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Business emphasis on gender diversity

16 July 20140 comments

Australian businesses are focusing on gender balance at the expense of promoting cultural diversity, according to a new survey.

This is despite nine out of ten employers believing racist attitudes persist in the workplace.

The survey, by the Diversity Council Australia (DCA) in conjunction with the Scanlon Foundation, found that almost 30 per cent of Australian businesses ranked gender diversity as the most important issue to address, while only 13 per cent identified cultural diversity as a key priority.

The DCA’s cultural diversity director Katriina Tahka said cultural diversity has played second fiddle to gender issues because it is less well understood and not as measured.

She said gender diversity had gained prominence because of compulsory reporting on equality of opportunity for women.

By comparison, 30 years of the Race Discrimination Act has been interpreted by many businesses as a taboo on asking employees about culture, Ms Tahka said.

“All the statistical analysis has thrown a real spotlight on the gender gap and most businesses pay attention to numbers, that’s the way they operate,” Ms Tahka said.

“In general, everyone has shied away from talking about cultural difference – the belief in treating everyone equally has been translated as treating everyone the same,” she said.

Ms Tahka said the concept of starting to measure cultural diversity was new and challenging.

“People are a bit nervous about it, whereas gender is more clear cut and you don’t have to ask people any questions but can just run reports off your databases. It’s easier to measure gender, it’s been measured for a long time, people get the issue and there are basically two genders,” she said.

Ms Tahka said it was fair to say that gender diversity has displaced cultural diversity as the top priority but it would be even more accurate to say that the problem is focusing on gender in isolation without taking a holistic approach to diversity.

“There’s an arbitrariness of saying today we’re focusing on gender and tomorrow we’re focusing on culture, as if people don’t have both,” Ms Tahka said.

“It drives us crazy but that’s the way businesses do it. For me, my cultural identity [born in Australia but to a Finnish family] is more important than my gender. ”

“Australia is one of the most culturally diverse counties in the world: one in two Australians is either born overseas or has a parent from another country,” the survey said.

Of the 75 businesses surveyed, almost 70 per cent said they had cultural diversity initiatives in the workplace. Another 60 per cent said they were starting new initiatives.