Alex Robinson (she/her) has been helping organisations develop more inclusive and sustainable workplaces for nearly 10 years. She has always known her career will take her down the path of making the world a better place.
Starting out in international development, Alex combined work with her love of travel and spent time living and working overseas – including a stint in international trade in China. But the government sector couldn’t keep up with the pace of change Alex wanted to see in the world.
“I realised that business is an effective way to drive positive change,” she explains. “Business has the resources and can act with the speed and scale required make a difference in society. So, I came back to Sydney and started working in the corporate world, specifically in corporate social responsibility (CSR) roles.”
This drive to make the world a better place has seen Alex work across diversity and inclusion, sustainability, CSR and social impact in the APAC region.
Her roles have included managing change and corporate social responsibility at Wilsons Advisory, driving diversity and inclusion initiatives at NBN Co and, most recently, managing social impact at data analytics company Alteryx.
And to make sure she maximised her impact in a fast-changing world, Alex completed her AGSM @ UNSW Business School MBAX (Change) in 2020.
We sat down with Alex to find out where her passion comes from, why inclusivity and sustainability are more important than ever and the secrets behind building successful, impactful initiatives.
Both my parents were involved in diversity and inclusion or social impact in different ways. So either by nurture or nature, it's been instilled in me from a very young age.
I truly believe in business as a force for good. Most of us spend a large part of our lives working, so it's important that companies make the workplace an inclusive and welcoming environment that enables everyone to bring their whole selves to work and feel supported to be their authentic, best selves.
Inclusive workplaces can have a ripple effect out into society. For example, some of the diversity and inclusion initiatives I introduced at NBN Co had a profound impact in creating an inclusive environment. Internal surveys revealed that as a result of the initiatives I introduced, employees from minority demographics had higher engagement scores than the general employee population.
Now it is not about having one group of employees be more engaged than another. But when it comes to minority groups, e.g. the LGBTQIA+ community, this group has historically been marginalised and often has poorer engagement scores in wider society such as higher rates of suicide and depression.
So, to create an environment where this group felt safe, supported and welcome, when they don’t always feel this way in some parts of wider society, was extraordinary. My goal is to make the workplace a space where everyone from all backgrounds feels equally included, supported and welcome, and that this has a ripple effect from the workplace out into society.
One initiative that comes to mind is expanding parental leave to be inclusive of all types of families and circumstances – whether that's birth, surrogacy, fostering or adoption. It may seem relatively simple and is often overlooked, but it’s exceptionally important for fathers and non-birthing parents.
We also know that if you don't have a role model who looks like you or comes from the same background, it can limit your belief in what’s possible career-wise. So, I have worked to introduce mentoring programs as well as training and development programs to support employees from all backgrounds to achieve success in their careers.
What made these initiatives successful is when leaders in the company understand that these initiatives aren't just a nice to have, or something that looks good on paper. Diversity and inclusion initiatives can have hugely beneficial impacts on a company. They can help to attract and retain top employees, better connect with customers, differentiate you from competitors, and even improve your innovation. These initiatives also have a ripple effect, encouraging other companies and society to think about these issues and drive positive change on a larger scale.
1) It is important to identify how diversity and inclusion or CSR can support your company’s objectives. Do you have a diverse customer base? Will building out a diverse workforce enable you to connect with your customers and understand their needs better? Or maybe you are looking to focus on innovation, and diverse employees and diversity of thought can bring fresh ideas that foster innovation. Maybe it’s about using your CSR programs to build your brand and help you win business or attract a certain type of client. Many clients now look at your CSR work before deciding to work with you, it can be the difference between winning a pitch or not.
2) Balancing a wide vs narrow focus. Some companies might be primarily focused on improving gender diversity, while others might be focused on age or cultural diversity etc. However, as the old adage goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. Think about how you can improve diversity and inclusion initiatives for all groups, while also improving the most pressing one for your company. To add to this - one topic that is consistently important across all industries is environmental sustainability. I think everyone can do better here, no matter what industry they are in.
A quote I love is “Chance favours the connected mind.” Partnerships with not-for-profits can be a great win-win pathway for driving positive impact. Not-for-profits are on the frontlines and have some fantastic ideas on how to tackle big issues, but they often don't have the resources or the scope to be able to drive major change. Partnering with them can have a huge impact for their beneficiaries – and for your company.
At Wilsons, we partnered with Many Rivers, an organisation working with First Nations small businesses in regional and remote Australia. Our experienced stockbrokers mentored businesses and provided expert advice they wouldn’t otherwise have access to that helped them grow.
At Alteryx, we worked with The Codette Project, a social enterprise focused on getting women from minority backgrounds into careers in tech. The organisation had a great network of female university student bodies and groups, which aligned with our goal to hire more women. They helped us connect with and understand what people in the early stages of their careers are looking for, and how as a company we could support that.
It's also important to connect with others in and outside of your industry so you can keep your finger on the pulse of what best practice looks like, share learnings, and leverage resources. By working together and seeing what is and isn’t working at other companies, you can drive more successful initiatives at your own company. I made some incredible connections through my AGSM @ UNSW Business School MBA and continue to rely on these networks to learn and be exposed to new ideas.
Communicating effectively is also key to building successful CSR initiatives. Often CSR initiatives are seen as soft and fluffy, so using more tangible ‘hard’ business language, the language that resonates with business leaders, is essential. Effective communication is one of the most valuable skills I learnt through my AGSM MBA, and something that I use every day.
And remember, sometimes it feels like progress is slow, but don’t get disheartened. Every small step goes towards making a big difference.
Connectivity. One of the best things to come out of COVID was the rapid adoption of video conferencing and huge connectivity gains that came with it. Technology today gives us a more inclusive and accessible way to connect with each other. Video conferencing removes physical accessibility barriers that might exist for those in a wheelchair for example, or using closed captioning is a fantastic tool for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Technology also enables us to connect with colleagues in other locations, which creates a more inclusive workplace culture. I organised a number of virtual volunteering sessions that brought employees from across APAC together, strengthening and building the team, while giving back to the community.
Technology enables you to volunteer virtually and make a difference from anywhere, at anytime. Be My Eyes is a great example of this, it is a fantastic app that connects you with someone who is blind or has low vision to help them do something in their day, and you can do it from your mobile phone!
In addition, technology enables you to connect with a much wider audience, connect with more people to share new ideas, network, and leverage learnings much quicker and more effectively than ever before.
As more countries introduce mandatory sustainability and ESG reporting, tracking and monitoring progress and impact is more important than ever. Technology makes this easier. There are a range of fantastic tools available to help companies gather and analyses their ESG data quickly, for example, data analytics software from Alteryx.
My MBA has helped me to be more effective and impactful in my roles.
Driving CSR initiatives involves working across all parts of the business. The MBA program gave me a well-rounded, holistic knowledge of all aspects of business, helping me understand what’s important to each team, from finance and marketing to leadership.
Change is also a huge part of what I do. The frameworks and tools I gained from my MBA have allowed me to understand change and drive it effectively, which is invaluable in my career. Change management is a skill that can be applied to many facets of life, both professionally and personally.
Lastly, AGSM alumni are the best and brightest people who are leaders in their fields. Having access to this network has been invaluable. We share advice, job referrals, new ideas and thought leadership.
Being part of the AGSM alumni network means that you get exposure to people doing awe-inspiring things all over the world.