Inclusion and Belonging

An important strategic objective for Downer over the past 12 months has been to renew our focus on enhancing the employee experience.

Downer has always prided itself on having a workplace culture that is diverse and inclusive, but we believe that the work done in FY22 will lay the foundation to provide a step change for our employees over the coming years.

Given the diverse nature of our workforce, we have sharpened our focus on inclusion and belonging in the workplace to ensure Downer is well positioned for ongoing success and continued growth. We have developed new programs and policies to support our people, including:

  • Developing and embedding a revised operating model and establishing pillars around inclusion and belonging
  • Establishing Inclusion and Belonging Steering Committees across all Business Units
  • Developing a targeted suite of learning and development opportunities focused on inclusion and belonging
  • Arranging for leaders across the organisation to undertake Emberin’s Inclusive Habits Journey course
  • Developing and launching an Inclusion and Belonging Strategy and Action Plan for 2022-24, covering our Australia and New Zealand workforce.
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Owning our differences

Downer’s success relies on the unique contributions that all of our employees bring to the organisation. Downer’s Inclusion and Belonging Strategy and Action Plan 2022-2024 was launched in April, and outlines our objectives and actions over the next three years to drive a culture that empowers our people to celebrate their diversity and own their differences.

The strategy is underpinned by our Own Different communication campaign, which highlights Downer’s culture of inclusion, acceptance, engagement and encouragement across our broad workforce, and aims to build confidence and ambition in our people.

Downer is made up of more than 33,000 people, across hundreds of locations, who are all different. We have different preferences and perspectives, different histories and heritages.

Our differences are Downer’s greatest strength. And the Own Different campaign tells this story.

By celebrating our diversity and owning our differences, we’re creating an environment where all our people feel that they belong and are comfortable bringing their whole selves to work every day.

The campaign focuses on our people sharing and celebrating what it is that makes them different. Our Inclusion and Belonging Strategy and Action Plan 2022-2024 and Own Different campaign will go hand-in-hand, and help position Downer as a leader in the inclusion and belonging space.

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Inclusion and Belonging Steering Committee

Downer is committed to sustainable change driven by our inclusiveness agenda.

Inclusion and Belonging (I&B) Steering Committees have been formed within each Business Unit, and will draw on Downer’s Group-wide I&B Strategy to validate efforts and remain aligned to our higher strategic intent for inclusion. I&B Steering Committees are made up of employees from all levels of the organisation and chaired by a Senior Operational Manager.

Downer’s Business Units are at different stages of maturity in their inclusion journey and change agendas will vary across different workgroups.

An Inclusion and Belonging Community of Practice, chaired by the Downer Group Chief Operating Officer, will aggregate these collective efforts and work to optimise and report performance across the Group. This forum, which meets quarterly, will drive continued focus on ensuring we deliver on our commitments.

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Diversity at Downer

In FY22, Downer piloted a new development program, Diversity@Downer: ‘It takes all kinds’. 

This one-day program is aligned to the nationally-recognised unit of competency, and has been adapted to our business. It aims to ensure participants understand and experience the benefits of valuing difference over similarity in thinking or behaving, and understanding diversity and inclusion is broader than race and gender.

The Diversity@Downer learning module was developed in partnership with an external agency to provide employees with an understanding of the basic requirements of inclusion and belonging using case study examples and a final project to gain competency.

The program will become part of our standard Learning and Development offering in FY23.

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Inclusion Habits Journey

Downer’s leaders are critical to maturing our approach to inclusion and belonging.

In FY22, Downer engaged the services of Emberin, an external organisation that supports organisations to increase knowledge and understanding around inclusive cultures, to deliver its Inclusion Habits Journey program.

The program is a blended online and workshop-based journey focused on how to develop inclusive leadership and build an inclusive culture, based on the science of behavioural and habitual change. Emberin’s inclusive leadership process includes the online diversity and inclusion training program, Inclusion Habits for Leaders.

In FY22, a number of Business Units commenced the Inclusion Habits Journey, which empowers leaders at all levels to be role models for an inclusive culture, building the practical knowledge and skillset required to embed inclusion and belonging in all aspects of people management.

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Unconscious bias awareness programs

Downer understands the importance of educating our workforce on unconscious bias. We are utilising the method of storytelling in various forms to emphasise key points around inclusive language and behaviour. 

In FY22, Downer launched an online employee profile series titled ‘Our people, their stories’, a podcast series titled ‘Share. Learn. Connect’ and published ‘Embracing Inclusion @Downer’ fact sheets to deliver this information in an engaging way.

Downer’s Learning and Development team has produced 12 podcast episodes featuring employees sharing stories of experiences which indirectly relate to issues surrounding unconscious bias. This series of real-life stories provides listeners with true accounts of experiences and challenges faced by colleagues, along with advice and insights into how to address instances of discrimination, bias, harassment and other challenges.

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Opportunities for culturally diverse people

Downer partners with external agencies and organisations to improve employment access for under-represented groups. 

Downer is currently partnering with: CareerSeekers to open pathways to employment for the migrant and refugee community; the Stars Foundation and NRL Cowboys House organisations to establish an employment pipeline of Indigenous male and female students; AtWork to seek out opportunities for people with disability; and Work180 for gender-based employment for female roles.

In FY22, Downer’s Facilities Business Unit and our customer, Bendigo Health, joined GROW Bendigo (which stands for Growing Regional Opportunities for Work) and collaborated with Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services and local employment service providers, MatchWorks and Western District Employment Access, to design a culturally responsive pre-interview training program to create meaningful and sustainable employment opportunities for vulnerable and under-represented communities.

This initiative is supporting the Bendigo community to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges of disadvantage and joblessness

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LGBTQIA+ diversity

In August 2021, Downer celebrated Wear it Purple Day, and produced a video to promote inclusion across Downer and highlight Downer as an inclusive employer for the LGBTQIA+ community. 

In December, our New Zealand team achieved a significant milestone in Downer’s support for the LGBTQIA+ community when they were officially Rainbow Tick certified. Rainbow Tick is about embracing the diversity of sexual and gender identities in the workplace, while creating a supportive work environment that lets our people own their differences. On 20 May 2022, our New Zealand team celebrated Pink Shirt Day, which aims to create schools, workplaces, communities and whānau where everyone feels safe, valued and respected. Pink Shirt Day began in Canada in 2007 when two students took a stand against homophobic bullying, after a peer was bullied for wearing a pink shirt. In Penrose, Auckland, the New Zealand Roads team used their line-marking robot to paint a pink shirt at our depot, gaining widespread exposure for Pink Shirt Day when it was broadcast on morning television.

While Pink Shirt Day has been part of our New Zealand team’s calendar of events for many years, 2022 was the first time Downer New Zealand has joined with our new charity partner, Mental Health Foundation, to celebrate the day and acknowledge the effects that bullying and harassment can have on mental health and wellbeing.

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Gender diversity

Downer’s total workforce profile is 31 per cent female and 69 per cent male. Our female employee metrics, as at 30 June 2022, are outlined below.

In this period, Downer has seen:

  • Decreased women in executive roles by two per cent to 23 per cent
  • Women in management remain at 17 per cent
  • Decreased women in the workforce by three per cent to 31 per cent.

In FY22, Downer increased representation of women on the Board from 33.3 per cent to 37.5 per cent. Three of the eight Directors on the Downer Board are women as at 30 June 2022.

In FY20, Downer set long-term gender diversity targets, including a target of 40 per cent women in the workforce by FY23 – a five per cent increase from a FY20 baseline of 35 per cent. All targets can be found on page 90.

Downer has reshaped the organisation in line with its Urban Services strategy since those targets were set, including the divestment of Mining Services, Laundries and the Hospitality business within Facilities. The divestments, along with administrative improvements to reporting which removed ‘inactive casuals’ from Payroll systems, resulted in a 25 per cent reduction in Downer’s overall employee headcount in FY22.

Downer has reshaped the organisation in line with its Urban Services strategy since those targets were set, including the divestment of Mining Services, Laundries and the Hospitality business within Facilities. The divestments, along with administrative improvements to reporting which removed ‘inactive casuals’ from Payroll systems, resulted in a 25 per cent reduction in Downer’s overall employee headcount in FY22.

The recruitment and promotion of talented women will continue to be a priority focus for Downer. Downer’s Inclusion and Belonging Strategy has a strong focus on improving gender balance in traditionally male-dominated areas, including trade roles, middle management and senior management.

In addition, Downer continues to expand and develop internal programs aimed at supporting and developing our female workforce, this includes our successful THRIVE program.

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THRIVE program

A cornerstone of our commitment to gender diversity is our THRIVE program, a collaborative leadership, professional development, learning, wellness, and capability program that aims to cultivate and develop talented women at all levels across our business.

THRIVE is a 12-month program based around five blocks of learning and collaboration, delivered in a blended model, primarily face-to-face as well as an online component.

THRIVE incorporates a range of innovative features, including:

  • Opportunities to network with colleagues and leaders from a diverse range of Downer businesses and roles
  • Greater connection with Downer innovations, sites and structures via presentations, the sharing of resources and networking opportunities 
  • Internal and external facilitation of collaborative self-development, focusing on areas such as influencing by leaning into your authentic self, engaging with innovation and strategy, building belonging, visioning and wellness
  • Connection with community via team-building corporate volunteering activities
  • Implementation of learned skills via the completion of a THRIVE passport – using skills in real work and life contexts
  • Launch and graduation networking events, and inclusion in the THRIVE alumni network.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, we have developed the ‘Wāhine Kotahitanga’ program, which aims to establish a support platform for young women entering the construction industry. Wāhine Kotahitanga means ‘women united’, which links back to the purpose of the program – to bring women together to grow and to change the ‘status quo’ of the industry. Downer’s goal is to nurture and support a community of young women, and to empower and retain the female engineers entering the construction industry and connect them with women in leadership roles.

The program was launched on International Women’s Day 2022, and the community now stretches across New Zealand, reaching more than 100 women. Downer has also hosted workshops to ensure members are clear on their objectives and what they want to achieve from the program.

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Gender diversity


THRIVE attendees by level of work

Middle managers
Office / Administration
Technical specialists
Senior managers
Finance specialists

Walu employment program

Walu means ‘where are you going?’ in Wiradjuri language. It’s an appropriate name of the employment program that Downer’s Indigenous Engagement team has developed, which helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to take important steps on their career journey.

The Walu program is a pre-employment framework to identify opportunities within the organisation to partner with external Indigenous employment agencies to create sustainable employment pathways for Indigenous candidates.

The Walu program aims to provide an education and support framework for candidates from the screening process to placement within a Downer Business Unit, over a period of three months to successful permanent employment.

We partner with NGOs, TAFEs, private providers and the local community to deliver this pre-vocational, ready-for-work training and personal development program that equips candidates with the foundational tools and knowledge they need to build a successful career within Downer. Downer believes this pre-employment and ongoing support methodology leads to significantly increased overall retention rates.

The program offers supported, end-to-end Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment solutions, focusing on four key aspects of employment: screening; recruitment; pre-skilling; and post-placement support.

To assist in attracting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to our business, we have developed specialist recruitment and training methodologies including a culturally appropriate selection process and local community consultation and community information sessions which replace our standard recruitment process.

Candidates from the information session are shortlisted for further screening at an assessment workshop, which replaces the traditional interview process. Potential recruits undertake practical assessments and receive presentations from site staff. The experiential learning activities are culturally appropriate and structured so that site representatives are assessing for teamwork, leadership skills, communication skills and trainability. 

Successful candidates then progress to the offer and training section of the program, which includes specific site training requirements and is delivered in a group environment with the support of our external partners and Downer’s Indigenous engagement specialists.

The final component of the program focuses on ongoing support for the successful candidates post-placement. This involves regular check-ins during the first weeks of employment, and support for supervisory staff to ensure they are comfortable with new candidates.

A pilot program was rolled out on our Facilities team’s Sydney Trains Cleaning contract, resulting in a number of new employees joining the team. We partnered with Aboriginal Employment Strategy, a western Sydney-based Aboriginal recruitment and training company, which provided sourcing, screening and support for candidates.

The program is designed to be adaptable and scalable to ensure effective delivery across different Business Units, contracts or geographic locations.

With the pilot now complete, Downer is investigating avenues to expand the Walu program to other contracts and different areas of the organisation.  

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Cultural protocols guide

Downer produced an Indigenous Cultural Protocols guide, which provides context and guiding principles to further inform our people on how to refer to, embrace and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ cultures.

This guide supports Downer’s reconciliation journey by increasing our cultural awareness. It gives us a better understanding of the communities and lands we operate in, which will help us build sustainable relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, communities and organisations. The guide includes terminology, traditional protocols, event management and significant dates.

In addition, Downer has also developed and distributed Acknowledgement of Country cards, which outline how to conduct an Acknowledgement of Country at the beginning of meetings or presentations.

In FY22, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples made up 1.48 per cent of Downer’s Australian workforce. While this is below Downer’s long-term target of three per cent, we remain focused on identifying opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment in order to reach our target.

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Reconciliation Action Plan

Downer acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional and continuing custodians of Australia. We acknowledge their spiritual and cultural bonds linking them to their lands.

Having closed out the action items in Downer’s Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan for 2019-21, Downer submitted our first Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) covering both Downer and Spotless to Reconciliation Australia in 2022. Combining the Downer and Spotless RAPs will provide an opportunity to share learnings and align future commitments, programs and initiatives. In May 2022, Reconciliation Australia endorsed the Downer Group Innovate RAP, which we will launch in July 2022 to coincide with our NAIDOC Week celebrations.

Promoting Indigenous culture and building the cultural awareness of our workforce is critical to building relationships based on trust and respect. Downer does this by:

  • Continuing to provide Indigenous Cultural Awareness training as a key enabler to an inclusive and safe workplace
  • Participating in National Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week celebrations across the organisation
  • Holding smoking ceremonies conducted by local Traditional Owners at the commencement of projects
  • Providing support systems to the business to increase procurement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses
  • Supporting Indigenous traineeship and apprenticeship programs
  • Including a supported prequalification process for inclusion of Indigenous businesses into our supply chain
  • Working with several Indigenous joint venture partners to enable growth and expanded employment opportunities for their people
  • Embedding best practice cultural heritage monitoring within large-scale on-country projects.
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Māori cultural diversity

In FY22, Māori comprise 16.3 per cent of our 9,377 strong workforce in New Zealand. This is a decrease from 24 per cent reported in FY21. The decrease is due to changes to reporting systems, the application of the ‘active employee’ definition, and divestments in Laundries and Hospitality.

Downer’s vision is ‘matawhānui’, which is to create an environment where Māori thrive, because it's better for our people, our whanau, our communities, our business and our country. Downer’s New Zealand business has a proven track record in delivering improved outcomes for Māori through tailored leadership development programs. These programs continue to include specific programs for school leavers, wahine (women), and senior leaders in partnership with Iwi.

The New Zealand business has implemented a key strategic initiative to embrace our Aotearoa heritage and culture and to integrate aspects of Te Reo (Māori language) and Tikanga (Māori customs and traditions) into our daily interactions with our people, customers and business partners.

This cultural competence initiative has specific goals to:

  • Support greater diversity and inclusion through embracing diverse cultures
  • Recognise that our large government customer base has requirements to work in partnership with Māori, and increasing our capability will enhance our ability to work alongside them
  • Enhance our established relationships with Iwi (Māori tribe) developed through existing employment and development programs. 
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Over the past 12 months, 85 per cent of apprentices and trainees who completed their qualification with Downer were offered ongoing employment. Among our apprentice cohort who identify as female, 75 per cent are undertaking a trade qualification.

Engagement activities for apprentices and trainees are increasing with the establishment of the Apprenticeship Community of Practice to ensure collaboration on key projects. This includes the establishment of an apprentice handbook, to be provided at commencement of an apprenticeship, and a newsletter to update the cohort on good news stories and learning opportunities. 

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Downer’s industry-leading Graduate program is the cornerstone of our generational diversity focus. It continues to be a successful and sustainable pipeline for employees entering the business in their chosen discipline.

The program also focuses on improving Downer’s gender diversity – attracting a pipeline of young females into industries that are traditionally male-dominated.

In FY22, our percentage of female graduates, while below Downer’s long-term targets for female representation in our workforce, is an increase on FY21.

  • In FY22, 17.5 per cent of the Australian graduate cohort is female
  • The 2022 recruitment campaign for the 2023 Engineer Graduate intake attracted 517 applications, 15 per cent of whom were female
  • The 2022 recruitment campaign for the 2023 Corporate Graduate intake attracted 105 applications, 37 per cent of whom were female
  • In New Zealand, 66 summer interns (42 per cent of whom are female) joined our business in FY22 to gain practical/ professional experience throughout the 12-week program
  • In FY22, 24 engineering graduates (25 per cent of whom are female) entered the business in New Zealand – 79 per cent of whom completed the summer internship program
  • Of the current New Zealand graduate cohort, 37 per cent are female
  • In FY22, 11 graduates in New Zealand completed the program and transitioned into the wider business; 37 per cent are female
  • Downer New Zealand has awarded three scholarships (one for $12,000, and two for $5,000) in 2022 – all were awarded to females.

In keeping with Downer’s renewed focus on the employee experience, our Graduate program continued to evolve throughout FY22, with a comprehensive review of the program outcomes and structure.

After the review, the following initiatives were implemented.

Graduate conference: Due to the impact of COVID-19, our graduates had limited opportunities to come together during 2020 and 2021. Downer realises that networking opportunities are important to the graduate experience, so we established the new graduate conference program, which is broken up into two events.

The first session took place in November 2021, with the second in March 2022. The graduate conferences are aimed at bringing our cohorts together from across the organisation to facilitate an opportunity for networking and development and foster a culture of innovation.

In addition, we also host monthly graduate webinars, which are hosted by a different Business Unit each month, giving our graduates exposure to different contacts across the Group and increasing their knowledge of Downer’s services and business strategy.

Grad Post – Graduate newsletter: This newsletter is sent once a month, with the aim of increasing engagement among our graduates, and increasing their knowledge about Downer’s services and initiatives. The newsletter is also distributed to incoming graduates to ensure they are engaged from offer acceptance through to commencement in the program.

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Australian apprentices by gender

Unbinary / non-specified

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander apprentices (Australian cohort)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

Māori and Pasifika apprentices (New Zealand cohort)


New Zealand apprentices by gender

Non-binary / Unspecified

Learning and development

Upskilling our people

In FY22, internal courses were delivered either by Downer or through Downer-approved facilitators and covered a range of subjects including company compliance, technical skill development, soft skill development, cultural development, project compliance and trade certificates.

In FY22, Downer delivered more than 239,000 hours of internal courses. Based on our workforce profile of 31 per cent female and 69 per cent male, Downer estimates there were 78,685 training hours delivered to female employees and 160,765 hours to male employees. This equates to 7.2 training hours per female and 7.0 hours per male.

These total hours of training exclude external training, such as courses delivered by TAFE or another Registered Training Organisation, university or other forms of mandatory or licensing training.

Cultural Awareness Training

Downer’s Sustainability Linked Loan contains KPIs related to training hours completed for our Indigenous Cultural Awareness Training program in Australia, and our Te Ara Whanake and Te Ara Maramatanga programs in New Zealand. In FY22, Downer delivered a total of 6,167 hours of training across these three programs. In Australia, 4,394 employees undertook the 40-minute Indigenous Cultural Awareness Training module. In New Zealand, 165 people took part in either a one-day or threeday face-to-face course, or equivalent online module.

Lunch and Learn series

Commencing in March 2021, the Inclusion and Belonging team commenced a new Lunch and Learn series covering the focus areas identified in Downer’s Inclusion and Belonging Strategy 2022-2024. Topics covered include: Introduction to autism and inclusive employment; Managing a multigenerational workforce; Diversity and Inclusion – back to basics; Managing neurodiversity at work; Words at work – inclusive language; Celebrating Downer’s multicultural workforce; Indigenous participation plans; Inclusion and Belonging Strategy 2022-2024; and Rainbow inclusion. 

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Employee Engagement Survey

Downer conducted our annual Employee Engagement Survey in May 2022. This year, Downer’s overall engagement score (which measures the positive attitudes and emotions that contribute to employee retention and productivity) is 70 per cent, which is in line with our 2021 survey result.

Areas our employees identified as Downer’s strengths include career opportunities, learning and development, leadership, and our Purpose, Promise and Pillars. The largest improvements this year are in: Opportunities for employees to progress their careers within Downer (up six percentage points); Employee recognition (up five percentage points); Opportunities for better work-life balance at Downer (up four percentage points); and Ensuring consultation is provided before making decisions that affect our workforce (up four percentage points).

Employee feedback in the survey also highlighted that workforce recruitment and selection is an important issue, and as such we will ensure this is a key focus area over the next 12 months.

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