Beyond the pale—Lack of cultural diversity on Australian Boards

By Neha Soudagar
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Tim Soutphommasane (L); Nitin Gupta (R)

A study by the University of Sydney Business School finds that the boards of Australian companies are “male, pale, and stale”.

Board members of ASX100 companies are overwhelmingly Anglo-Celtic and drawn from male-dominated business networks.

Directors of Australia’s ASX100 boards are overwhelmingly Anglo-Celtic men, with Aussie accents who “display traditional male leadership traits”, according to analysis by the University of Sydney Business School.

The report, Beyond the Pale: Cultural Diversity on ASX 100 Boards, is based on in-depth interviews with 18 non-executive directors and 9 representatives from leading executive search firms.

“Earlier studies have indicated that around 90 per cent of CEO and other senior executives have Anglo-Celtic or European backgrounds and this latest research indicates that the composition of ASX 100 boards is very similar,” says Associate Professor Dimitria Groutsis.

Bureau of Statistics figures show that 58 per cent of Australians have an Anglo-Celtic background while around 18 per cent have a European heritage. More than 20 per cent are non-European and 3 per cent are indigenous.

Professor Groutsis says board members are overwhelmingly Anglo-Celtic who are drawn from male-dominated business networks.

The report follows earlier Business School research which found that no more than 5 per cent of leadership positions within the ASX top 200, federal parliament, the public service and Australia’s universities are held by people from non-European cultural backgrounds.

Research for the Beyond the Pale report was undertaken by Dr Groutsis, Professor Rae Cooper and the Dean of the Business School, Professor Greg Whitwell. It was supported by the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD).

In the report, Race Relations Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane describes Australia as a “multicultural triumph”. However he also says it’s time for more cultural diversity in the leadership of organisations. “There’s a challenge to get Board diversity right—and not just on gender,” he says. “This research will guide the action leaders need to take.”

Says former ministerial adviser Mr Nitin Gupta: “We need to recognise that cultural diversity is an important, and to date, under-researched topic. Lack of ethnic diversity in powerful positions is a glaring problem. One aspect we let ourselves down is diversity.”

Mr. Gupta commented that while there had been “huge achievements” in creating better opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds in Australia, there was a danger of fatigue.

“But I feel people of my age should make continuous and concerted efforts to put in place some systematic changes.” Mr. Gupta further added.

 

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