Cultural diversity and innovation

It has been proven that diverse workforces lead to better decision-making. Cultural diversity in organisational leadership is good for business, and it is the right thing to do. But can it also bear upon organisations’ ability to be innovative, drive technological change and provide global leadership?  

On 19 October, the Leadership Council on Cultural Diversity met in Brisbane to discuss cultural diversity and innovation.

The panel included Dr Martin Parkinson, Professor Peter Høj, and new member of the Leadership Council, Springfield Land Corporation Managing Director Ms Raynuha Sinnathamby. The evening was emceed by ABC news presenter Ms Karina Carvalho.

Leadership Profile: Raynuha Sinnathamby (Managing Director, Springfield Land Corporation)

What motivated you to join the Leadership Council?

It’s quite apparent that despite Australia’s population being so culturally diverse, there continues to be both an unjustified and undignified lag in being similarly diverse at a corporate level. For me, the Council represents a welcome opportunity to help push the accelerator, and to shout-out that it’s simply not good enough to watch idly from the sidelines while Australia misses out on the obvious economic and social benefits of having an inclusive multicultural workplace and business leadership that mirrors that.

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

As with some other progressive issues, we’ve been slow to grow and bridled at times by our enduring historic ties to the country’s Anglo background and a one-time protectionist white Australia policy that was easily suited to a prosperous and politically stable hard-to-get-to island without porous borders. Nevertheless, we are seeing a trending increase in Australia’s multiculturalism at a corporate senior level thanks to a growing appreciation of our disparity with nations like the USA and the emergence of Councils like this one.

What are the major obstacles to progress on cultural diversity?

Community apathy which allows our government and corporate leaders to believe that there are more important problems to solve. This is fundamentally caused by a lack of education on the subject and little understanding and appreciation of what the social and material benefits are from being culturally diverse and inclusive.   We also have to break down the unconscious bias that exists in many workplaces.

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

I’ve watched the industry slowly but gradually change to better reflect both cultural and gender diversity and as a managing director of a company that depends on innovative and broad thinking and experience at every level, I’ve worked proactively to ensure that we have a multicultural and gender diverse workforce and leadership.

What does success look like for the Leadership Council?

It’s telling that when you look at the Council membership and the incredibly rich and diverse breadth of experience and backgrounds that they have one primary measure of success that unites them:  Improving the representation of cultural diversity within the leadership of Australian organisations. If we can help achieve this then we will have succeeded.

What does leadership mean for you?

Leadership means being able to encourage others towards a collective rational goal by example and by valuing the input, energy and individual diversity of each person in your team.

Who are some of the leaders that have inspired you?

Gandhi because he changed the world without resorting to violence but with rational persuasion and an unyielding sense of social justice.  Maha Sinnathamby and Bob Sharpless because of their commitment to improving human and social capital.  Rick Dennis for his strong leadership and fundamental understanding of relationship building.

What are the biggest challenges facing Australian society today?

The lack of a strong narrative about who we are as a nation, what we stand for and what we aspire to achieve. In my view this absence reflects an ongoing lack of centralist thinking and policies which would better unite our diverse population rather than polarising us into political paralysis.