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Deakin University

  • Project: Diversity Field Officer Project
  • Amount: $200,000
  • Year(s) Funded: 2015

Supporting businesses to retain highly skilled and valued talent or to employ new talent who have or acquire a disability

While there have been significant efforts to improve unacceptable unemployment rates experienced by people with disability, most efforts have focused on the supply side – building the capacity and job-readiness of people with disability – with far less attention and resources to build the capability and readiness of business, particularly small business. In this vocational pathways pilot project, Diversity Field Officers worked directly with small to medium businesses to assist to build ‘disability confidence’ and facilitate the development of more inclusive policies and practices within each business, with practical steps identified to put developing disability confidence into action.

The Diversity Field Officer Project team. Left to right: Jessica Zammit, Project Manager; Dr Kevin Murfitt, Lead Researcher; Rebekah Bryant and Victoria Strachan, Diversity Field Officers.

“I hope that this system is rolled out along with some ongoing semi regular accountability. It is the sort of forward thinking, proactive approach that both business and people with a disability will benefit from. WIN WIN WIN!” Employer participant.

Piloted over 12 months, this employer engagement initiative worked with approximately 50 small to medium workplaces in Geelong during 2015 and 2016. The overall goal was to establish proof of concept of an employer engagement strategy for businesses regarding disability confidence and inclusion. The pilot included increasing awareness of disability, addressing unconscious bias, improving recruitment, improving accessibility and practices, creating new opportunities and connections for business, as well as opening up employment pathways.


  • The businesses who participated in the Diversity Field Officer Service pilot grew markedly in ‘disability confidence’ and awareness. By the end of the pilot:
    • 75% of businesses were employing people with disability compared to 39% at the beginning;
    • 42% businesses were actively implementing or intending to implement job carving (creation of a specific role or identification of tasks that can be performed by a person with disability)
    • 86% of businesses indicated there may be opportunities to employ people with disability in the next 12 months, compared to 58% at the start of the pilot;
    • 79% were actively implementing or planning to include welcoming wording for people with disability in job advertisements/descriptions;
    • 36% were actively implementing or planning to implement guaranteed interviews for people with disability who meet the key selection criteria;
  • Increased awareness of the impact of mental health in the workplace was also a significant outcome, with 64% of participating businesses interested in, seeking to implement or implementing mental health plans or mental health first aid training.
  • The pilot expanded its focus to include strategies to retain staff that may have or acquire a disability (with one in five Australians experiencing disability) and inclusive customer service.
  • The professional skills, knowledge, and disability expertise were seen to be the most important attributes of the Diversity Field Officers, highlighting that the model’s unique point of view and its independence resonated with small businesses.