Alix Sampson / Senior Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Advisor / AGL  / 
asking them to dance

story / Interview / August 29, 2021

Diversity and inclusion is about inviting people to the party and asking them to dance. You want diversity of thought, for innovation and effective change management. We don’t want ten of the same people replicated in an echo chamber. When people feel included it not only encourages, retention of talent, but also attracts new talent and invites higher engagement from your current employees. Essentially people will want to do more for a business when they are included and celebrated; it is all about harnessing the uniqueness to achieve business outcomes.

My career journey has been diverse however,  at school, the career advice was simply ‘you need to go to University, you will be really successful if you go to uni.’ The options seemed to only be: Doctor, Lawyer,  Nurse or  Teacher. On reflection, I hate that education is not set up for the wider community, it isn’t for a Queer kid, an Indigenous kid, a person with disability or those who have economic disadvantage; it is setup for white, heteronormative kids of privilege.

It is safe to say I did not follow their career advice; I jumped on a plane overseas and when I returned, I got straight into the workforce, taking a role in sales. I made my way up the corporate ladder, working myself to the bone with 16-hour long days. It was ruthless, but I made it to State Manager with around 80 people reporting to me and a solid wicket in terms of pay. I was burnt out though, I couldn’t see myself in the promotion role they offered, it was unsustainable, and I decided to leave.

I was not looking after my mental health, I wasn’t honest about my workload, my capabilities and unrealistic expectations.

I am an open book now with flexibility, employee assistance programs, and  using all the resources at my disposal. Living through this experience, I learnt that I am number one priority and that my work (along with everything else) will suffer if I am not looking after myself.

Starting at AGL, I went all the way back to an entry level role. I worked my way through the ranks at AGL in Adelaide and eventually crossed the border to Melbourne. I began volunteering for all different sorts of D&I initiatives and I loved it! It was over and above my role and responsibilities, which made my leader at the time question my motivation for my current role. However, it was my passion to do these extra curriculars outside my role at the time, that I  realised I needed to move into this space full time, hounding the D&I manager until a role became available, I was relentless.

My role started out as Coordinator, essentially administration for the team. As I have progressed, I have evolved the role into more of a consultant role to the business on best practice. At AGL, we partner with organisations such as, Australian Network on Disability ,Diversity Council Australia , Pride in Diversity , Supply Nation , and more. I compile these learnings and take them to the business in order to create change, develop strategic vision, making AGL the best workplace we can. We were recently awarded Gold employer status in the Australian LGBTQ Inclusion Awards , which is a huge credit to the team and what we can achieve.

Most companies will have some initiatives, such as gender targets with different maturity levels and sophistication. However, it needs to start at grass roots, you can’t just throw a target on something and think the work is done. Creating a safe workplace is paramount along with an environment where your staff feel like they can come out and share their stories; role models and storytelling are key.

If senior people in the business share their identities and their truths, it empowers others to do the same.  AGL Shine was born out of this passion and key personnel buy in, and this is replicated in many other organisations.

My job is the best job in the world, but like any job and particularly in a role that can be quite delicate at times, it comes with difficult stakeholders who may have their own opinions and different ways of doing things, which can be frustrating. However, it has taught me to remind myself that people come to the table with good intent and that doing things differently, doesn’t make it wrong. Although, I do wish people would throw their assumptions in the bin!

I am a white, middle class, straight-passing woman with a boyfriend. Anyone who knows me knows I am openly bisexual, but it isn’t obvious if I don’t state that fact, which is why I buy EVERYTHING rainbow and wear all the badges to make sure people see my true identity and don’t just assume things about me.

People need to get better at being fierce allies, not making assumptions, and asking the right questions. Society throws a lot of shade, even within the queer community, bisexuals are often seen as promiscuous or on the train to being ‘fully gay’. As a default, don’t make ANY assumptions towards someone’s gender, identity and their relationships. It isn’t that hard and fitting someone into society’s stereotypical heteronormative box can have a negative impact on people’s professional lives.

Rainbow Women  was created off the back of the 2018 PWC Pride and Diversity report Where are all the women’ . The report’s findings show that there isn’t enough visibility of queer women in the workplace, making us feel uncomfortable coming out. This fired me up, especially with me recently coming out before this report, it indicated the need for me to do something about it.

I caught up with some Queer women I knew at AGL and ANZ and the four of us started brainstorming what we could do. We quickly identified we loved catching up, talking rubbish and having a wine, so why not use that as a basis for our initiative. We marketed a monthly catch up across our organisations and we now have 90 members from 50 organisations and 25 industries! Our reach is far stretched, and our conversations are varying from personal challenges and coming out in the workplace, to visibility initiatives and how to create systemic change. Seeing new faces is the best part, the connection with shared experiences is life changing and humbling to be a part of.

Continuing the need for storytelling, connection and creating safe spaces, I started an initiative a few years ago in Brunswick called Sole Mates. This began when I wanted to go for walks in my neighbourhood before and after work, but I was scared; based on recent events in my community and the media coverage of violence against women, I was constantly looking over my shoulder; I needed a companion to walk with and I suspected others felt the same –  turns out I was right!

We now have over 1100 members in the Facebook group, even the Mayor of Moreland came along for a stroll. Anyone can join in, all genders, faiths, cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations, identities, ages, levels of ability and fitness are welcome. There are weekly posts  for walks on different trails and parks, it is awesome to see the uptake and the safe strolling community we have created.

If I could chat to Little Alza, I would tell her to ‘just be you mate, forget what anyone else thinks.’ Everyone tells you this, but it takes some time to learn and it is typically the hard way. You can’t control others, but you can control you. If I was open with myself at school, I would have had a much easier journey. All my self-discovery has been within the last five years, when I had role models and acceptance. Schools should bring in diverse people to chat to the next generation, I think it would be a game changer.

My family have been super supportive of my identity and who I have grown into. When I came out to my parents over dinner, my mum said, ‘That’s great love. Can you pass the salt?’ This kind of approach to inclusion is what I try to breathe into everyone. People are people, and we need to remember to celebrate them for exactly who they are.

Thinking of coming out at work? Find your people, your community and feel free to contact me! Join the Rainbow Women Network or  come for a stroll with Sole Mates.

 

Far out. It was so amazing to meet with Rosie’s friend Alix. Alix is breaking-ground, passionate and fearless on her role at AGL and speaking on diversity and inclusion. Whilst it would be great if everyone was as bold and as fearless as Alix, we know that isn’t the case…so it is people like Alix that  drive the conversation, drive innovation and move the needle-tip on truly inclusive workplaces. We hope you enjoyed our chat with Alix as much as we did. J & R. xx

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