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Diversity on company boards a driver a growth

10 December 20150 comments

Leading businesswoman Ann Sherry has hit out at the lack of racial diversity on Australian boards saying that if businesses and organisations don’t get the gender balance right they stand no hope of meeting more ambitious cultural diversity targets.

Carnival Australia Chief Executive Ms Sherry told a business event in Sydney: “If you can’t get gender right, then you can’t get anything right.”

Carnival Australia Chief Executive Ms Ann Sherry

Carnival Australia Chief Executive Ms Ann Sherry

She said the diversity problem went beyond gender, but added that despite claims that the debate around it is too narrowly focused on appointing women directors, gender is the easiest target to achieve.

Ms Sherry was addressing the findings of a survey of prominent company directors that suggested simplistic ideas of diversity are stifling the ability to recruit the right talent to boards.

“I think there are lots of companies still struggling with the idea of any sort of diversity on boards and that, at the moment, largely means women. There are very few Asian directors on boards, yet we’re talking a lot about the Asian century,” Ms Sherry said.

“I think there’s a lot more we need to do, but I do believe if you can’t get gender right, the rest of it is just more window dressing on the same issue,” she said.

“The real issue is having board composition that reflects what you want to do with your business.”

The survey findings, published this week by Blenheim Partners and MGSM, were the result of a survey of more than 75 directors, chairmen and chief executives on their views about a range of business concerns.

The report said the findings showed a need to advocate for “diversity for growth’s sake” not “diversity for diversity’s sake”.

“The current diversity lens may not in fact be achieving diversity in thought and contribution due to common backgrounds, education and experiences of directors, irrespective of gender,” the report said.

In February, a national campaign to promote the economic benefits of cultural diversity was launched by a group of influential business leaders.

The Discover Diversity campaign was developed by the Migration Council Australia (MCA) to support awareness about Australia’s history as a migrant nation and strengthen inclusion.

It is backed by the CEO of the Commonwealth Bank Ian Narev, Ernest and Young’s Asia Pacific Chair of professional services Michael Wachtel, Optus Chairman Paul O’Sullivan and Transfield Services CEO Graham Hunt.

“Cultural diversity is one of Australia’s greatest assets. As a major Australian company, we will be successful only if we have a long term focus on making our workforce more diverse, and our culture welcoming and inclusive so all our people can thrive,” Mr Narev said at the time.

And Mr Wachtel said Ernst and Young promoted cultural diversity, “not just because we ought to, but because it makes good business sense”.


Sarah Gilmour
AMES Australia Staff Writer