May 11, 2021

How to lead with inclusion – nbn

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Justine Knight joined nbn as their lead on Diversity and Inclusion almost three years ago and has led the company through a series of initiatives to make them market leaders when it comes to inclusion. We spoke to her about how to shift the dial internally, and how to be an inclusive leader.

The diversity and inclusion journey

nbn are in the tech industry and face similar challenges as the rest of this male-dominated industry when it comes to securing diversity in the workforce, particularly gender diversity. But they have a very clear intention and desire to mitigate that and get as much diversity into the business as possible, particularly into leadership roles.

“Over a period of five to six years, we have increased the number of women in leadership at nbn by 10 percentage points. That doesn’t just happen overnight or accidentally because we’re generally fishing from male-dominated candidate pools, both internally and externally.”

Justine has used external partnerships – like being a WORK180 Endorsed Employer – to illustrate nbn’s credentials as a positive place for women to work, as well as focusing hard internally to ensure the opportunities are there for talented and motivated people to grow, evolve and progress through the organization. Justine has focused on ensuring the infrastructure is fit for purpose to ensure the playing field is as level as possible. This has meant taking a critical look at systems, processes and key decision making points and to mitigate biases that can so easily creep in (or even be hard-baked into the way in which things have traditionally been done). Through this concerted effort nbn achieved their target of 33% women in leadership by 2020 and now have an even loftier aspiration of 40% by the end of FY25.

“Progress has been made, there is no doubt. But we need to keep that laser like focus on this as something we’re constantly striving for. To succeed in the long term, the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace need to be clear to everyone; that consideration needs to be woven through everything we do and all the decisions we make. Part of the vernacular.”

Recognizing that a genuine understanding of the value of D&I throughout the business (and particularly within leadership) is integral to sustainable success, Justine has really sought to elevate the status of inclusion as part of the company narrative. Demographic diversity is an indicator of having diversity of thought and perspective in a business, but it’s not a guarantee. Successfully enabling diversity to contribute relies on an inclusive culture.


Tips for creating an inclusive environment

Knowing inclusion is the secret sauce to creating value from diversity – through ensuring everyone feels safe to contribute and a sense of belonging.

We asked Justine what tips she had for someone wanting to create a more inclusive culture. She shared:

  • Consider your own style. “Be mindful of your own personal style in meetings and create the opportunities to hear from everyone. It’s easy for the same handful of more confident, gregarious players to dominate in those situations. Be aware not everyone is the same in terms of how they process information and offer ideas. Being self-aware and curious is a huge part of being an inclusive leader. Then you can become more aware of other styles to find ways to tap into your team’s ideas in ways that work for them.” 
  • Understand how unconscious bias works. “We all have unconscious biases. It’s a part of the human condition. Our primitive brains had to be hard-wired to quickly categorize information and make quick decisions about potential threats. Helpful at times, but it can lead us to make overly quick judgments about people and situations, and we will come to conclusions that simply aren’t right. So important to be aware of this tendency at key decision-making points and to really test our immediate reactions and assumptions. For example, in recruitment, rather than thinking about a candidate in terms of cultural ‘fit’, we encourage taking the lens of cultural ‘add’. There is merit in seeking broader experiences rather than following our tendency towards something that feels safe and familiar.” 
  • Avoid the merit trap. “Part of the issue is the notion of recruiting on merit. Unfortunately merit is all too often a by word for recruiting in the image of what success may have looked like previously. If we always do that, there will always be a lack of diversity. If everyone at the table looks and thinks the same, you’re only ever going to get a very narrow view of the world. It’s a shame to miss out on different perspectives but it’s also a risk issue. The numbers are in and companies with gender diverse boards far outperform those that are more homogenous.”


“Anything you do in an inclusion sense benefits everybody, because inclusion for one group makes inroads for inclusion for others as well. Look for opportunities to let your team contribute and create a safe space for them to do so. That comes from being genuinely curious and interested in what they have to say.”

nbn’s focus on inclusion goes well beyond gender. They also have employee resource groups and initiatives focusing on LGBTI Inclusion (Pride), Accessibility, Cultural Diversity and First Nations People.

Living your passion

Justine reflects that it’s perhaps no surprise that she has forged a career in Diversity & Inclusion. Even as a child she always had a really strong sense of what was fair or just. She always wanted to champion the underdog and make things fair for everyone and would regularly be taking petitions or organizing friends to raise money for different causes.

She initially fell into Human Resources through a graduate trainee program with a major UK retailer, and after various HR roles found herself working 3 days per week for a law firm following the birth of her first child.

“My focus was HR projects; identifying and solving for things we could/should be tackling or doing better. Over time I realized that almost everything I worked on was around making the place more inclusive and levelling the playing field. The thing I love about this space is that it’s positive. You are able to make a positive difference to people’s lives and workplace experience. I love that with D&I you see a very tangible result for what you do.”


At nbn she has always felt supported in her ideas for driving change.

“If I didn’t feel like there was a genuine commitment to D&I, and that the leadership really wanted to do the right thing by their people and in this space, I wouldn’t be able to stay here. I’m passionate about creating an environment where everyone thrives.”

Thriving at nbn

nbn is going through a significant transformation as they pivot their focus from building to running and maintaining the network. They remain focused on their mission to lift the digital capability of Australia.

nbn is a highly purpose-led organization and a great place to work. There is a shared sense of purpose to connect the nation and support all Australians to leverage the benefits of broadband, which has contributed to high levels of employee engagement.”

As nbn navigates this transition in focus, they are looking at the skills they need for the future of the organization: what exists in the current workforce, where the gaps might be and where there are opportunities to upskill and reskill people.

nbn are looking at how they can support the needs of people across Australia as they use the network, with additional focus on the unique needs and requirements of remote and rural regions as well as Indigenous communities.

“The people at nbn are so genuine and helpful, because they are people who obviously enjoy what they are doing, knowing ultimately it’s for the greater good. It’s a certain sort of person that works here and really takes enjoyment from that. It’s a fun place to work and we have great engagement scores – you don’t get that without a great workplace culture.”

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About the Author
Samantha Sutherland is the Chief Storyteller at WORK180. She is a Diversity and Inclusion specialist with an analytical background, making her work evidence-based and data driven. Host of WORK180’s Equality Talks podcast and her own Women at Work, Samantha divides her time between interviewing amazing women for WORK180, mentoring and coaching women in, or aspiring to, leadership roles, and providing high-level advice on diversity practices to Australian corporations. You can learn more about the Samantha Sutherland consultancy at

Looking for a new opportunity?

Our transparent job board only has vacancies from employers we endorse and lets you see what benefits, policies and perks come with the job.