Skip to main content

Australian leadership falls short on cultural diversity

Race Discrimination

Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane has revisited his Leading for Change (2016) report and found a persistent lack of cultural diversity among leaders in business, politics, government and universities.

On 11 April 2018, the Commissioner launches new research that establishes Anglo-Celtic Australians and those of European background continue to dominate the ranks of Australian chief executives by as much as 97%.

Cultural diversity improves only slightly at the senior management level, with 95% of more than 2,400 senior leaders having an Anglo-Celtic or European background.

“Although those who have non-European and Indigenous backgrounds make up an estimated 24% of the Australian population, such backgrounds account for only 5 per cent of senior leaders.

“This is a dismal statistic for a society that prides itself on its multiculturalism,” the new report notes.

Leading for Change: A Blueprint for Cultural Diversity and Inclusive Leadership Revisited was written and researched in partnership with the University of Sydney Business School, the Committee for Sydney, and Asia Society Australia.

Dr Soutphommasane said cultural diversity is particularly low within the senior leadership of Australian government departments and Australian universities.

“This 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.

“It would be complacent to believe that it will only be a matter of time before 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 senior leaders.

“In a society where nearly one-quarter is estimated to have a non-European or Indigenous background, the findings of our latest study challenge us to do better with our multiculturalism.

“Getting serious about the issue demands that leaders and organisations take committed action in three areas: leadership, systems and culture.

“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.”

Download the report.

Media contact:
Dominic O’Grady, Australian Human Rights Commission, 0419 258 597 or