Mercer’s Journey to #EmbraceEquity — What is Equity to Holly Birch

For International Women’s Day 2023, the theme is #EmbraceEquity. Some may know of the term “equity” from our use of diversity, equity and inclusion — but how does it fit into DE&I?

Equity helps to tie diversity and inclusion together. Through equity, we build action toward inclusion and belonging, allowing us to further grow as a diverse and equal society. When we embrace equity, we acknowledge that equal access requires work to break barriers, build programs, and support equality.

For Mercer, equality is an important factor in ensuring that we attract and retain the best possible employees. We know that embracing diversity and equal opportunity helps us create a work environment that fosters the diverse perspectives and skills of our employees, leading to better results. Through equity, we want to ensure that our employees, regardless of their gender or background, have the same opportunities to succeed and fully develop their potential. This not only strengthens our employees but also our company as a whole.

As Mercer’s first woman Managing Director, Holly Birch began her new role in January this year at the Santanol operation in Western Australia. We asked Holly to talk about her views on gender equity, equal opportunity in the workplace, and her experience so far.

What drew you to Santanol (and Mercer) as a company?

Throughout my career, I have learned so much from, and enjoyed, working with practical and innovative people in remote and regional Australia. So an operation in the Kimberley was definitely an attraction. The active initiatives already in place showed me that the company was serious about sustainability. Coupled with the international nature of the industry, the future opportunities in existing and new markets were appealing.

Mercer’s commitment to sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and health and safety are all critical aspects for any business. Being part of a global organization to support this was a definite drawcard.  Their long-term commitment to Santanol and the sandalwood industry sealed the deal.

How has your experience with the Santanol operations been since beginning as Managing Director?

Everyone has been incredibly welcoming and supportive in sharing their knowledge and expertise and have embraced my endless questions. It is a fascinating and diverse business. From the rugged beauty of the sandalwood plantations in Kununurra to our distillery in Perth to our fine fragrance and aromatherapy customers, the operations are broad in nature. There are many more questions still to ask! 

How would you describe the difference between equality and equity?

Equality means we all hold equal value and have equal rights, that we are afforded the same level of respect and access to opportunities. A woman’s right to vote is an example of equality at play.  

Equity recognizes that there is still a gap; that we do not all start from the same place, and that we are raised in different circumstances with unequal access to education and opportunities.  

For me, equity accounts for this difference and requires us to adapt and allocate resources to create opportunities that narrow the gap. To borrow a simple but profound analogy,

“Equality is giving everyone a shoe. Equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits”.

Throughout your career, what impacts did equity have on your growth?

The advocacy and hard work of past generations have created the opportunities we enjoy today. The biggest impact on my career has been working with and for people that have listened to and valued the contribution of all stakeholders. Moving forward, it is a shared responsibility to continue to improve equity and equality for all.

How would you encourage others to #EmbraceEquity?

Embracing equity is about creating opportunities to narrow the gap. They can be broad company-led initiatives such as policies, developing key metrics, and training. They can be at the individual level where we take personal responsibility for our actions.  

Think about a person in your team and imagine walking in their shoes for the day. What specific challenges do they face? How could you support them to address their challenges and make them feel valued, listened to, respected, and equal?    

Together, we can make a difference every day.