The latest Leading for Change report: Leading for Change: A Blueprint for Cultural Diversity and Inclusive Leadership Revisited, released by Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane two years after the original study, has found that the majority of Australian leaders continue to be drawn from Anglo-Celtic or European backgrounds and that the pipeline of future leaders is also lacking in diversity. As such, the Commissioner states the 'report challenges Australia’s egalitarian self-image. It also challenges Australia as a nation whose prosperity relies upon international trade, capital inflows and mobility of people'. The report urges leaders and organisations to use the report as a 'blueprint for action' on the issue and calls for consideration of the collection and reporting of comprehensive data on cultural diversity to help drive progress.

Key findings: Australian leadership does not reflect the diversity in the Australian population

  • 96.9% of CEOs/equivalents are from Anglo-Celtic or European backgrounds:

    • 76.9% of CEOs (and equivalents) identified in the study have an Anglo-Celtic background

    • 20% have a European background

    • 2.7% have a non- European background

    • 0.3% (one CEO) is from an Indigenous background.

  • Over 75% of CEOs and C-suite leaders are from Anglo-Celtic or European backgrounds: Of those who occupy 2490 of the most senior posts in Australia:

    • 75.9% have an Anglo-Celtic background (58% of the population have an Anglo-Celtic background)

    • 19% have a European background (18% of the population have a European background)

    • 4.7% have a non-European background (21% of the population have a non-European background)

    • 0.4% have an Indigenous background (3% of the population have an indigenous background)

  • Not a 'matter of time': The report found that the limited diversity in the leadership pipeline indicates that without concerted action to address the issue, there is no evidence that it will improve with time: 'It would be complacent to believe that it will only be a matter of timebefore cultural diversity is better represented. There remains limited cultural diversity that appears in the leadership pipeline, as demonstrated by our findings regarding non-chief executive seniorleaders' the report states.

  • 'Dismal' findings: Commenting on these findings, Mr Soutphommasane states: 'These are dismal statistics for a society that prides itself on its multiculturalism. They challenge our egalitarian self-image. And they challenge our future prosperity as a nation. If we aren’t making the most of our multicultural talents, we may be squandering opportunities.'

Concerted action needed to drive change

  • Action by organisations and their leaders: Reiterating the guidance given in the 2016 report, the report calls for leaders and organisations to take action in three areas.

    1. Support and equip leaders to lead on the issue: Provide 'authentic and humble' leadership on cultural diversity; 'equip and support' leaders from diverse backgrounds to be role-models and prepare leaders to respond to push-back in the form of backlash/deflections.

    2. Measure progress and ensure accountability: Collect meaningful data on cultural diversity and use this to inform deeper conversations; to measure diversity and progress towards improvement (eg consider setting targets) and to holder leaders accountable.

    3. Build an inclusive culture: The report identifies the need to build an inclusive culture to both mitigate bias/discrimination and promote 'organisational resilience' in negotiating cultural differences as a key driver of change.

  • Time to consider cultural diversity reporting? The report also suggests that gathering cultural diversity data should be considered. 'The experience of gender equality has demonstrated the power of having data and reporting on gender. If we are committed to deepening our success as a multicultural society, there must be consideration of collection and reporting of comprehensive data on cultural diversity within Australian organisations and institutions' Mr Soutphommasane said.

About the report: The study examined and classified the cultural backgrounds of chief executive officers of ASX 200 companies, federal government ministers, heads of federal and state government departments, and vice chancellors of universities. It also examined the cultural backgrounds of the 'pipeline' of future leaders ie senior management at the level directly below chief executives and equivalent (group executives of ASX 200 companies, elected members of the Commonwealth Parliament, deputy heads of government departments and deputy vice chancellors of universities). The report uses the same four classifications as were used in the 2016 Leading for Change Report: a) indigenous background; b) anglo-celtic background; c) European background; non-European background.