The results of new research into the level of cultural diversity in executive ranks in Australia constitute a “call to action” for organisations to better measure and capitalise on workplace diversity, says the Diversity Council of Australia.
The research was based on a survey of 2,000 executives and their direct reports, and Nareen Young – CEO of the Diversity Council – said the findings showed an encouraging depth and breadth of cultural and linguistic diversity at the most senior levels and in the leadership pipeline.
Ms Young said, significantly, it also revealed a need to capitalise more on talented people who possessed a non-English speaking cultural identity.
“Australians come from more than 200 countries, identify with more than 270 ancestries and speak almost 400 languages including 164 Indigenous languages.
“If Australian organisations are to leverage fully the business opportunities of culturally diverse local, regional and global markets, they need to genuinely value cultural diversity and the inter-cultural capabilities this can bring, and tap into Australia’s culturally diverse talent pool,” Ms Young said.
“Our research findings underscore the need for employers to build understanding and engagement around cultural diversity.”
Five member organisations of the Diversity Council in the professional services and financial services sectors participated in the survey. The organisations were Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, PwC and ANZ. The on-line survey was distributed to all their Australian senior executives and direct reports – 5762 staff – and 2186 responses were received, resulting in a 38% response rate.
The survey found what was described as “some encouraging breadth and depth in cultural and linguistic diversity” among senior executives and their direct reports:
- Senior executives and pipeline executives held citizenship of 65 different countries and represented 107 different ancestries. Fifty-seven different languages were spoken across survey participant homes.
- The percentage of senior executives and pipeline executives who were born overseas was higher than that in the general community (41% versus 27%).
- Different cultural and religious groups were represented at levels roughly equivalent to that found in the broader community.
- When looking at second-generation cultural diversity, the degree and breadth of cultural diversity increased – 54% of participants had parents who were born overseas, representing a total of about 90 countries of birth.
- The leadership pipeline was somewhat more culturally and linguistically diverse than the senior executive workforce in relation to country of birth, parents’ country of birth and main languages spoken at home.
The survey uncovered opportunities for organisations to better capitalise on cultural diversity:
- Increase the proportion of senior executives and pipeline executives who originate from non-Main English Speaking Countries (MESC) and who speak a language other than English. The majority of participants were born in either Australia or MESC (86%), these being Canada, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America);
- Develop a talent pool of senior executives and pipeline executives who originate from a broader range of countries of birth and ancestries and who speak a broader range of languages; and
- Increase the degree and breadth of cultural diversity in the immediate leadership pipeline.
The Chief Executive Officers of Diversity Council member organisations said the research was valuable because it highlighted the benefits of using cultural diversity to enhance a company’s operations.
"At Deloitte we believe every person, no matter what their culture or religion, should have the right to aspire to every role. We are creating an environment where valuing diversity in thinking becomes one of our greatest assets,” said CEO Giam Swiegers.
“Capitalising on culture is particularly important for ANZ as we seek to grow our business across Australia, New Zealand, Asia and the Pacific. A vibrant and engaged workforce with people who understand and can connect with our customers, teams and markets wherever we operate and whatever their cultural background, is a critical foundation for the success of our strategy,” said Mike Smith, CEO of ANZ.
“Whilst Australian business is making some encouraging progress in relation to gender diversity, we have yet to replicate this in the area of ethnic and cultural diversity – yet the business case is equally valid. Cultural diversity has a hugely valuable role to play in the generation of diverse thinking and in underpinning our ability to anticipate and exceed client or customer needs and expectations,” Robert Milliner, Chief Executive Partner of Mallesons Stephen Jaques, said.