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.

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)

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.