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Changing the face of Australia's leadership

28 November 2019
Dr John Yu Fellowship
The University of Sydney has created a fellowship program to nurture cultural diversity within the next generation of Australian leaders.

The three-day Dr John Yu Fellowship program is the first of its kind in Australia to address the gap in leadership development for high-achieving multicultural professionals, and brings together a range of organisations committed to improving diversity and inclusion. 

Run from 13–15 November, the program aimed to enhance participants’ strategic awareness of cultural diversity and leadership and to build a network of likeminded colleagues. 

It is named after prominent paediatrician Dr John Yu AC, an alumnus of the University of Sydney who has spent his working life dedicated to improving health outcomes for children. Dr Yu was the Australian of the Year for 1996. 

We know that cultural diversity is under-represented in the ranks of leadership in Australian institutions. Our leadership doesn’t reflect our multicultural diversity.
University of Sydney's Professor Tim Soutphommasane

Led by Professor Clinton Free, Academic Director of Executive Education at the University of Sydney Business School, and Tim Soutphommasane, Professor of Practice and Director of Culture Strategy at the University, the fellowship will take place annually with next year’s program to be held in Melbourne.

“We know that cultural diversity is under-represented in the ranks of leadership in Australian institutions. Our leadership doesn’t reflect our multicultural diversity. We don’t yet make the most of our talents,” said Professor Soutphommasane.

“This Fellowship is about changing that. It’s about bringing multicultural leaders into the pipeline and ensuring that participating organisations develop greater sophistication in how they approach cultural diversity.”

According to the 2018 Leading for Change report, published by a working group including the Australian Human Rights Commission and the University of Sydney Business School, while an estimated 24 percent of Australians have a non-European or Indigenous cultural background, fewer than 5 percent of senior leaders in business, politics and government come from culturally diverse backgrounds. 

2017 pilot program

The Dr John Yu Fellowship builds on a pilot program run in 2017, with participants from 18 organisations including Westpac, Woolworths, EY, KPMG, Deloitte, Clayton Utz, Herbert Smith Freehills, King Wood Mallesons, the Reserve Bank, NSW Police and the ABC.  

Cilla Robinson, partner at law firm Clayton Utz, was one of the participants in the pilot program.

“As a proud multicultural nation, Australia has a long way to go on shifting the dial towards true cultural diversity in leadership and in particular the upper echelons in corporate Australia. The disconnect between the proportion of culturally diverse people in the Australian population compared to what can be found in our leadership is simply depressing,” Robinson said.

“Without a concerted effort to drive change and a resilience to the inevitable backlash, the status quo will continue. We need candid conversations and courageous leaders to tackle the ugly truth head-on and unpack how more progress can be made, quickly, rather than the issue being put in the too-hard basket.

“The fellowship equipped me with both practical skills and supporting theory to have more sophisticated discussions and drive home the strategic benefits and critical importance of achieving enhanced cultural diversity within the next generation of Aussie leaders and specifically leaders within my firm, Clayton Utz.”

The disconnect between the proportion of culturally diverse people in the Australian population compared to what can be found in our leadership is simply depressing.
Cilla Robinson - Clayton Utz

2019 Dr John Yu Fellowship

This year, 42 participants representing 28 organisations took part in the inaugural Dr John Yu fellowship. 

Participating organisation - Laing O’Rourke

One of the participating organisations in this year’s fellowship was engineering company Laing O’Rourke, who sent three participants to this year’s fellowship.

“As a business that is engaged on some of Australia’s largest and most complex infrastructure projects, we have a responsibility to demonstrate that meaningful and rewarding career paths are available in this industry, for everyone. A responsibility that we take very seriously,” said Cathal O’Rourke, Managing Director of Laing O’Rourke.

Participant - Grace Bacon from ANZ

Grace Bacon, Head of International Segment for ANZ Private and participant in this year’s fellowship, encourages major organisations and corporations to participate in the program.

“The Dr John Yu Fellowship is essential for all people leaders and organisations that are serious about fostering and developing a diverse leadership pipeline. For effective and inclusive decision making, leadership profiles in Australia need to reflect the diversity of our society,” Bacon said.

Participant - Ena Pawar from the Attorney-General’s Department

Fellow participant Ena Pawar, senior policy officer with the Attorney-Generals Department, shared similar sentiments about the importance of the fellowship in helping organisations increase diversity in their leadership.

“These programs provide tools we can take back into our ‘real’ lives and reenergise our leadership efforts. They provide a fantastic opportunity to learn from the presenters and participants, engage in meaningful conversations, and allow us to view issues from different perspectives,” Pawar said. 

The 2020 fellowship will be held in Melbourne, please email diversity-fellowship.program@sydney.edu.au for more information.

List of participating organisations in 2019

ANZ

Blacktown Council

Laing O'Rourke

PwC

Ashurst

Clayton Utz

Maurice Blackburn

QBE

ASIC

Deloitte

Minter Ellison

Refugee Council of Australia

Attorney-General's Department

EY

Nomos Legal

Reserve Bank of Australia

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Herbert Smith Freehills

NSW Department of Education

Swinburne University of Technology

Baker McKenzie

KPMG

NSW Police

University of Sydney

BHP

La Trobe University

NSW Transport

Westpac

Sally Sitou

Media and PR Adviser (International)

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