Ten steps to capitalise on cultural diversity

Cultural diversity in the corporate executive ranks is lagging behind the overall cultural mix of Australian society, a new report has found. Here are 10 steps to capitalise on culture in your organisation.

Ten steps to capitalise on cultural diversity

The cultural make-up of business leaders and executives in Australia does not mirror the overall make-up of Australia.

Diversity Council Australia’s (DCA) report, Capitalising on Culture: A Study of the Cultural Origins of ASX 200 Business Leaders found that 22.2% of business directors in Australia are culturally diverse; CEOs come in at 21.9% and senior executives at 19.9%. This is compared to a general Australian community of 32.2%. However, the study also found almost half of these are of North-West European background.

“Our research is an important first step in capturing the cultural mosaic of ASX business leaders,” Nareen Young, CEO of DCA, said. “A culturally diverse and capable leadership team can provide enormous benefits for organisations, such as the potential to boost local market share, enter international markets, create strategic alliances, maximise innovation and meet critical talent shortages.”

DCA compiled the following recommendations to help an organisation capitalise on culture:

  • Make a compelling case. Present your organisation with a strong case as to the importance of capitalising on culture. This case can be used to build internal understanding and engagement surrounding cultural diversity – especially for senior leaders.
  • Use the right tools. Different tools will suit your workplace and its current make-up. Online surveys can be used to capture cultural identity, as can analysis techniques. Ultimately, the appropriate tools must reflect a contemporary multicultural Australian business, but also be suited to your company’s unique context and situation.
  • Define differently. Break diversity down into a number of different definitions (such as ‘narrow’ and ‘broad’) when analysing data. This will generate greater insights.
  • Double dip. The same data and demographics can be used for a number of different segments. For instance, some data may be able to be analysed for gender and cultural diversity simultaneously.
  • Benchmark. Benchmarking is a necessary procedure to help measure where your organisation is sitting against other players in the industry. Importantly, however, it can also be used to measure your business as a reflection of the general community.
  • Go wide. Developing a talent pool of multiple cultural backgrounds is important. It becomes too easy to forget the breadth of cultures in Australia, and cultural initiatives sometimes target only a small selection.
  • Value cultural assets. While promoting or recruiting on the grounds of cultural identity is likely to do more harm than good, taking into account cultural assets – such as global experience, multi-linguistics, or other forms of cultural knowledge can be beneficial.
  • Identify critical ‘drop off’ points. Certain points in the organisation may ‘drop off’ in terms of diversity – you may find your organisation is diverse up until a certain point, where those of diverse backgrounds stop getting promoted. If this is the case, you may wish to focus initiatives towards this level.
  • Critically review organisational filters. Ensure that all leadership models, value statements, succession planning criteria and assessment and even general values in the organisation are not filtering out cultural diverse talent. Concepts of ‘cultural fit’ may also be causing this.
  • Inclusion, not assimilation. Taking the approach that culturally diverse workers should be integrated and then adopt current cultural values can result in poor team performance and is associated with racial bias. Instead, celebrate the cultural diversity brought into your organisation.

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