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Is the corporate world too polite?

As the business world edges closer to a desired equitable future, one poignant question remains: "Are we doing enough?"

That our collective cautiousness around difficult subjects and tough conversations is prohibiting further progress is a matter close to Darshana Parekh's heart. It is one which occupies her in her practice as a legal counsel and in her work as Head of Partnerships at Cultivate Sponsorship.

"Corporate Australia is very polite and at times unwilling to speak about issues like gender and racism," she says. "We need to start looking at what we're doing in our workplaces that will truly bring about change. For me, one of those changes is actually being able to have really difficult and courageous conversations in the workplace."

A particular bugbear for Parekh is the notion that the onus is on the person who wants to bring change having to package it in a manner palatable to people so they want to come along on the journey.

"I find it frustrating at times when people say that you need to slow down to bring people on the journey. There's a point where that may be the case, but it's also about being brave enough to step out and talk to people who are willing to make change.

"Do I say, 'Is it a matter of me slowing down or it a matter of you keeping up?'"

Parekh says it is less about dragging people kicking and screaming to the desired outcome and more about helping them get past their reluctance to have those difficult conversations around work policy; getting workplaces to a place where those conversations are embraced and not shied away from.

"It's always important to listen to every view and take onboard what people are saying. But at what point do you draw that line and say, 'I don't need you to agree with every single thing I'm saying but I do need you to be willing to have that open conversation without repercussions or without a backlash?'

"Too often, especially in corporate Australia, we worry about the backlash."

Parekh's observations are of particular relevance for in-house legal teams around the globe who occupy not only a cross-function leadership position within their organizations but also have a wider duty as lawyers to be almost a custodian of civil society.

"I acknowledge there's a whole generation coming up after me, and they don't have to be lawyers, who are going to be looking to the likes of me and saying, 'If you're not willing to have these conversations and you're not willing to create and embed change, what the hell are you doing?'  

"It's really important for us, no matter our age, to accept that leadership doesn't come with a title. Leadership comes with action. And while I understand that sometimes these conversations are not fun, not easy, they have to be had."

It is well known that periods of change bring with them discomfort. And while that discomfort may be jarring, it is not a negative. To borrow the words of George S Patton Jr, "Pressure makes diamonds." From a period of discomfort, it is likely your organization will emerge as a more equal and equitable workplace ready to embrace the future.

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