Australia's track record on diversity in business

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Diversity in Australia

Despite Australia’s positive track record in business diversity, the Diversity Council of Australia (DCA) warns that leadership ranks still lack gender and cultural diversity.

Australia is considered one of the world’s major skilled migration nations, with ABS figures revealing permanent skilled migration almost quadrupled in the last 15 years. Despite the current government tightening checks on working visas there are still currently more than 100,000 migrants enlisted on the 457 Visa program. Whilst five years ago the majority of skilled migrants were predominately from the UK and New Zealand, today more than a quarter derive from India, followed by the UK and China. Filling critical skills gaps across commerce and industry, 12% are employed in the ICT sector while 11% work in professional, scientific and technical roles and 19% fill managerial positions. 

Over the last decade Australian companies have strived to improve cultural diversity by pursuing inclusive employment of people of different races, generations and cultural backgrounds, but despite this, women still remain underrepresented in leadership roles. A recent study found that women make up just a quarter of those employed in key management positions of Australian companies. There has been a major push by Women on Boards – an organisation aimed at improving the gender balance on Australian boards – to track the number of female board members in a bid to increase participation rates of women in leadership.

Asian talent in Australia also remains underutilised, with the DCA’s Cracking the Cultural Ceiling report finding that while 9.3 per cent of the Australian labour force is Asian born, only 4.9 per cent make it to senior executive level, and a further 30% plan to leave their job in the next year. As Australian organisations increase their focus on the Asian Century, harnessing diversity is set to become imperative for business growth.

How to do diversity well    

Inclusiveness is an admirable end goal for multicultural cities like Sydney and Melbourne, and the business benefits of embracing diversity are well documented. Apart from gaining access to a deeper talent pool to fill critical roles, companies get plenty of added value – like the ability to create a workforce that better reflects their customer base, the chance to increase innovation through ideas sharing, and the opportunity to develop the international perspective needed to thrive in increasingly global markets.

Getting started is often as simple as recognising the benefits of a more culturally diverse workforce.

  • Make the time: employees take their cue on how important something is to the leadership team my how much they invest in it. Set aside time and commit resources to establishing a diversity policy.
  • Make it a process:  to go beyond lip service, a good diversity policy consider all aspects of business, including how job advertisements are worded and how the interview process is carried out, so that any subconscious bias is removed.
  • Make it known: Communicate the policy throughout the organisation – from the leadership team down the pipeline and celebrate the diversity in your organisation
  • Make sure: Monitor and measure how the policy is being implemented.  There’s no point creating a great diversity policy if hiring managers aren’t following it in the real world

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