Posted: 31 Jul. 2020 5 min. read

A wild ride: Reflections on a career in Diversity & Inclusion

Given that Juliet is leaving the firm in September 2020, Adrian Letilovic, a core member of the Deloitte Australia Inclusion, Diversity & Leadership newsletter editorial team, interviewed her about the past, the current state of affairs, and what might be in the future for D&I. 

By way of background, Juliet Bourke has been a strong and vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion (D&I) for the whole of her 30 year career – with plans to keep on keeping on. Her passion for social justice has infused her career choices: originally as a criminal lawyer with the Commonwealth DPP, then as human rights lawyer with the Australian Human Rights Commission and the NSW Attorney General’s Department, before becoming a founding partner at Aequus Partners. Since 2011, Juliet has been a partner in Human Capital at Deloitte Australia, leading the firm’s D&I practice and contributing to global thought leadership.  

Adrian asked her about her reflections, some of the remarkable people she has met and what’s next.


Juliet, you’ve been a strong and vocal advocate for Diversity and Inclusion for a long time – how far have businesses progressed in that time? 

They have progressed far beyond what I could ever have imagined. When I first started working in diversity and inclusion in 1994 as a human rights lawyer within the Australian Human Rights Commission - we were talking about an emerging area of interest. But it was a narrow conversation: we talked about diversity, we didn’t talk about inclusion.  And even then, we only talked about some aspects of demographic diversity, certainly not diversity of thinking.

To give context, when I moved across to the Attorney General’s office, the two areas I worked on were protecting workers with carers responsibilities and transgender rights. 

It is quite something to reflect on just how far we’ve progressed in both of those areas. Certainly then, parental leave for fathers was not on the agenda in any practical way. And in terms of transgender, the term non-binary was not something even yet conceptualised, and so it demonstrates that the way we think about these topics has become much more sophisticated. 

And perhaps more importantly, the level at which the conversation occurs is now vastly elevated. These topics permeate executive meetings and board room conversations of many of the world’s largest and best-known organisations – compared to twenty years ago where it was more than likely the purview of a HR team member, deep within the organisation.  


Shortly after working with the Attorney General, you began building your D&I practice at Aequus Partners – do you have a favourite moment or reflection from that time you’d like to share? 

My initial reflection is that I’m so glad I did it! When I started Aequus partners with Dr. Graham Russell – there were no boutique D&I firms. It just wasn’t a thing then and at the time, we didn’t know if we would be successful, or die quietly on the vine. 

So we took a risk and I learned how to follow my passion, and how to translate that into a business proposition. 

Almost overnight, I went from being a government lawyer, to running a successful start-up for twelve years, which was later acquired by Deloitte. That was a real testament to the value and reputation we had built at Aequus. 


Over the years you have met with some renowned and influential leaders – both in Australia and around the world – do any stick out as particularly memorable? 

Julia Gillard definitely stands out – we met in 2007 when she was in Opposition and we had a shared passion around the cost of care and the impact on workforce participation. Over the years I’ve had a number of opportunities to meet Julia and now sit on her Global Institute for Women’s Leadership Board. She is the genuine article: a kind, smart and authentic person.  Another favourite is Dr Bruce Stewart who was advising President Obama on D&I in the US Federal Government sector. It was a meeting of minds and we both learnt so much from each other about how to embed inclusion in work practices at scale. And of course, Prof. Scott Page, whom I met through writing my book on diversity of thinking. Such an incredible mind and generous spirit. And I have worked with so many amazing CEOs. Each of these people has nourished my soul and inspired me.

In addition to meeting many interesting people, I have loved travelling the world and learning about other people’s lives. Israel, India, Denmark, Iceland, Morocco so many countries and of course my sabbatical in Italy was such a highlight.  I think as humans we need tactile contact to truly understand other people’s worlds – and for me personally, travel has helped create bridges to understanding which has largely informed my thinking and work. 


Two books, five book chapters and hundreds of articles and white papers. Clearly you are  a prolific writer. Are there any plans to continue writing on Diversity & Inclusion or perhaps other topics? 

Yes. For me, writing is my way of making sense of the world and so I find myself constantly writing. And I am so glad it has been helpful to others. We had great feedback on the two recent articles we published in the Harvard Business Review on inclusive leadership (2019 & 2020) – they really seemed to touch a nerve - and it was another level of terror to put my ideas out there by presenting at TEDx.

I have been working on an updated version of my book Which Two Heads Are Better Than One? How Diverse Teams Create Breakthrough Ideas and Make Smarter Decisions, which comes out next year. 

I am also completing my PhD which focuses more on interpersonal inclusion – what makes co-workers feel included, and so moving the conversation on from leadership, and focussing more on the power that peers have to either include or exclude.  That’s an important topic give employees are becoming more self-organising and leaders are spread too thin. 


Much of the progress in this space has involved hard work and contributions from team members of yours over the years – any message for them?

This body of work has always been a team effort – one person can’t do everything – and it has been the contribution of every person I have worked with that has made my experience so rich, and the outcome so impactful. Every time I coach an executive on inclusive leadership, they think they are learning from me, but I am learning from them too. 

Just today a reader shared with me that she’s been using the Six Signature Traits of Inclusive Leadership for five years in her coaching practice. The same imagery appears in Walmart and Gilead Sciences offices, and of course we use it across Deloitte. This has been a ten-year journey and every person on the D&I team has contributed to this, has helped to create this whole. I could not have done this without other people like Bernadette Dillon, Andrea Espedido and Georgette Karvelas, and I think we can all be very proud of the collective impact we have made. 


You’ve been with this movement for some time, you’ve seen it grow, grain traction and accelerate – any insights on what the future may hold for D&I?

I don’t anticipate that we’ll go backwards, because it seems that – if you take a long view of history and globalisation, the merging of people from different cultures and religions – the trend seems to be of coming together, rather than of fracturing. 

Having said that, there seems to be an inbuilt capacity for humans, to manufacture differences where very little or even none exist. 

Some people say progress feels like one step forward, two steps back – but taking a long view, I think progress is more like two steps forward, one step back. We get there in the end – we are just slower than we could be.


If current-day Juliet could go back in time to share just one piece of advice with your younger self – what would it be

It’s a great question, however I’m not sure we would have much luck trying to tell our younger selves what to do! 

In answering, I think at times I was too dogmatic, I was too certain that I knew the answer. And I think if I had been perhaps a little bit softer that might have helped.  But in the same breath – the fact that I was so dogmatic about equality and justice, that I had so much drive, led me to really push hard for things that may not have happened otherwise. 

Maybe rather than advice, I’d simply tell myself: “You’re going to have a wild ride, and it’s going to be all good.” 


And what’s next?

For me? I’m not sure yet.  I am definitely open to a new adventure – but still one in which I get to work with leaders on D&I. For this space? There’s three things I’m certain about: D&I will continue to become mainstream, working collaboratively across the globe is vital and just became a whole lot easier with our COVID-19 remote working experiment, and being an inclusive leader really matters.