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Australia’s Top Jobs Lacking Cultural Diversity


29 July 2016 at 4:53 pm
Wendy Williams
Australia’s top jobs are dominated by people with Anglo-Celtic backgrounds in spite of a multicultural society, according to a landmark study on cultural diversity in leadership.


Wendy Williams | 29 July 2016 at 4:53 pm


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Australia’s Top Jobs Lacking Cultural Diversity
29 July 2016 at 4:53 pm

Australia’s top jobs are dominated by people with Anglo-Celtic backgrounds in spite of a multicultural society, according to a landmark study on cultural diversity in leadership.

Lack of cultural diversity in Australian leadership roles

The blueprint, launched on Friday by the Australian Human Rights Commission, in partnership with Sydney University Business School, Westpac, PwC Australia and Telstra, revealed more than 10 per cent of Australians are from non-European backgrounds yet this is not reflected in leadership positions such as chief executives, parliamentarians and university vice-chancellors.

None of Australia’s university chancellors or ASX 200 chief executives are Indigenous.

Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said while Australian society celebrates its multicultural character, its leadership “isn’t as multicultural as you’d expect”.

“Across business, politics, government and civil society, no more than 5 per cent of leadership positions are held by people from non-European cultural backgrounds,” Soutphommasane said.

“This begs some questions about unconscious bias and institutional barriers to equal opportunity.”

The blueprint, Leading for Change: A blueprint for cultural diversity and inclusive leadership, aims to challenge organisations to reconsider their cultural defaults on leadership and provide guidance for leaders so they can better support Australia’s multicultural society.

It marks the first of its kind, investigating the cultural composition of leadership within the ASX200, federal Parliament, the Australian public service, state and territory public services and universities.

Soutphommasane said while an estimated 32 per cent of the general Australian population have a background other than Anglo-Celtic, this was not proportionately represented among leaders.

“In corporate Australia, the ranks of senior leaders remain overwhelmingly dominated by those of Anglo-Celtic and European background,” he said.

“Among the 201 chief executives of ASX 200 companies, 77 per cent have an Anglo-Celtic background and 18 per cent have a European background. Only 10 chief executives – or 5 per cent – have a non-European backgrounds.

“None of the 201 chief executives has an Indigenous background.”

Soutphommasane said diversity was also dramatically under-represented in the Australian public service.

“Of the 124 heads of federal and state departments, only two have a non‑European background and one has an Indigenous background.

“Among our universities, all of the 40 university vice-chancellors either have an Anglo-Celtic background or a European background.

“There is not one vice-chancellor who has either an Indigenous or non-European background.”

The blueprint recommends strategies such as stronger leadership, better data collection, the use of diversity targets, and improved training and professional development to increase cultural diversity at senior levels.

“There’s room for improvement on cultural diversity and leadership. Leading for Change provides a blueprint for how organisations can make that change,” Soutphommasane said.

Westpac Group CEO Brian Hartzer, who launched the study with Soutphommasane, said the blueprint would help Australian businesses to see what best practice looks like when it comes to cultural inclusion.

“Improving the representation of diversity needs to be tacked by the private and public sector. I firmly believe if we are going to drive change and create a truly multicultural society, inclusion and diversity has to be built into a company’s DNA,” Hartzer said.

“That’s why we’ve focused on creating development opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds and created training programs to help people understand the benefits of diverse teams.

“For example, we’ve introduced an inclusive leadership program, which has been designed to help build greater cultural understanding and competency across the business in order to build diverse teams – such as age, disability, LGBTI and culture, not just gender.

“This blueprint has been designed to help Australian businesses understand what best practice looks like. As Australia’s oldest company, we are pleased to have helped develop a framework for cultural inclusion that not only benefits Westpac but every Australian.”


Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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