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Cultural diversity in the workplace

Race Discrimination

Speech at the Launch of the Workplace Cultural Diversity Tool

There’s no greater truism today than to say that Australia is a multicultural society. Almost half of our population is born overseas or has a parent who was born overseas. One in five of us speak a non-English language at home.

And yet, while Australians embrace diversity in our everyday lives – while we are comfortable and relaxed about diversity – there remains a long way to go in getting things right in the workplace.

Not every employer or manager understands how they can benefit from a culturally diverse workforce. Not everyone knows how they can make the most of culturally diverse clients or customers.

The Workplace Cultural Diversity Tool is designed to make this easier.

One of the problems with discrimination in the workplace is that not everyone realises it may be happening. “I know it when I see it” is a common response to racial discrimination. Indeed, most of us will have some sense of where the line is drawn.

But, on matters of culture, there will also be occasions when people may inadvertently discriminate. Or when discrimination is subtle. When it comes to discrimination, the issue is as much about impact as it is about intention.

This tool will help highlight situations where discrimination could occur. And it points to steps employers can take to prevent them from happening.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has developed this tool as part of the National Anti-Racism Strategy. As many of you know, this Strategy has been in place since 2012 and was developed by the National Anti-Racism Partnership. The Partnership comprises a number of federal government departments and civil society organisations.

But the workplace is one of the priority areas of the Strategy. This tool is very much integral to the national agenda of preventing racial discrimination and promoting cultural diversity.

The Commission has been very grateful to have as its partners Diversity Council Australia and VicHealth. I would like to take this opportunity to thank these two organisations for their support in developing this tool. During the past year we have, with the help of our partners, been refining this tool and testing it with a range of corporate and not-for-profit organisations across the country.

And a special note of acknowledgement as well to VicHealth, as this tool is based on work that VicHealth commissioned a number of years ago, and which they piloted in two Victorian local councils in the cities of Whittlesea and Greater Shepparton. I acknowledge the efforts of Yin Paradies, Brigid Trenerry and Peter Streker in developing that original piece of work.

Let me now tell you quickly about how the tool works. And to understand how it works, you really need to see it.

If you go to and take a moment to create a log-in, you will be on the way to completing an online assessment of how well your organisation fares on cultural diversity.

The assessment consists of 30 items across the areas of leadership, strategy, staff, culture and monitoring. Each item will list a best practice standard, and also three options. These options will help the user understand what is indicative of an organisation that is just starting out, that is currently developing their policies, or that already has an advanced system for dealing with culture. Think of it as a questionnaire where you can identify exactly the cultural sophistication of your organisation.

For example, does your organisation have strategies to support cultural diversity that are part of your planning processes? Do you have shortlisting and interview procedures that are designed to reduce potential bias against applicants from culturally diverse backgrounds? Do you have strategies to retain and promote culturally diverse talent through mentoring and peer coaching? Do you monitor your progress on cultural diversity?

As you answer such questions, you will have as a guide various case studies that we have compiled from the private sector and not-for-profit sector that demonstrate exactly what best practice can involve.

Once you complete the assessment, you will receive an automatically generated, confidential report that will show your organisation’s results.

The tool will then invite you to add comments against your results and to nominate ways to move your organisation to the next level of cultural good practice.

Use of this tool, I should note, is free. There is no cost in accessing the tool, and no cost involved in the confidential report that will be generated for your organisation. Depending on the size of your organisation, the tool can be expected to take about an hour to complete.

So, that’s the thinking behind the cultural diversity tool – and also a brief summary of how it works. But don’t just take my description of it, do try it out for yourselves. All you need to do is log into the website at

And I want to reiterate as well that this tool represents only the start of the conversation, and not the end of it. There’s still a lot that we can learn about diversity – and a lot that we can do to get the most out of it.

Dr Tim Soutphommasane, Race Discrimination Commissioner