How can HR and executives get the upper hand on cultural diversity?

Why executives should care about cultural diversity

Senior executives and HR need to embrace cultural diversity for a number of important demographic and business reasons, writes Alec Bashinsky

While the focus on gender diversity continues in Australia particularly at the Board and C-Suite level, the underlying challenge that is perhaps having a great effect on future leadership opportunities – is one of cultural diversity.

Also, just as important are the views of our Millennial generation which is increasingly occupying large portions of our workforce and is set to increase to a staggering 50 per cent by 2021.

We also know from the Diversity Council of Australia Cracking the Glass-Cultural Ceiling: Future Proofing Your Business in the 21st Century report that in Australia and overseas, culturally diverse women experience a ‘double jeopardy’ when accessing leadership roles due to their gender and cultural background. This double jeopardy results in a ‘glass-cultural ceiling’ in which invisible organisational barriers lock out culturally diverse women from accessing leadership positions in their workplaces.

The rise of Millennials and Asia
The Asian region is without doubt the fastest-growing part of the global economy and Millennials are also the fastest growing talent sector in the world and these factors will see a severe impact on current and future talent pools across Asia.

“Culturally diverse women experience a ‘double jeopardy’ when accessing leadership roles due to their gender and cultural background”

However, it should be noted that millennials are an extremely diverse group in terms of social expenditure, cultural background, religion and educational background. This generational category encompasses a broad age group (24 to 38 years) who may be at a range of very different stages in their life.

New research has shown that young men, in particular, are actually averse to gender equality, and this has important implications for workplace and culture. The recent study by the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation explored the generational attitudes of men and women to issues of gender equality. The resulting report, From Girls to Men, questions the assumption that men’s views towards gender equality have been getting more progressive over time. Despite having a high level of knowledge and understanding about the nature of gender inequality in Australia, a growing number of men, feel alienated from the process of change and are backsliding into traditional value systems.

To add to this research, Weber Shandwick and KRC Research partnered with the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) to examine three different generations’ experiences with and attitudes toward diversity and inclusion in the workplace. This research, Millennials@Work: Perspectives on Diversity & Inclusion, finds that one-third of all employees report there is more diversity in their workplace than in their personal lives.

“Senior executives and HR need to be educated and embrace on the importance of hiring and developing culturally diverse talent”

When it comes to generational differences among employees, Millennials are more comfortable discussing diversity and inclusion at work than their older colleagues, Gen Xers and Boomers. Millennials think of diversity at work differently than prior generations. “Diversity and inclusion are more than age, religion, gender, race, physical ability,” according to Marta Steele, a career and workplace expert and partner at PeopleResults. “It’s also about how different point of views are accepted and valued.”

This younger generation is also significantly more likely than Gen Xers and Boomers to consider diversity and inclusion an important factor in considering a new job (47 per cent versus 33 per cent and 37 per cent, respectively).

Cultural diversity at the top
However, while Millennials are more accepting of cultural diversity and its importance to different thinking and ideas, this appears not to be the same with organisational leaders who are still focused on gender.

Our ability to grow our Australian businesses is diminished by the lack of culturally diverse leaders in our Australian organisations and this leads to many culturally diverse employees leaving their employers when they see no role modelling nor culturally diverse leadership at the top of their organisations.

The increasing percentage of culturally diverse talent attending high school along with the increasing large culturally diverse university population graduating across Australia will only see this problem exacerbated. Senior executives and HR need to embrace cultural diversity and be educated on the importance of hiring and developing culturally diverse talent otherwise they could find their organisation at the bottom of the talent pool queue for this emerging talent.

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