'Dismal' lack of cultural diversity in key leadership positions

by HRD12 Apr 2018

Only eight chief executives within the ASX 200 companies have a non-European background – not even enough to form a cricket team.

Indeed, the Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane has launched new research that establishes Anglo-Celtic Australians and those of European background continue to dominate the ranks of Australian chief executives by as much as 97%.

At the senior management level, cultural diversity improves only slightly, with 95% of more than 2,400 senior leaders having an Anglo-Celtic or European background.

“Although those who have non-European and Indigenous backgrounds make up an estimated 24% of the Australian population, such backgrounds account for only 5% of senior leaders,” said Dr Soutphommasane.

The report noted that this is a “dismal statistic” for a society that prides itself on its multiculturalism..

Leading for Change: A Blueprint for Cultural Diversity and Inclusive Leadership Revisited was written and researched in partnership with the University of Sydney Business School, the Committee for Sydney, and Asia Society Australia.

Dr Soutphommasane said cultural diversity is especially low within the senior leadership of Australian universities and Australian government departments.

“This report challenges Australia’s egalitarian self-image. It also challenges Australia as a nation whose prosperity relies upon international trade, capital inflows and mobility of people,” he said.

“It would be complacent to believe that it will only be a matter of time before cultural diversity is better represented. There remains limited cultural diversity that appears in the leadership pipeline, as demonstrated by our findings regarding non-chief executive senior leaders.”

He added that in a society where nearly one-quarter is estimated to have a non-European or Indigenous background, the findings of our latest study challenge us to do better with our multiculturalism.

“Getting serious about the issue demands that leaders and organisations take committed action in three areas: leadership, systems and culture,” said Dr Soutphommasane.

“The experience of gender equality has demonstrated the power of having data and reporting on gender. If we are committed to deepening our success as a multicultural society, there must be consideration of collection and reporting of comprehensive data on cultural diversity within Australian organisations and institutions.”

Moreover, the Diversity Council of Australia that there is strong evidence that ‘double jeopardy’ (when gender and cultural background combine) is prohibiting women from top leadership opportunities.
 
Dr Dimitria Groutsis, a senior lecturer in Work and Organisational Studies at the Business School, said women from culturally diverse backgrounds face a ‘kind of double jeopardy’.

“They are denied leadership roles because they are both female and culturally diverse,” said Dr Groutsis.

She added that the insights gained from the women interviewed point to ways that organisations can crack the cultural ceiling and make sure that culturally diverse women are able to become leaders and role models for future generations.

“For example, the deliberate partnering of leaders with emerging leaders from diverse cultural backgrounds can be a very good strategy. It is a leader-led approach to recognising, valuing and including diverse voices in the leadership suite,” said Dr Groutsis.

 

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