Cultural Diversity in the Professions

The Leadership Council met in Melbourne on 10 August at Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

Photo: Race Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Tim Soutphommasane (left) with Dr Tien Huynh, EY Oceania CEO Tony Johnson, RN Drive presenter and MC Patricia Karvelas, Dr Ranjana Srivastava, Corrs CEO John Denton and PwC CEO Luke Sayers.

PwC Australia chief executive Luke Sayers, EY Oceania chief executive Tony Johnson, and Corrs Chambers Westgarth chief executive John Denton joined Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane, Dr Tien Huynh from RMIT University and author Dr Ranjana Srivastava for a panel discussion on cultural diversity on 10 August 2017.

The event, compered by ABC Radio National presenter and journalist Patricia Karvelas, marked the Melbourne launch of the Leadership Council on Cultural Diversity.

“We established the Leadership Council to promote cultural diversity within Australian organisations,” said Dr Soutphommasane.

“Australia’s multiculturalism is a success. But we don’t yet see our cultural diversity reflected in the senior leadership ranks of organisations. 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,” Dr Soutphommasane said.

EY Oceania chief executive Tony Johnson said: “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. 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.”

PwC Australia chief executive Luke Sayers said cultural diversity was critical to the firm’s strategy.

He said PwC was the first professional services firm in Australia to implement targets, with 30 per cent of partner admissions by 2020 being people from a diverse cultural background.

“Leading a team of more than 7000 people, from 140 ethnicities, with up to 120 languages spoken, we want to attract and retain the best and brightest talent.

“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.”

Photo: Race Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Tim Soutphommasane (left) with Dr Tien Huynh, EY Oceania CEO Tony Johnson, RN Drive presenter and MC Patricia Karvelas, Dr Ranjana Srivastava, Corrs CEO John Denton and PwC CEO Luke Sayers.

See also related media:
‘Harnessing cultural diversity is hard but crucial, says Corrs’ John Denton’ (Australian Financial Review, 15 August 2017)
‘Big four accounting CEOs meet on cultural diversity targets’ (Patrick Durkin, Australian Financial Review, 15 August 2017)

Leadership Profile: Luke Sayers (CEO, PwC Australia)

Luke SayersWhat motivated you to join the Leadership Council?

Diversity is important to me not only personally, but also professionally. I lead a firm of more than 7,000 people, all from different cultures and backgrounds, and we are very focused on providing an inclusive environment for all our people.

It’s important to have a voice on social issues which impact our people, and the Leadership Council is raising important issues that affect our whole community. It also provides an opportunity to learn from what other organisations are doing to drive cultural diversity, as well as share what we are doing at PwC to create a diverse and inclusive culture.

What does success look like for the Leadership Council?

The Leadership Council has a role to play in raising important issues in the public debate and then bringing all sectors of business and government together to find solutions.

Success for the Council comes from employers across Australia sharing and adopting strategies to enhance cultural diversity in their workforce.

Have any of your personal experiences shaped how you think about diversity?

I have personal experience with diversity of a different kind and that’s disability, with one of my daughters having Down Syndrome. What I have learnt from her is that everyone has an enormous contribution to make if you are open to a different perspective and way of doings things. We focus on her abilities rather than her disabilities and she inspires me to do everything I can to help every individual who works for PwC to reach their full potential.

How, in your opinion, does Australia compare to other countries on the issue?

Australia is a multicultural society. In the last census, more than 300 languages were spoken in Australian households and 100 religions practiced. Our clients and the markets we operate in are becoming increasingly diverse through globalisation and technology. Cross-functional, multicultural and multi-geographical teams are now the norm.

To remain relevant, our workforce must reflect this globalised and diverse environment.

Diversity also drives new ideas and new ways of thinking which benefits our clients and creates a more dynamic and interesting place for our people to work.

What are the major obstacles to progress on cultural diversity?

Unfortunately, one of the biggest blockers is the unconscious bias we all carry with us where we make decisions without challenging some of our underlying assumptions. At PwC we have created an interactive learning experience called Open Minds, which provides our people with an introduction to the concept of unconscious bias, and strategies you can use to effectively reduce its impact.

Government and business need to work together to make sure that diversity is front of mind for our leaders and that strategies are implemented that filter down to the whole of society.

What does leadership mean for you?

Leadership is about being out in front, often where no one else has been. A good leader needs to have a clear vision and an end goal but you need to be adaptive in how you get there. It’s important to listen to your people and maintain an open, learning mindset.

Leadership is also about creating an environment that enables people to succeed and have a positive impact on society.

The culture and values of an organisation are paramount and they directly impact your success and ultimately your reputation.

Leadership Profile: Tony Johnson (Managing Partner and CEO, Ernst & Young)

Tony Johnson

What motivated you to join the Leadership Council?

As a child a sense of fairness was important for me, even it was only in my subconscious.  It was important to me that everyone got a fair go and an equal opportunity to participate – whether it be in the classroom or outside, particularly in the playground.

I firmly believe that fairness is an important attribute of a leader, and one I take seriously.  By joining the Leadership Council I have the opportunity to learn from others and also to positively impact EY (and the broader community) by creating a more inclusive environment and opportunity for all our people regardless of their cultural identity.  It means that more of our people will achieve their full potential – it’s just the right thing to do.

What are the major obstacles to progress on cultural diversity?

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.

We need more leaders who are educated and trained to understand the value of cultural diversity and who identify, mentor and sponsor culturally diverse talent.

Have any of your personal experiences shaped how you think about diversity?

The experience of leading our financial services practice in Asia Pacific – managing more than 5,000 people across eight countries and many more cultural backgrounds – gave me a great insight not only into the cultural differences but the synergies and value that came from bringing together diverse ideas and thoughts in an inclusive manner.

I have witnessed the importance of all people being able to see their potential future via visible and relevant role models. I have learned that leaders speaking, demonstrating and committing to inclusivity initiatives makes a huge difference to the outlook and confidence of all people, but particularly for those from diverse backgrounds.

What does leadership mean for you?

For me, leadership means being accessible, authentic and fair.

It means creating a workplace where everyone can individually achieve their full potential – enabling us to collectively thrive.  From a cultural perspective, it also means recognising when I need to flex my leadership style to one that is relatable for everyone, including culturally diverse people.

Who are some of the leaders that have inspired you?

I have been fortunate to observe and learn from many leaders – I’ve seen the good things and sometimes the not so good!  While it’s too hard to single out a few great leaders I’ve learnt from in my career, they all have some things in common.

The good leaders inspire and motivate and are generous with their time and support, understand people’s individual aspirations, and engage in authentic conversations.

What are the biggest challenges facing Australian society today?

Australia is a fantastic country; there is nowhere better to live, but we have our challenges.  The biggest include creating opportunity for all – more jobs and real wage growth will increase our prosperity and help with a more even distribution of wealth. Diversity of thought is a key enabler of innovation which is imperative to improving our productivity and surviving and thriving in a disrupted world.