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Capitalising on a Culturally-Diverse Workplace


Wednesday, 21st September 2016 at 10:09 am
Ellie Cooper, Journalist
With migration changing the makeup of Australia’s 12-million-person workforce, CQ Cultural Consulting helps organisations embrace and optimise the diversity within their ranks, writes Ellie Cooper in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.


Wednesday, 21st September 2016
at 10:09 am
Ellie Cooper, Journalist


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Capitalising on a Culturally-Diverse Workplace
Wednesday, 21st September 2016 at 10:09 am

With migration changing the makeup of Australia’s 12-million-person workforce, CQ Cultural Consulting helps organisations embrace and optimise the diversity within their ranks, writes Ellie Cooper in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.

Half of Australia’s population were born overseas or have a parent who was born overseas, and people speak 250 languages and follow at least 135 religions.

According to CQ Cultural Consulting, a social enterprise of Melbourne City Mission, the future success of Australian businesses, governments and organisations relies on adapting to this increasing diversity.

CQ aims to help leaders navigate the unchartered waters by providing intercultural training, consultation, research and resources.

Gemma O’Brien, manager of CQ, helped set up the social enterprise four years ago after first working as a facilitator for Melbourne City Mission’s Western Young People’s Independent Network (WYPIN).

At that time, WYPIN had been running for 25 years. But O’Brien, who had never worked in the community sector before, realised after her first 12 months that the project was in financial trouble.

“It’s one of Australia’s longest-running, genuinely youth-led organisations. It’s comprised exclusively of young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds, and as a group they do some amazing advocacy and empowerment work,” O’Brien said.

“They run a series of leadership programs throughout the year and really develop future leaders from diverse backgrounds. But at the time WYPIN relied exclusively on government and philanthropic funding and… when I was approaching the end of my first year with WYPIN I realised the funding for the next year was unsecured and there was an inability to plan and continue that important work.”

WYPIN is led by a committee of young people who O’Brien sat down to figure out how the organisation could generate its own income, and they came up with the idea for CQ Cultural Consulting.

“The committee looked at themselves and saw there was this really rich cultural capital that existed within the group, and… this was really highly sought after by service providers and government and business to understand how to work with or attract people from diverse backgrounds,” O’Brien said.

“From there… we went to Social Traders with the idea, we went through Social Traders’ Crunch program, we sought start-up capital and secured start-up capital, we then engaged one of the leading intercultural trainers in Australia, Robert Bean, and he helped us develop our own unique content, and it snowballed from there.”

CQ officially launched in April 2015 with one full-time-equivalent staff member. It’s since grown to a team of seven, staffed entirely by young people from multicultural and Indigenous backgrounds.

O’Brien says there are two key motivations for organisations seeking out cultural consulting.  

The first is organisations that want to recruit a diverse workforce or leverage their existing culturally diverse workforce, by developing talent and ensuring leadership reflects the makeup of the company.

The second is for organisations that serve people from a culturally or linguistically diverse background.

To address these areas, O’Brien says the social enterprise provides services across four key business lines.

“We provide face-to-face training to organisations around how to work better with cultural diversity, and we deliver a suite of different programs that include unconscious bias, developing cultural intelligence, working with interpreters and so on,” she said.

“In the consulting space we offer consulting services and an example of this is recently we’ve worked with Victoria Police, they’ve launched a new strategy around how their police recruits might better engage with members of the public who are from multicultural and Indigenous backgrounds, and so we’re doing a year-long consulting piece to support that work.

“The third arm is research, so we’ve got a strategic partnership with La Trobe University… in the space of cultural consulting there’s an absence of an evidence-based approach, and we really want to demonstrate that working well with diversity and understanding it is not only a moral imperative, it’s also a business imperative. And so we’re [developing] metrics and an evidence-based approach to cultural diversity or developing cultural intelligence.

“And the fourth business line is resource development… so at the moment we’re working on a year-long piece… with the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, they’re an international professional association of emergency doctors across Australia and New Zealand. We’re developing some online learning modules so as to build the workforce capability of emergency medicine practitioners around working with culturally diverse and Indigenous patients.”

Over its three years of development, CQ leveraged Melbourne City Mission’s network to attract clients, but increasingly organisations are seeking out its services.

“When we started we were working on smaller projects, mostly with Not for Profits and local council, and we continue to do that work, but the scale and complexity has certainly increased. We’re now working with national and international organisations on a large-scale body of work,” O’Brien said.

“We’re pretty lucky in the sense that we’re the only provider that we know of in this space that’s youth-led and our consultants are all diverse in the sense that they’re culturally diverse but are really diverse in terms of their rich professional experience as well.”

As a fee-for-service social enterprise, CQ’s income goes towards its operating expenses with leftover profits supporting and sustaining WYPIN’s advocacy and empowerment initiatives.

But O’Brien says CQ also has two other areas of social impact.

“We develop diverse leaders, and this is critical to our work. We recognise that Australia has a deficit of diverse leaders. An example of this is in the Commonwealth Parliament there is today less than 30 per cent female representation, 12 per cent from a culturally-diverse background,” she said.

“That’s not reflective of community, and we seek to bring about systemic change, and to do that we’re really invested in developing diverse leaders who will go on to be future influential decision makers for Australia.

“And then our third social impact metric is around the direct impact of our work. We measure this on the work we do with our clients both in its ability to improve or uplift diversity and inclusion within the workplace and also to have business performance uplift, so we work with our academic partner in La Trobe to develop sound metrics to measure diversity and inclusion in business performance uplift.”

She says one of CQ’s main achievements in this area is in its work with Teach for Australia, an organisation that trains teachers in a practical setting.

“We’re now in our third year of working with Teach for Australia around building capability in teachers to work in a multicultural classroom,” she said.

“A lot of Teach for Australia associates are placed in rural and regional parts of Australia where there’s high Indigenous populations and high refugee and migrant populations, and so it’s been really great that our young facilitators are able to speak from a place of authenticity around what it is to be a culturally-diverse student in a classroom.”

O’Brien says it’s both rewarding and challenging to operate a social enterprise within a larger Not for Profit.

“For us there’s always the tension between trying to meet the double-bottom line, so ensuring that you marry both measured social impact with business imperatives,” she said.

“We are positioning ourselves in a space where we provide consulting services to government and increasingly to business, and it’s been a fantastic opportunity to be incubated by Melbourne City Mission.

“But I think there’s always a workable tension between being represented as a Not for Profit and having your own brand identity as an independent social enterprise.”

O’Brien says another challenge was identifying a vision for the future. But with a new strategy, she says the goal has become clear.

“The first year of operation was really just keeping our head above water and trying to ensure we have the right staff to deliver on the work,” she said.

“Now we’ve made it to our first year of operating and it was an opportunity to look forward at where we’re going and in our new strategy we really want to experience growth both in terms of the number of consultants that we have and the impact that we have.

“So our vision that we’ve chosen is to be a leading intercultural firm that has diverse, young consultants. And we’re hoping to be the leading provider in Australia. I know it’s ambitious at this stage, but that’s the vision that we’re chasing.”


Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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