ASX chiefs are culturally diverse, if ‘culturally diverse’ means Anglo-Saxon or European

There’s two ways to look at the corporate cultural diversity figures released by the Australian Diversity Council of Australia this morning.

On the one hand, you can take comfort in the fact that 21.9% of ASX200 chiefs are not solely Anglo-Saxon. Nation-wide, that figure is 32.3%, so while the ASX200 is behind, it could be a lot worse.

Or, if you want a more concerning view, you could strip out the Europeans. Just 2.5% Of ASX200 chiefs are not European or Anglo-Saxon, a long way behind the general population. Those with Asian cultural backgrounds alone comprise 9.6% of the broader Australian community, but only 1.9% of executive managers. This means people from Asian, African, Middle Eastern or Pacific Islander backgrounds are barely represented at all among Australia’s leading corporate chiefs.

Those figures come from the Diversity Council’s first ever stocktake of the cultural diversity of ASX200 leaders. The study, which used name analysis to chart the likely cultural origins of ASX200 chiefs, directors, and senior executives, found Australia’s leading businessmen and women were mainly English, Scottish, Irish, German and Welsh.

Using name analysis to guess cultural origins delivers individual accuracy of 85%, the report states.

Diversity Council CEO Nareen Young tells SmartCompany the issue is one that “smart organisations are really starting to look at,” because of the realisation that future growth for their businesses is likely to come from countries in Asia.

Until now, however, many businesses have lacked the tools to chart their level of cultural diversity. Which is where the Diversity Council’s model, developed with market segmentation consultancy OriginsInfo, comes in. “This gives them the tools and capacity to know where they stand,” Young says.

“We have an incredibly diverse population. As we move towards understanding our place in this region, and what it means for us in economic terms, we need the capacity to utilise that rich diversity.

“The first step is to identify where we are. In Australia, we know there are a lot of people with anglicised last names. Aboriginal people often still don’t identify as such in the workplace.

“In order to change that, we need a formalised capacity to identify the level of cultural diversity in organisations.”

The Diversity Council has given organisations a goal: a ‘tipping point’ from where cultural diversity becomes the norm. This is achieved when 28% of a company’s leaders are culturally diverse. Currently, one in three ASX200 companies achieves this metric.

The interaction between cultural diversity and gender was one issue raised in the report.

When it came to CEOs, the percentages of male and female culturally diverse leaders were on par. But on corporate boards, there was a very small pool of culturally diverse female board directors – a figure no doubt influenced by the tiny representation of women on corporate boards overall.

Last year, LeadingCompany looked at the career histories of ASX100 chiefs to find out how many had worked or studied overseas. We found overseas experience was fairly common, with 77 of the 100 having either studied or worked overseas. But most of that experience was likely to have come from working in Europe or America. Only 12 of last year’s ASX100 chiefs had worked in Asia, and none had studied there.


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