Why Culturally Diverse Leadership Is Important

Why Culturally Diverse Leadership is Important

Australia is suffering from a persistent lack of cultural diversity among leaders in business, politics, government and universities, according to a report released recently by Racial Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane.

The report, titled Leading for Change: A Blueprint for Cultural Diversity and Inclusive Leadership Revisited, is an update on a report originally published in 2016 and reveals that Anglo-Celtic Australians and those of European background continue to dominate the ranks of Australian chief executives by as much as 97 per cent.

Cultural diversity improves only slightly at the senior management level, with 95 per cent of more than 2,400 senior leaders having an Anglo-Celtic or European background. The report showed that of all the senior leaders there was only one who had an Indigenous background.

Doctor Soutphommasane said the findings are a dismal results for a society that prides itself on its multiculturalism.

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

Dr Soutphommasane said cultural diversity is particularly low within the senior leadership of Australian government departments and Australian universities and that this challenges Australia’s egalitarian self-image. He said 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.

Dr Soutphommasane advocates that organisations be required to report on their cultural diversity statistics to encourage greater transparency and more accountability.

“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,” he said.

The Australian Human Rights Commission says that organisations who want to get serious about improving cultural diversity in leadership need to take committed action in three areas: leadership, systems and culture.


  • Provide leadership on cultural diversity that is authentic and humble
  • Equip and support leaders from diverse backgrounds to be role models
  • Leaders must be prepared to respond to deflections and backlash


  • Collect meaningful data on cultural diversity
  • Accompany any data initiative with deeper conversations about cultural differences
  • Where there is data, consider targets and accountability for cultural diversity and inclusion across the organisation


  • Mitigate bias and discrimination by promoting positive contact between different cultural backgrounds
  • Unlock the potential of multicultural talent through targeted professional development
  • Go beyond cultural celebration and cultivate organisational resilience in negotiating cultural


Download the Leading for Change Report.