Highlighting diversity and inclusion in Australian co-ops and mutuals

15 May 2023

“Cooperatives strive to uphold the principles of equality and democratic participation. This business model, built on inclusion and sustainability, offers a pathway toward economic, social and political justice for all,” former UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon. 

As we continue to celebrate our co-operative decade, this month we are reflecting on our work to define best practice for diversity and inclusion across our sector.  

Three landmark diversity and inclusion reports commissioned and undertaken by the BCCM, have provided a baseline measure and vision for inclusive organisations that reflect the rich diversity of contemporary Australia.  

The Doing Business Together report sought to frame the challenge of inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities in co-operatives and mutuals in Australia. The BCCM is developing a Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) in response to the recommendations of the report. The report also found that the co-operative and mutual movement can go further. We can take our principles and embed them as a broader philosophy of inclusion that improves access to employment opportunities for First Nations people but also shares ownership and facilitates economic participation. 

Borne out of a desire to equip CME businesses to develop an Accessibility and Inclusion Action Plan (AIAP), the Disability inclusion toolkit offers practical resources to assist employers to hire and support employees with disabilities. By developing and implementing an AIAP, co-ops and mutuals can help build a better world for the 2.1 million Australians of working age with who live with a disability. 

In 2017, the BCCM’s Eliza’s project: Gender inclusion in the CME sector in Australia report provided a benchmark of gender inclusion in co-ops and mutuals, and asked leaders for their ideas about how to improve the representation of women in their businesses. Ongoing National Mutual Economy research has revealed significant improvements to gender diversity among chairs and chief executives of Australia’s Top 100 co-operative and mutual enterprises (CMEs). 

Action to Empower is the BCCM’s campaign to empower consumers and carers in social care markets to take back control through business model innovation. The Action to Empower report is a call to action for targeted policy measures focused on enabling different forms of ownership including more cooperatives and mutuals in the care economy. The report discusses the potential contribution of co-operatives and mutuals to innovation and reforms in aged care and disability services, informed by Australian experiences and a BCCM study tour of UK mutuals.  

Putting this report into action is the next step. Funded by the federal government, the $7 million Care Together program commenced in January 2023 to support the formation and development of social care mutuals around Australia.  

What our sector leaders are saying about diversity and inclusion

“Reforms across the human services landscape have created an opportunity and capacity for a different model to emerge, especially between employees and consumers.” – Robert Fitzgerald AM, NSW Ageing and Disability Commissioner 

“The Nundah Co-op model has helped people who have difficulties finding employment get a job and keep it. This helps their self-esteem, so they can grow in the job which in turn, helps them lead ordinary lives in the community. We need more Nundah Co-operatives to achieve social and economic advancement in communities.” – Richard Warner, Co-ordinator, Nundah Community Enterprise Co-operative 

“We want to build our future with you on the assets that have made us the oldest surviving culture on the planet. Some of the assets that we bring to the table are deeply embedded in our culture and spirituality: Resilience. Hardiness. Vision. Yearning aspirations. Trust. Hope. Strategic thinking. Collaboration and co-operation. A new way of seeing and being. A new way of conducting business. A situational leadership style that allows for multi-leadership growth and diversity.”  –  Pastor Ray Minniecon, Kabi Kabi Goreng Goreng Ambryn  

“Doing Business Together points to a path where the transformative power of the co-operative business – an intrinsically empowering, community-centric business model – can be leveraged to grow existing, and new, Aboriginal community-owned and controlled businesses. Through the concerted efforts of all Australian co-operative and mutual enterprises, we can also advance our national progress toward reconciliation. – Rob Slocombe, Group Chief Executive Officer, RACWA 

We have a unique opportunity to empower women to lead because we have a member-owned governance structure that invites people from different backgrounds to put up their hand for a board position. We recognise that diversity and inclusion in the boardroom – whether it be in relation to gender, disability or race – will ultimately make us more successful organisations.” –  Melina Morrison, CEO BCCM

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