Capitalising on Culture Pilot Survey


DCA’s landmark study on cultural diversity, sponsored by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, ANZ, Mallesons Stephen Jaques and Goldman Sachs, was released at a special event hosted by ANZ in Melbourne on 6 December 2011.

Called Capitalising on Culture: A Study of Cultural Diversity amongst Australian Senior Executives and their Immediate Pipeline, the findings showed an encouraging depth and breadth of cultural and linguistic diversity at the most senior levels and in the leadership pipeline, but also revealed a need to capitalise more on talent who possess a non-English speaking cultural identity.

DCA, corporate sponsors Deloitte, ANZ, King & Wood Mallesons and Goldman Sachs, and participating organisations hope this project and its findings will constitute a ˜call to action for Australian organisations to better measure and capitalise on cultural diversity in the workplace.

Key survey findings

The survey found some encouraging breadth and depth in cultural and linguistic diversity amongst senior executives and their direct reports:

  • Senior executives and pipeline executives held citizenship of 65 different countries and represented 107 different ancestries. Fifty-seven different languages were spoken across survey participant homes.
  • The percentage of senior executives and pipeline executives who were born overseas was higher than that in the Australian general community (41% versus 27%), and they are variously born in a total of 77 different countries.
  • In general, different cultural and religious groups were represented at levels roughly equivalent to that found in the broader Australian community.
  • When looking at second-generation cultural diversity, the degree and breadth of cultural diversity increased “ 54% of participants had parents who were born overseas, representing a total of approximately 90 countries of birth.
  • The leadership pipeline was somewhat more culturally and linguistically diverse than the senior executive workforce, in relation to country of birth, parents country of birth and main languages spoken at home.

In terms of inter-cultural or diversity capability, measured through reference to global experience, multilingual ability and multiple cultural identities, the survey found:

  • Forty percent of participants were bi or multilingual, approximately 30% possessed a bicultural or multicultural identity and just over 20% had a high degree of global experience.
  • Senior executives and pipeline executives were proficient in a total of 80 different languages.
  • Over 60% had lived and worked in countries besides Australia and over 50% regularly interacted with clients and colleagues overseas in their current role.
  • Collectively, survey participants had lived and worked in 114 different countries and had regular business interactions with at least 72 different countries.

The survey uncovered the following opportunities for organisations to better capitalise on cultural diversity:

  1. Increase the proportion of senior executives and pipeline executives who originate from non-Main English Speaking Countries (MESC) and who speak a language other than English (the majority of participants were born in either Australia or MESC (86%), these being Canada, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America);
  2. Develop a talent pool of senior executives and pipeline executives who originate from a broader range of countries of birth and ancestries and who speak a broader range of languages (while broad cultural groups were represented at levels roughly equivalent to that found in the Australian community, often only a limited number of countries were represented in each broad group e.g. 94% of overseas participants born in Southern and Central Asia were from either India or Sri Lanka); and
  3. Increase the degree and breadth of cultural diversity in the immediate leadership pipeline.

Survey methodology

DCA deemed a focus on cultural diversity amongst executives timely given the longstanding (deserved) attention given to women in leadership in the Australian business context and the need to direct commensurate attention to cultural diversity in leadership.

DCAs survey tool adopted a contemporary approach to ˜counting culture that addressed:

  • Cultural diversity broadly, including ancestry, citizenship, country of birth, ethno-religiosity, faith and language;
  • ˜Intersectionality, including information on multiple and intersecting dimensions of cultural diversity such as age, care-giving responsibilities, gender, disability status, parental status and sexual orientation;
  • Cultural identity, that is, the ethnic or cultural groups employees felt most strongly affiliated with;
  • Diversity capability, in the form of employees multiple cultural identities, multilingual abilities and global experience; and
  • The need to capture information on employees cultural diversity in an inclusive and respectful manner.

Five DCA member organisations in the professional services and financial services sectors that have a high level of engagement around cultural diversity in their workplaces participated in the survey. These organisations were Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, PwC and ANZ. The on-line survey was distributed to all their Australian senior executives and direct reports “ 5762 staff “ and 2186 responses were received, resulting in a 38% response rate.

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The suggested citation for this report is:

Diversity Council Australia (OLeary, J. and Russell, G.) Capitalising on Culture: A Study of Cultural Diversity Amongst Australian Senior Executives and Their Immediate Pipeline, Sydney, Diversity Council Australia, 2011.

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