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Blueprint to overcome Anglo Celtic bias in leadership

3 August 2016
Society failing to reflect our cultural diversity

A new ‘blueprint’ for cultural diversity and inclusive leadership based on research undertaken by the Business School was revealed this week.

Launched by Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane and Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer, the ground breaking research, which looked at the cultural composition of leaders within the ASX200, Federal Parliament, the public service and universities, found that Australian institutions remain overwhelming Anglo Celtic despite the diversity of the wider society.

University of Sydney Business School Dean Professor Greg Whitwell said leadership in business, politics, government and civil society is failing to reflect Australia’s diverse cultural and our institutions are under performing as a result.

The head of the internationally respected business school also warned of the potential for growing “frustration” among Australians, particularly students, from non-Anglo Celtic backgrounds who “may feel that their talents are not being recognised”. 

“Across business, politics, government and civil society, no more than five per cent of leadership positions are held by people from non-European cultural backgrounds,” Dr Soutphommasane said. “This begs some questions about unconscious bias and institutional barriers to equal opportunity.” 

'Leading for Change: A blueprint for cultural diversity and inclusive leadership' proposes strategies such as stronger leadership, better data collection, the use of diversity targets, and improved training and professional development to increase cultural diversity at senior levels.

“It’s easy to demonstrate that diversity will improve organisational performance,” said Professor Whitwell following the blueprint launch. “Diversity inherently provides the opportunity to hear and explore different perspectives and viewpoints. It should also lead to more robust questioning of assumptions. It will help teams and organisations to be more creative. So, it should lead to better decision making.” 

But Professor Whitwell also warned that the advantages of diversity will not be fully realised without practising inclusive leadership. “This is the art of ensuring that diverse voices are heard and acted on, of helping people to have the courage to express their unique perspective on issues and to know that those contributions are respected.” 

Urging all organisations to act on the blueprint, Professor Whitwell also warned that a lack of action will result in a failure to encourage non-Anglo Celtic Australians to reach their full potential.

“There will inevitably be frustration if we don’t bring about change, and one of the things we’re trying to do in the blueprint is to make the case for change and to provide some guidance on how change can be effected in organisations,” said Professor Whitwell. “If we don’t do that, we’ll be the worse off, in terms both of social cohesion and economic performance, there’s no doubt about that.”

The launch of Leading for Change: A blueprint for cultural diversity and inclusive leadership, comes in the wake of a renewed commitment by the University of Sydney to ‘cultural competence’, one of six core qualities to be developed in all students.

“Cultural competence is a core intellectual skill,” said Vice-Chancellor, Dr Michael Spence. “Unless you acquire the capacity to actively listen, to imagine what the world might look like through the eyes of others, then you won’t have the flexibility of mind you need to be well trained.

“It’s also crucial for the development of sharp minds and good hearts, of the kind that we so desperately need for leadership in this country,” Dr Spence concluded.

Trevor Watson

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