Compelling news from the refugee and migrant sector
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The big end of town discovers cultural diversity

10 August 20160 comments

Large corporate businesses have launched a push to broaden cultural diversity among their senior staff as a new report reveals fewer than five per cent of the nation’s leadership come from non-European backgrounds.

The big four accounting firms – PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and Ernst & Young – are among a growing number of business organisations who recognise the commercial benefit of diversity in their workforces.

PricewaterhouseCoopers is tracking the cultural backgrounds of all new employees with a plan to make its 492-strong partnership reflect the cultural mix of Australia’s cities.

PwC CEO Luke Sayers says the organisation now had a target of 30 per cent of new partners from non-Anglo Celtic backgrounds.

Tim Soutphommasane

Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane has joined PwC’s Diversity Advisory Board, alongside former David Jones executive Paul Zahra and former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes.

“Our society celebrates its multicultural character, but our leadership isn’t as multicultural as you’d expect,” Dr Soutphommasane said, while launching the Leading for Change report into corporate cultural diversity.

“Across business, politics, government and civil society, no more than five per cent of leadership positions are held by people from non-European cultural backgrounds. This begs some questions about unconscious bias and institutional barriers to equal opportunity,” Dr Soutphommasane said.

Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer says he wants the bank’s leadership team to be 20 per cent Asian to reflect the rest of the bank’s workforce.

With 32,000 staff, the bank is one of Australia’s largest employers but while around 21 per cent of the staff is of Asian background, only 13 per cent of the leadership team is.

“This is a business issue to me, it’s not just a social justice issue although it also happens to be the right thing to do,” Mr Hartzer told the Australian Financial Review.

The Commonwealth and NAB banks have also begun analysing the ethnic makeup of their staff and leadership teams to improve cultural diversity.

The Australian Human Rights Commission report found that no more than five per cent of leaders in business, politics, universities and government departments were from non-European backgrounds – a statistic that some observers say weakens Australia’s claim to be a multicultural success story.

The study, the first of its kind, reveals a bias against those of Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, African, Pacific Island and Latin American descent achieving leadership positions.

Among the nation’s 40 university vice-chancellors, all were from Anglo-Celtic (85 per cent) or European (15 per cent) backgrounds. None were Indigenous or non-European.

“We have assumptions about what leadership must look like and sound like, and there are structural barriers to those from culturally diverse backgrounds breaking through into positions of leadership,” Dr Soutphommasane said.

“I get approached all the time at functions by professionals from (non-European) backgrounds who feel they’ve had such experiences and it’s dispiriting. You are talking about people whose ambitions are unfulfilled.”

The Leading for Change report said an estimated 32 per cent of the Australian population had a non-Anglo Celtic background.

However, in the last federal parliament, 79 per cent of the 226 members had an Anglo-Celtic background and 16 per cent had a European background – a trend even stronger in the federal ministry.

Of 124 heads of federal and state departments, just two were of non-European descent and one had an Indigenous background.

“We found a bleak story for multicultural Australia … Australian society may not be making the most of its diverse backgrounds and talents,” the report said.

“When it concerns advancement within professional life, prejudice can trump diversity.”

It said a more culturally diverse workforce made for better decision-making and performance, and outlined a way forward, including mentoring, targets and better data collection.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist