'Where are you from?' isn't the best way to understand Australia's cultural diversity

18 May 2021
Counting Culture report urges standardised approach to reporting cultural diversity
A new report from Diversity Council Australia (DCA) and the University of Sydney Business School has found that Australian organisations are missing out on important business opportunities by failing to effectively measure the degree and breadth of culturally diverse talent.

The report, Counting Culture: Towards A Standardised Approach to Measuring and Reporting on Workforce Cultural Diversity in Australia, was developed because there is currently no widely used standardised approach for defining, measuring, and reporting on workforce cultural diversity in a respectful, accurate and inclusive way.

Instead, many Australian workplaces have relied on simple measures such as asking employees about their country of birth. Something that, in 2021, fails to capture Australia’s diverse cultural fabric.

The resulting report guides businesses through how best to count cultural background, language, religion – and even global experience – for maximum organisational benefit. Critical in a country where the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports nearly half (49 percent) of Australians have been born overseas, have one or both parents born overseas, where over 300 languages are spoken at home. 

(L-R): DCA CEO Lisa Annesse, Deputy Lord Mayor Jess Scully and Associate Professor Dimitria Groutsis at the launch of the Counting Culture report.

DCA’s CEO Lisa Annese said: “This research is incredibly important given the diverse and complex fabric of Australian society. Many people don’t realise just how many elements cultural diversity covers. 

"It is so much more than just where people in a workforce were born. For example, an employee may be born in Australia, have Lebanese ancestry, speak English, Arabic and French, and identify as Christian – and all of these have relevance to their experience of inclusion at work as well as the cultural capability they can bring to the organisation.

“Failure to fully understand this complexity is a missed business opportunity for Australian organisations, because research shows engaging with these layers leads to enhanced organisational performance and profitability. Added to this, we know the Australian ‘multicultural market’ has an estimated purchasing power of over AUD$75 billion per year.”

The Counting Culture project, spearheaded by DCA’s Dr Jane O’Leary and Dr Dimitria Groutsis, Associate Professor at The University of Sydney Business School, consulted with almost 300 practitioners and conducted a pilot survey of 1200 employees, including many with lived experience.

Associate Professor Dimitria Groutsis said the voices of our culturally diverse population must be raised in organisations. 

Reflecting on the seminal project, Dr Dimitria Groutsis said: “Australia boasts one of the most multicultural populations in the world. But after almost five decades of multiculturalism we still don’t have clarity around what cultural diversity is and therefore how to best measure and report on this diversity.

“Without an accurate way to measure who is in our workforce, how can we capitalise on the potential capabilities and skills that a culturally diverse workforce can contribute? The sad reality is that many boardrooms and halls of power have remained unchanged and unchecked for far too long, and do not reflect the rich cultural diversity in Australia’s broader population.

“Decisions are being made, resources are being deployed in the highest layers of our institutions and yet, the voices of our culturally diverse population are silent in these decisions and in the distribution of resources. Our report offers a template to change all that and ensure Australia’s diverse voices are heard.” 

Download the Counting Culture synopsis report and infographic. 

Katie Booth

Media & PR Adviser (Business)

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