Cultural diversity and leadership forum

The Leadership Council hosted eighty leaders in Sydney to discuss getting cultural diversity right.

Leaders from Australian business, government, media and higher education joined a Cultural Diversity and Leadership Forum on 7 June.

The forum tackled issues including data collection on cultural diversity, leadership targets, recruitment, mentoring and professional development.

Watch a short video on the forum:

The Leadership Council’s inaugural forum called for a “super-charging” of cultural diversity efforts. It featured a panel discussion featuring Australian Institute of Company Directors CEO Angus Armour, Settlement Services International CEO Violet Roumeliotis and non-executive director Lisa Chung.

L-R Lisa Chung, Tim Soutphommasane, Angus Armour, Violet Roumeliotis

The Leadership Council will next meet on 24 July in Melbourne.

Moving beyond food festivals

The Leadership Council met on 21 March at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in Canberra.

The Leadership Council met on 21 March – the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in Canberra.

The Council hosted a panel session in conjunction with the Department, entitled Beyond food festivals: Practical actions to build diversity and create inclusive workplaces.

Through the discussion, panellists emphasised the significance of storytelling and the sharing of experiences, as well as how important it is that those from diverse backgrounds can be role models as leaders in their organisations. Panellists suggested ways organisations can begin to take steps to improve cultural diversity in their ranks.

Department Secretary and Leadership Council member Dr Martin Parkinson AC PSM hosted the discussion. It was facilitated by HK Yu, First Assistant Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Panellists included Ridwaan Jadwat (Assistant Secretary, DPMC), Swati Dave (CEO, Export Finance Insurance Corporation), Raynuha Sinnathamby  Managing Director, Springfield City Group) and Asmi Wood (Associate Professor and Sub-Dean (Indigenous), ANU).

Council members Raynuha Sinnathamby and Dr Tim Soutphommasane shared their thoughts following the panel discussion:

The Leadership Council will host the Cultural Diversity and Leadership Forum in Sydney in June 2018.

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.


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.

New video, the launch, and what’s next

New video, the launch, and what’s next

For a captioned version, click here.

The Leadership Council on Cultural Diversity was launched on 21 March by Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane. It featured a panel discussion with Council members Ian Narev and Michelle Guthrie, as well as author and journalist Benjamin Law, and Amnesty Indigenous Rights campaigner Roxanne Moore. ABC presenter Kumi Taguchi was master of ceremonies.

Mr Narev said: “Diversity is critical to long term business success. We need to mirror the people, businesses and communities that we exist to serve.

“To do so, we need an inclusive culture, where everyone feels motivated and inspired to give of his or her best. Embracing all the cultures that comprise Australian society is a business imperative.”

Dr Soutphommasane said the Leading for Change report identified a significant lack of cultural diversity in Australia’s leadership positions. He urged corporate leaders to improve cultural diversity by setting diversity targets in employment and to counter bias by expanding professional development programs.

“Progress on cultural diversity requires leadership. Cultural change is only possible when it is driven from the top. This council will provide some of that leadership,” Dr Soutphommasane said.

Reflecting on whether merit should be the sole criteria for appointment, the ABC’s Michelle Guthrie said she found it hard to believe that in the 84-year history of the national broadcaster, she was the only woman that had the merit to lead the organisation.

“I’m not a believer in quotas,” she said, “but I do believe targets are important.”

Asked if it is important to have other leaders and chief executives on board with the Leadership Coucil, Ms Guthrie said: “It’s important that we share our experiences, but I also think it’s important to have leaders reflect on what’s happening in their own organisation, and to think about the pipeline [of leaders] and potential blockages” to culturally diverse leadership.”

The next meeting and public event of the Leadership Council on Cultural Diversity will take place on 10 August 2017 at Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Melbourne.

First public event

The Leadership Council on Cultural Diversity will host its first public event at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) offices in Darling Park, Sydney, on Tuesday 21 March 2017.

Ian Narev and Michelle Guthrie will be joined by emerging leaders Benjamin Law and Roxanne Moore to discuss ‘what diversity and leadership look like’.