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Preview: Re-thinking Cultural Diversity in the Workplace Whitepaper

Last month, Autopia announced our upcoming series of whitepapers “Re-thinking Cultural Diversity”, produced in conjunction with Yassmin Abdel-Magied. Yassmin is a mechanical engineer, social advocate, writer and self-defined ‘petrol head’, who has made a name for herself by standing out rather than conforming to the ‘status quo’.

The first whitepaper of the series “Diversity Beyond Gender: The business case for cultural diversity in the workplace”, unveils how diverse Australia really is, and shed light on the challenges employees from non-Anglo origins face while navigating the Australian workplace. The whitepaper also discusses both the ‘moral case’ and ‘business case’ for addressing the diversity gap, and share case studies on organisations that are harnessing the power of a culturally diverse and inclusive workplace for better business performance and a better society.

We are excited to share an extract of our first whitepaper with Yassmin Abdel-Magied on cultural diversity in the workplace. To be the first to receive a copy of the whitepaper when it is released at the end of this month, and stay up to date with all our diversity, inclusion and flexibility news and resources, please sign up to our RE-Think newsletter by clicking on the button below.

RE-Think Sign-up


What is the problem?

The world has changed rapidly over the past decade. From the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), the advent of the smartphone and the political shift towards nationalism, our context is rapidly evolving. Deloitte describes 2014 as a turning point year; the time when the global recession ended and businesses began to plan for a new wave of growth. It points to opportunity.

However, the world also looks very different to before the GFC of 2008. Companies that came out of the recession are adopting aggressive growth strategies but in a changed landscape. There are new demographics, expectations and realities to contend with. [1] Our context is more global and interdependent, the focus of business is shifting, and Millennials are reshaping the workplace with their demands and desires. The incoming generation of millennials is projected to be 75% of the global workforce by 2025. [2]. That will have some impact, but it is clear that young people, like almost all employees, want to work for organisations they can be proud of, where they will be treated well and where their work is enjoyable and fulfilling [3].

Further, employees want to work in organisations where they feel their contributions are valued. This is incredibly difficult to achieve if a workplace is not culturally representative, and where employees who are not part of the traditional norm cannot see examples of themselves succeeding within an organisation.

Representation Matters

Imagine you’re an Anglo-man going for an interview at a firm. While waiting in the lobby, you pick up the annual report and look at the names and faces of those on the board, in senior executive positions and throughout the company. They are all Indigenous women! Now – do you imagine you will think this is a place where you will likely succeed and be promoted to the top, or will you look at the photos and think: well it looks like you need to be a particular type of person to succeed here. This place probably isn’t for me?

Now open the annual report of almost every ASX200 company in Australia. What do they look like? What is that implying to people who don’t look like that about their chances of success in those organisations?

How well is representation, particularly cultural representation, done in Australia? Unfortunately, not very well at all.

Australians are proud of the multicultural fabric of the nation. This is clearly demonstrated in The Scanlon Foundation’s annual report on social cohesion, which shows a high percentage of respondents – 83%-86% in the 2013-2016 surveys – agree that ‘multiculturalism has been good for Australia’. However, that multiculturalism hasn’t translated to the workplace, particularly senior positions in business.

Not only does that indicate that some members of the community may be unfairly disadvantaged, but it also means that businesses are losing out from a productivity point of view, and on the key competitive advantage multiculturalism provides.  It also flies in the face of the Australian value of a ‘fair go’, where everyone is included.

As such, this whitepaper focuses on the social category of ‘cultural’ diversity.  Ely and Roberts (2008) define cultural diversity as differences among team members in race, ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality, or other dimensions of social identity that are marked by a history of intergroup prejudice, discrimination or oppression.[4]

Given Australia’s multiculturalism and the potential benefits of truly culturally diverse workplaces, anything less than at least a representative balance of cultures across our workforce and our senior leadership is doing us a disservice.


[1] Deloitte Consulting & Bersin, 2014. Global Human Capital Trends 2014: Engaging the 21st-century workforce, s.l.: Deloitte University Press.

[2] Ibid

[3] Pfau, B. N., 2016. What Do Millennials Really Want at Work? The Same Things the Rest of Us Do. [Online] Available at:[Accessed 13 December 2016].

[4] Terminology: Cultural diversity is also known by a number of other terms, depending on where and how it is being used. ‘Racial’ and ‘ethnic’ diversity can sometimes be used interchangeably, however they don’t encompass the full spectrum of experience.  In the community sector in Australia, the phrase ‘Culturally and Linguistically Diverse’ or ‘CALD’ is typically used to describe communities from non-Anglo-Celtic origins.

Posted by The Autopia Team

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