seen Telstra make a concerted effort to reach out to Indigenous employees in an effort to combat long-term discrimination. I’ve particularly appreciated that they’ve managed to do this without making Indigenous staff feel tokenised. There’s a genuine desire to instill a diverse workforce for the benefits that this brings, not just to tick the box for diversity.
Embracing Indigenous culture with compassion and energy
We have an Employee Representative Group (ERG) called Dharrang, that represents Indigenous employees and helps coordinate events like Reconciliation Week. I was relieved to find that this wasn’t token representation – the energy levels around these events are high, and both colleagues and my leaders are very supportive and eager to learn.
The general attitude of the people around me in the office is very comfortable. Recently I was talking with a group of non-indigenous friends and the topic transitioned to Indigenous communities in rural areas. It was rewarding to see the compassion they had for Indigenous people, and that they were respectful of the many challenges Indigenous people have faced throughout our recent history. The amount of intentional and unintentional discrimination we’ve experienced means that even simple compassion like this is a breath of fresh air.
My past experiences with Indigenous stereotypes
Over the years, I’ve noticed that when someone learns I’m Aboriginal, they will almost certainly ask all about my family history. I can tell that people are usually trying to figure out what ‘percentage’ Aboriginal I am.
The less compassionate people tend to lead the conversation to support services. It’s the age-old stereotype that extends into a wide misperception that Indigenous people receive a free car, house, education, everything. Because of this, I have often foregone government support like Centrelink that my friends of all races receive. It’s almost to prove a point (mostly to myself) that my successes are truly my own.
More dangerously, I’ve faced profiling by the police and other authorities. Even when I know I’ve done nothing wrong; these situations are an uneasy experience. I’ve been pulled for “random” drug tests despite being innocent and there being zero evidence. I’ve been pulled over by police when carrying Indigenous passengers and am always given a harder time than with non-Indigenous ones.
Carving a space for myself as an Indigenous employee does mean championing inclusivity as an institution – but at other times, it’s meant knowing when to pick my battles, finding a place that will recognise me without caveats, and letting me be. It’s in this way that my time with Telstra has been consistently positive.
My experience as an Indigenous employee: Diversity and Inclusion at Telstra
By Kyah BurkeNovember 9, 2020
I am an Indigenous woman and joined Telstra in 2018 through the Telstra Graduate Program, along with people from a variety of backgrounds. Today, I work in the Telstra Digital Channel team.
I have had a very positive experience with inclusion at Telstra. I have always felt comfortable and supported.
So how is Telstra doing it?
My experience with Telstra
What Telstra does so well, is ensure Indigenous employees are supported, without making us feel singled out.
Everyone was extremely supportive of me here from the start. Even during the process of applying, a member of the Diversity and Inclusion team called me, just to check how I was doing with the application.
Some Indigenous employees start their careers at Telstra through the CareerTrackers Program, which gives university students work experience over the summer. This program can then lead into the Grad Program and full-time employment thereafter.
Indigenous employees and the Dharrang Program
One of the ways Telstra is helping create an inclusive environment is through Dharrang, our Indigenous employee representative group (ERG). In Wiradjuri, Dharrang means “message stick”. The group aims to represent Indigenous voices at Telstra and give us a platform to share our knowledge, ideas, culture and heritage.
For Reconciliation Week this year (27 May – 3 June), I was lucky enough to be one of the organisers for Telstra’s online event, along with 2 other Dharrang members. We were just aiming for 50 attendees but ended up with 267! It was amazing to see the support and engagement from people across the organisation.
Forming a great Indigenous community within Telstra
Telstra has been amazing in connecting me with teams and groups across the country and being part of Dharrang has really meant a lot. Our ERG is set up to include both Indigenous people and Allies, which allows everyone to get involved in cultural and community events.
The creation of a community for Indigenous people within the workplace means building links both within and beyond Indigenous spheres – and I love how it connects us to one another, regardless of where we work within the company. I’ve also had the opportunity to deepen my own knowledge and learn about other languages and cultural practices.
Having a strong Indigenous presence throughout Telstra ensures that we’re celebrated for our skills and innovation.
At the end of the day, I’m grateful for how the Telstra community respects different cultures and lifestyles. I feel confident I made the right decision to start my career at a company that values diversity and work-life balance.
Telstra’s executive regularly travels to regional areas to meet with rural and regional customers and stakeholders in their communities to get a firsthand sense of the issues that matter most to them. While this hasn’t been physically possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, it hasn’t stopped us from keeping a strong focus on connecting with and supporting regional Australia.
We care deeply about keeping communities connected, which is why our purpose is to create a connected future where everyone can thrive. It is also why we’re working to help foster digital inclusion and provide support to community organisations. In more recent times that is especially so for those that have been impacted by the various crises experienced right across our country, from bushfires, drought, floods and now COVID-19.
We’ve identified a range of essential services – not-for-profit, and cause-related organisations – that are on the frontline of helping disadvantaged groups and impacted communities, and we’re working closely to help them with various philanthropic endeavours and initiatives. Many of these organisations we already partner with through our business, and this donation is an extension of that support to further enable their important work continuing through technology.
It was critical that students remained connected with the school and each other during the lockdown. MITS staff had to ensure they were able to continue their academic growth when away from Melbourne, which means a heavy reliance on technology. Technology that isn’t as accessible in remote Indigenous communities.
We helped to keep students connected to their schooling with a donation of mobile broadband devices delivered safely and contactlessly into Indigenous communities to ensure classes could continue remotely. Schoolwork is now completed at a distance via virtual software applications each day. The children are able to connect in real-time and discuss their work via online learning.
SHINE for KIDS
SHINE for KIDS is a national charity supporting children and their families with relatives in the criminal justice system. Being separated from a parent is a traumatic experience, and prisons can be tough on kids visiting their parents or relatives.
SHINE for KIDS is designed to help families maintain relationships while incarcerated, but the effects of COVID-19 mean that physical access to prisons has been limited in 2020.
Our donation has allowed children to stay connected to their families through the pandemic virtually. Parents can now connect with their children via iPads and read books to them to maintain the all-important relationship.
Youth Insearch works with at-risk youths aged 14-20 to help them onto the right path for success.
Since 1985, it has worked with youths in the community to reduce crime, violence, drug/alcohol abuse, self-harm and suicide in young people through workshops and community support. It also works to get youths helping youths so each member can positively affect others.
Similarly, COVID-19 meant that in-person workshops were not always possible, but with our donation we’re helping to facilitate these mentor meetings virtually.
We remain committed to supporting regional Australia. As restrictions lift, we are looking forward to getting back out across our beautiful and vast country to hear from our customers, and continue to provide assistance in the future to organisations that are helping to improve the lives for all Australians.
Ben Gursansky joined Telstra in January 2019 as the Head of Rural and Regional Affairs. Ben is passionate about regional Australia and prior to joining Telstra has held a number of senior policy and management positions within the agriculture sector and Government spanning 20 years. This included working with Saputo Dairy Australia, Australian dairy processor Murray Goulburn Co-operative Ltd, the SA Farmers Federation Grains Council, Australian Pork Limited and in management consultancy. Ben was also a senior policy adviser to the former Federal Minister for Regional Development, the Hon Simon Crean. Ben holds a Bachelor of Applied Science (Agriculture) with Honours from the University of Adelaide, a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) from the University of New England, and a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from the Melbourne Business School. Ben and his wife Jo have two children. In his spare time, he coaches both junior football and basketball and is a member of the St Kilda Football Club.
The future of the workplace post-COVID-19 – the new normal isn’t coming, it’s here now
By Andrew PennAugust 31, 2020
It is business, but it’s far from usual. COVID-19 has transformed our ideas about how and where we work and put flexibility, adaptability and technology at the heart of the workplace. The way we work and how successful businesses in the future will be defined has changed forever – here are three thoughts on how.
Firstly, there is no “normal” when it comes to the workplace, what matters is maximum flexibility.
We’re all different. Some people are more introverted, some are more extroverted. We all have different personal circumstances and the organisations that will be successful in attracting and retaining talent will be those that can offer their employees maximum flexibility. In developing our thinking around flexible working Telstra is developing six personas based broadly around our people’s different role types, their technology needs, communication preferences along with individual considerations, challenges and expectations. This is about identifying the right solution for each person in our workplace, not a one size fits all, so our people can choose to work in a way that best suits them. Managing across personas increases complexity and adds more challenge to how leaders must manage but when you get it right, the payoff is so much higher.
Second, the humanity of our people will re-shape our culture.
Workplace culture has changed enormously during COVID and all for the better. The usual shields of business – the clothes, the offices, the hierarchies that we sometimes hide behind – have been stripped away and we have all got a better glimpse into each other’s real lives. It has certainly been a great equaliser as we all get to see each other’s partners, kids, pets and homes. The connections are real, the links genuine. The businesses that will be successful in the future will embrace their humanity and make it the foundation of their culture.
And third, our technology, tools and property plans need to supercharge our ability to do our best work.
Operationalising the workplace of the future means drawing together the threads of flexibility, adaptability and technology. It is a cross-functional, cross-company task and Telstra’s leaders from property, networks, IT and HR are considering our infrastructure, technology, tool and skills requirements through the lens of our employees’ experience, needs and expectations. The businesses that will be successful in the future will be able to think through flexible working in all its dimensions, and bring it to life through technology.
A new normal
Not long ago the biggest catalyst for workplace change was advances in digital technologies and connectivity. Many were alarmed jobs would be replaced by artificial intelligence, automation or robots. Those things have not gone away but COVID-19 has taken the future of work in a totally new direction, a direction that is increasingly virtual and remote rather than physical and centralised, a direction where a 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday workday (physically at the office, for many of us) is suddenly hard to imagine.
The “new normal” for work will be flexible, geographically dispersed, and offer a choice of a hybrid of digital and physical tools and spaces that are tailored to your role and your technology needs, preferences and expectations. Work will be something you do, not somewhere you go.
At Telstra, this concept of flexibility will include our office-based staff but also extend to the many thousands of Telstra people who work in stores, install or repair connections at homes or businesses, take E000 calls or provide other critical services at secure facilities.
When COVID first hit, we moved our 25,000 Australian-based office employees to work-from-home to get ahead of things. We did that in a single weekend, more or less without a hitch. That was nearly six months ago and most – myself included – have not been in the office since.
Video meetings are now standard at Telstra. In July, as just one example, we ran more than 8 million Microsoft Teams calls. Management meetings, Board meetings, team meetings are now virtual including this year’s Annual General Meeting – a first in our 160 year history.
It is hard to imagine a bigger disruption to traditional work practices and yet the appetite for this type of flexibility is extraordinary. A recent employee survey showed more than 60% of our people believe they are more productive working from home and, on average, they would prefer to work from home around 3 days per week, compared to an average of 1.7 days prior to COVID.
We introduced All Roles Flex in 2014 but it has taken this pandemic to fundamentally shift us from a workforce that sees home working as a nice-to-do to a permanent fixture in the work-life juggle.
The top reasons our people cite for embracing this change are no commute time, greater flexibility on working hours and more time for exercise and family. There are still challenges (issues like mental health and domestic violence are very real) and we recognise that some people will want to return to the office as soon as they can while others do not have the choice such as those serving customers in-store.
Before COVID we trialled an agent@home model for Australian-based sales and service consultants from our call centres. Now all consultants can potentially work from home, shifting the conventional thinking on customer service roles.
There is no way to know exactly what the world will look like a year from now so we must accept this is our new normal and prepare for it.
Humanity in all its colour
If work is like the blood that flows through our veins then technology and collaboration tools are the connective tissue. However, as vital as they are it is the purpose, values and culture of a company that defines who we are. Through COVID this has been enriched by the humanity which we are now seeing on high-beam.
In two weeks’ time it will be six months since I set foot in the office. I certainly miss all those informal interactions – the opportunities to bump into people in the coffee shop or the side conversation before or after a meeting. Their absence cannot be replaced by technology alone. We all have our own small rituals and COVID has enabled us to better understand their bigger role in our psyche. In uncertain times, rituals give us comfort and confidence.
Working from home has truly broken down hierarchies in a way we could never have imagined previously. Teleconferencing means we are bringing people into our homes every day and they are seeing us in a way they never have before – with all of our issues, challenges and vulnerabilities.
In our efforts to keep connected, we are also asking each other how we are in meetings – and actually stopping and listening to the answer. The simple question “How are you” during a health pandemic is no longer a polite refrain but a symbol central to connecting us and looking out for each other.
From these simple acts of humanity, mental health, safety and wellbeing are now a foremost concern in how we manage our workplace and evolve our culture. Providing a safe work environment has always been fundamental but the increased focus on mental health is rightly pervading our outlook and is a key component of our new normal.
We need to be part of a tribe, to feel connected to each other and something bigger, with a purpose. The opening of the window into our humanity during COVID only enriches this.
Supercharging our best work with technology
Telecommunications networks and digital technology have been critical during the lockdown period, and the acceleration of the digital economy is now not only crucial to a fast economic recovery but is supercharging our people’s ability to do their best work.
The basics are obvious: what are the connectivity, applications and tool requirements – in the office, at home and on the move, for voice, for video and online collaboration?
Others are more complex and can involve anything from identity management to cyber security and our property portfolios. These are all important considerations with critical consequences if not managed well.
Like other large organisations, we operate large office buildings in CBDs around the country, many of which are now either largely empty or much-reconfigured to accommodate social distancing measures.
Our employees have told us they no longer want to be there Monday to Friday, that they see themselves coming in around two days a week to collaborate, see customers, socialise and build relationships with colleagues and to learn. There are many ideas around how this might work, from modifying existing facilities to cater for collaboration to a “hub and spoke model” that puts more office facilities closer to where employees live, including in suburban or regional areas rather than centralised in the CBD.
But in the new normal, more deeply understanding our people means we can enable them with technology, connectivity and physical space options to do their best work where and how it suits them.
This is the new normal
I have been in the workforce for more than 40 years and I have seen how work and the workplace has evolved. I have seen how roles change, how some have disappeared and how new technologies have brought forward new thinking around productivity, flexibility and engagement. I have also seen many changes in the nature of what constitutes a successful company.
Even before COVID it would have been naive to think technology was not going to continue to drive changes in our lives and in our workplaces – the real issue then is how do we respond and how we prepare ourselves for the future.
What COVID is showing us is that we are at our best when our workplaces offer maximum flexibility, when they enable us to let our humanity into our culture and when they combine the power of technology and connectivity. When they do that we will create a workplace that not only survives the new normal but thrives.
Andy Penn became the CEO and Managing Director of Telstra, Australia’s largest telecommunications company, on 1 May 2015. At Telstra, Andy is leading an ambitious change program transforming the business to be positioned to compete in the radically changing technology world of the future with 5G at its core. Andy has had an extensive career spanning 40 years across 3 different industries - telecommunications, financial services and shipping. He joined Telstra in 2012 as Chief Financial Officer. In 2014 he took on the additional responsibilities as Group Executive International.
Prior to Telstra, Andy spent 23 years with the AXA Group, one of the world’s largest insurance and investment groups. His time at AXA included the roles of Chief Executive Officer 2006-2011 AXA Asia Pacific Holdings, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Executive Asia and Chief Executive Australia and New Zealand. At AXA, Andy was instrumental in building one of the most successful Asian businesses by an Australian company that was sold to its parent in 2011 for more than A$10bn.
Other directorships & appointments: Member of the Council of Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria; Board Director of the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA); Chairman of the Australian Government’s Cyber Industry Advisory Panel, created to guide development of Australia’s 2020 Cyber Security Strategy; Patron, on behalf of Telstra, of the National and Torres Straights Islanders Arts Awards (NATSIAA); Life Governor of Very Special Kids and an Ambassador for the Amy Gillett Foundation. He serves on the advisory boards of both The Big Issue Home for Homes and JDRF.
Recognition and qualifications: MBA (Kingston), AMP (Harvard), FCCA, HFAIPM. Andy has a national diploma in business studies (with distinction), is a Fellow of the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants, holds an MBA from Kingston University and is a graduate of Harvard’s Advanced Management Program. In 2008 Andy was recognised as Insurance Executive of the year in the Australian Banking and Finance Awards and in 2016 he was made an honorary fellow of the Australian Institute of Project Management. In 2018 Andy was named by the Financial Times among the top 10 male leaders globally HERoes list supporting women in business. In 2019 he was named by the Australian Financial Review as among the top 10 most powerful people in business.
Today marks 10 years of Wear it Purple Day – a day designed to show LGBTQ+ young people they have the right to be proud of who they are.
We’re a proud supporter of the day and the Telstra team has been getting on board by wearing purple and featuring a purple background in their virtual meetings – and sharing photos of all their purpleness with their colleagues.
Our commitment to inclusion is championed by our Spectrum network, which creates opportunities for our LGBTQ+ team members and allies to connect and support each other, both inside and outside of work.
This year Telstra Spectrum sponsor Tom Roets spoke to engineer Maddie Sumner about what Wear It Purple Day means to them and why being supported in the workplace is so important.
Tom Roets: Maddie can you tell me a bit about your story and why Wear it Purple Day matters to you?
Maddie Sumner: My story started not too long ago and fortunately it has been pretty smooth sailing. I initially came out as transgender to my close friends and then to my family a few months later. This was a very intimidating time of my life despite facing very few challenges. No one can escape the reach of the media though.
Many of my family members and friends have ‘come out’ over the years, and I’m pretty desensitised to it now! I can barely recall some of the nervousness and difficulty they had just bringing up the courage to tell others, since it’s so common and even celebrated now.
But it was still one of the hardest things I’d done and I cannot imagine what it must be like for any young person who fears for their safety when being themselves, let alone any individual – and I want to help change this.
TR: What was it like experiencing your transition while in the workplace?
MS: In my previous company, I came out while in the workplace and it was terrifying. But when I joined Telstra, I applied under my last name and then changed my name after joining.
It was a very weird thing to apply as one person, and then join six months later as me. But everyone was very supportive of me.
TR: How did Telstra deal with that?
MS: When I came to Telstra, it wasn’t mentioned once by peers unless I brought it up.
That was amazing for me. I still have anxiety that people will treat me differently when they hear, and I worry that someone will put me in a box. But starting at Telstra, I went for weeks on end not even thinking about the fact that I am transgender which is amazing. It just didn’t matter and everyone was so nice. People just accept me for who I am – Maddie.
TR: Why do days like Wear It Purple Day matter to young LGBTQ+ Australians today?
MS: Rainbow young people still receive abuse and can often feel worthless thanks to the immaturity of others and miseducation of LGBTQ+ issues in general. From others showing support in schools, workplaces and at public events, we can help so many people feel at least a little more comfortable with who they are.
Wear It Purple will always be here to do our part, at least until LGBTQ+ people no longer face so many challenges compared to the rest of the population.
TR: Why is it important to you that your employer gets involved in activities like this?
MS: Corporates have more influence in this area than many realise. Of course we can help spread the message and encourage support far wider than some, but by celebrating Wear it Purple Day in the workplace means we can also boost morale and celebrate diversity and inclusion internally too.
It’s estimated that more than 1 in 10 people identify as not exclusively heterosexual – meaning if any of us celebrate Wear it Purple at work and this news is spread to 10 people in our lives, we may be helping someone. Usually you won’t know if someone is struggling, and this could be someone in your family, friend circles or at work.
TR: How does it feel when you see your colleagues getting involved and supporting your community?
I feel proud working for Telstra when I see so many of my colleagues support various inclusion initiatives throughout the year. Especially thanks to the fact that they are supported to do so.
MS: Tom, what does WIPD mean to you?
TR: As a cis gay man, I am part of a majority within a minority, and feel tremendous privilege and responsibility as a result. Being part of the LGBTQ+ community I know what it feels like to be misunderstood and fear discrimination from the larger majority, but have also learnt I have a big blind spot for those members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially transgender, intersex and queer people, who struggle to be understood even by their LGB brethren.
So Wear It Purple is this great opportunity to just talk about all the aspects and facets of it so we can help everyone grow and gain more understanding, across all aspects of the spectrum of society.
We need to do so much more to help LGBTQ+ people feel comfortable to be their best selves and bring their whole selves to work.
MS: Tom, can you tell me about your experience of being gay in the workplace?
TR: I’m originally from South Africa and l liked the idea of living all over the world as a management consultant. I realised this was because it was easier to be me while living outside of South Africa.
But even after I came out to my friends and family, I still struggled with coming out in the office. Before I was out at work, I really struggled with simple questions like “Hey what did you do this weekend?” when I was too afraid to say my boyfriend and I went to the movies, out of fear that being gay would result in discrimination or worse.
I used to get mortified by really innocent questions like “Hey Tom, so do you have a girlfriend?” Nowadays I simply reply: “I don’t think my boyfriend would really like that!” But it used to be much, much harder to cope with being gay in the workplace.
The Australian Workplace Equality Index 2020 findings show that less than 45% of LGBTQ+ people are ‘out to everybody’ and youngest respondents were least likely to be open about their diverse sexual orientation or identity. The data also showed that the number one reason for people not being out in the workplace is that it “would not be accepted by some on my team”. These aren’t statistics from 1980, that’s TODAY.
We still have so many of us who struggle, and we need Wear It Purple Day to show us it’s okay. We need straight allies to show and say “Hey we don’t care, in fact we love you for being you, so just be you, okay?” And wearing purple says that without you having to say it.
Tom joined Telstra Enterprise in February 2020 as Strategy Executive. His responsibility includes Strategy, Integrated Planning and M&A for the Telstra Enterprise (TE) Segment across Telstra, as well as driving the Transformation of TE and looking after Business Management, Business Assurance and Risk.
Prior to Telstra, Tom was Executive General Manager – Customer & Commercial at the National Broadband Network (nbn™) in Australia. Joining nbn in August 2014, his responsibility was to deliver the annual Strategy and Integrated Planning process for the nbn after a change in Government set nbn on a new strategic path. Tom also took over aspects of product and commercial accountability for the residential broadband market segment, including customer experience management, segment P&L management, wholesale pricing and broadband product agreements.
Tom was also previously the General Manager – Strategy, Business Development and Inter-Carrier at Vodafone Australia (VHA), where his responsibilities spanned Corporate Strategy & Planning, Market Research, Business Development & Innovation, and accountable for the Inter-Carrier P&L with annual gross trading balance of A$1B.
Despite studying computer science, Tom started his career in management consulting with McKinsey & Co., where he specialised in Strategy and Business Technology for Financial Services, Telecommunications and Retail clients, serving clients in Africa, Europe and the UK, USA and Australasia. He was Founder and Director of Mercateo.com, an Internet startup that specialises in online shopping and procurement services for small/medium sized enterprises across Europe.
Tom holds a B.Sc. HONS Computer Science cum laude (Post Graduate) from the University of Johannesburg. He is an Australian/South African dual-citizen and lives in Sydney. Tom is a visible leader in the LGBTI community, supporting growing diversity and inclusion at Telstra.