Creating an Inclusive Workplace – Why We’re Proud Every Day at The Star

It’s official, The Star has been named a silver employer in the 2021 Australian Workplace Equality Index. It’s testament to the strides our advocacy group Proud @ The Star has taken towards making The Star a safe, inclusive, and supportive workplace for all. Here, we talk to one of its proudest supporters, George Hughes, Chief Marketing Officer at The Star Entertainment Group.

Being accepted is something many people take for granted. But to members of the LGBTQIA+ community, acceptance can still feel like a daily struggle, especially in the workplace.

At The Star, we see it as our responsibility to make everybody feel safe and welcome. It’s why we’re beyond proud to have been recognised as a silver employer in the 2021 Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI) – the only hospitality group in Australia to do so.

This was the result of a sustained effort driven by our employee advocacy group Proud @ The Star and its executive sponsor George Hughes, Chief Marketing Officer at The Star Entertainment Group. “It’s an honour to be the executive committee sponsor of Proud @ The Star,” George says.

Proud Members at AWEI 2021. From left to right: Stefano Usai, Erika Medina, Melissa Tsang, Linda Walsh, Mandy Boxsem, Kim Lee, George Hughes, Paula Hammond, Sam Apps, Justine Russell

I’m so proud of each and every member of the group – the passion, commitment and tireless work they do to build a better workplace is inspiring. They’re also great fun and inject quite a lot of joy into my working week.

George Hughes

The importance of inclusion

Creating a culture of inclusion is a top priority for The Star – it’s not about awards and it’s certainly not about ticking a box. Participating in The Australian Equality Index (AWEI) provides an independent benchmark to show if we are on track to becoming the kind of workplace we want to be. It also gives us valuable insights into best practice inclusion initiatives.

“Organisations that listen and act on the needs of their team will attract, retain and engage the best talent. It’s a no-brainer for me,” says George. “I think it’s important to give voice to the diverse employee base that all organisations have. It’s critically important to listen to minority and marginalised communities, and to understand their lived experience – inside and outside of the workplace. Once an organisation has this perspective, it can tailor its business operations and remove any direct or indirect barriers that may exist.”

Celebrating diversity at The Star

Making inclusion a reality at The Star

For George, the meaning of inclusion at The Star is “pretty straightforward”: “I want every single one of our team members and our guests to feel truly welcome at The Star.” Part of the core aim of Proud at The Star is for every team member to feel free to be themselves, every day.  “I don’t want any of my 9000-plus colleagues to ever have to worry about whether their sexual orientation or gender identity will limit their progress or development in our business,” George says. “Unfortunately, there are too many people in Australian workplaces who have to hide a big part of their lives when they come to work. Feeling safe, supported, and free to express your true self in the workplace is non-negotiable for me. Ultimately, I want The Star to be famous for being a great place to work and for members of the LGBTQIA+ community to aspire to work here.”

Mardi Gras Grand Foyer Entrance

Overcoming the challenges of 2020

Adding significance to the AWEI recognition is the fact that we advanced from a bronze employer in 2020 to silver in 2021 during the most challenging year the hospitality industry has faced in modern times.

“The hospitality sector has been hard hit in recent times. In a year where our business had to navigate through COVID-related operating restrictions and temporary closures … going from bronze to silver was a well-deserved accolade,” George says. “I personally was very proud of this achievement as I saw the huge discretionary effort our teams put into making these changes, coupled with the unwavering commitment of the Board and Executive Committee to achieving best-in-class inclusive practices.” 

Over 2020, George explains, The Star overhauled HR policies to become more inclusive, reduced barriers for trans and gender-diverse applicants in its talent acquisition processes, enhanced the visibility of LGBTQI+ team members and launched an Ally program. Not content to stop there, we marched in Mardi Gras, raised awareness and funds for LGBTQI+ organisations such as Wear it Purple Day and IDAHOBIT, introduced gender-neutral bathroom facilities, activated ally training programs, updated our polices for gender affirmation leave, domestic violence, dress code and non-binary gender affirmation and much more. 

The Star Mardi Gras in 2021

“In the last year a huge amount of thought and energy has gone into ensuring that there is a very clear network strategy that is sustainable and integrates into The Star’s other diversity focus areas, including gender balance, reconciliation and Asian leadership representation,” George says.

The importance of leading the way

Although we live and breathe pride at every level of the business, the involvement of our executive team has always been integral. “There are a range of benefits to an inclusive and diverse workforce and it’s imperative for leaders to champion this,” George says. “As a member of the Executive Leadership Team and a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I try to be a visible and approachable role model. This last year has been challenging all round – especially for some people in the LGBTQIA+ community. As such, I’ve tried to stay close to the great team members who form part of our network.”

Sadly, he says, discrimination and harassment are still all too common in the experience of marginalised groups. “If leaders don’t engage in constructive dialogue about this nothing will change – and that’s bad news across the board,” he says.

The equation is simple, he concludes: “From a business case perspective, the benefits are clear – a more diverse organisation generates better returns for its shareholder. From a societal perspective – it’s simply the right thing to do.”


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