Businesses in Australia are becoming more culturally diverse but there is still work to be done to include other nationalities at senior levels, it is suggested.

The first meeting of the new Leadership Council on Cultural Diversity in Melbourne heard that multiculturalism is a success in Australia but businesses do not show the same diversity in leadership roles.


Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said that the council has been established to promote cultural diversity within Australian organisations. 'Australia's multiculturalism is a success. But we don't yet see our cultural diversity reflected in the senior leadership ranks of organisations,' he said.

'The Leadership Council will help identify ways to ensure we can get the most out of our cultural diversity. We know that progress on this requires leadership. The Leadership Council will provide some of that leadership,' he added.

Ernst and Young Oceania chief executive Tony Johnson explained that cultural diversity drives diversity of thought and diversity of thought drives innovation. 'Progress on diversity is not just an equity issue, it's essential to our success as a nation,' he told the launch meeting.

'Multiculturalism is an Australian success story and I'm committed to ensuring this is celebrated and embraced at every level of our organisation. The work we're doing as a leadership council will help our nation benefit from culturally diverse leadership,' he pointed out.

'In many ways Australia is fertile ground to progress cultural diversity in the workplace but there are obstacles, from the practical to the unseen. Cultural misunderstandings can lead to stereotypes and bias, while wider societal progress needs to take place at the same rate of change as the workforce to achieve true equality at work,' he added.

One of the firms that is leading the way is PwC Australia and chief executive Luke Sayers said cultural diversity was critical to the firm's strategy. He pointed out that PwC was the first professional services firm in Australia to implement targets, with 30% of partner admissions by 2020 being people from a diverse cultural background.

'Leading a team of more than 7,000 people from 140 ethnicities with up to 120 languages spoken, we want to attract and retain the best and brightest talent,' he explained.

'To remain relevant, our workforce needs to reflect the diversity of the clients we serve and the markets we operate in. Diversity is essential to improving innovation and creativity in the way we solve problems and create solutions for our clients,' he added.

The council is urging corporate leaders to improve cultural diversity by setting diversity targets in employment and to counter bias by expanding professional development programmes.