The top challenges facing multicultural Australia

1 December 2016

The world needs cultural experts to progress from theorising about multiculturalism to active facilitation of dialogue, Dr Betina Szkudlarek tells a University of Sydney Business School conference. 

While Europe responds to the humanitarian, social and economic questions that have arisen from the recent migrant crisis, international and local experts as well as diversity practitioners gathered at the University of Sydney Business School recently to discuss the pressing issues facing multicultural Australia.

Hosted by Sietar Australasia in co-operation with the University of Sydney Business School and the Migrants@Work Research Group, delegates explored the rich contributions migrants have made to Australia’s culture as well as the challenges the country faces in nurturing such talent into the future.

Today more than ever the world needs cultural experts to progress from theorising about multiculturalism to active facilitation of dialogue between increasingly polarised worldviews.
Dr Betina Szkudlarek, University of Sydney Business School

“With Europe facing tough questions following from the migrant crisis, it is critical that Australia and its institutions, including universities, business and governments, consider how we can help communities to successfully integrate,” added Hatice Sitki, the President of SIETAR Australasia. 

Held from the 24 – 25 November 2016, the conference heard from speakers including keynote addresses from Professor Cristina Gibson from the University of Western Australia School of Business and Professor Lucy Taksa from Macquarie University. 

A mother holds child in her arms.

To move beyond the traditional format of paper presentation, the conference also featured a master workshop on fostering intercultural competence delivered by Dr Janet Bennett, the founder and Executive Director of the Intercultural Communication Institute.

The conference also discussed the difficulties of creating genuine connections in the modern world of digital and social media. Dr Szkudlarek said encouraging a multiplicity of voices and perspectives is essential in bridging divides.

“In the social media age that is inclined to dismiss emotions, we need to acknowledge that emotions are a key component of learning,” said Dr Szkudlarek. 

“Our education system tends to engage at the cognitive level, but for cross-cultural competence to happen we need to broaden our understanding. We need to focus on thoughts (cognitive), feeling (affective) and actions (behaviour). 

“We also need to facilitate opportunities where everyone can tap into feelings of marginalisation and exclusion, where we can help frame these feelings and identify possibilities and behaviours that lead to inclusion.”

The conference was a unique opportunity for academics as well as diversity practitioners to develop action plans that will contribute to building sustainable multicultural societies.

“It’s very refreshing to finally see an event that addresses the burning questions our country faces today and to facilitate community dialogues amongst all people that call Australia home,” added Carolina Bouten-Pinto, one of the participants. 

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