Commissioner launches Leadership Council on Cultural Diversity

Wednesday 22 March 2017

Photo: From L-R - Professor Peter Høj, Ian Narev, Dr Tim Soutphommasane, Michelle Guthrie, Tony Johnson, Dr Martin Parkinson.

A newly-formed group of eight Australian leaders have come together to promote cultural diversity at senior levels.

Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane initiated the Leadership Council on Cultural Diversity following the release of Leading for Change: A blueprint for cultural diversity and inclusive leadership.

Members of the Council include PwC Australia’s CEO Luke Sayers, Corrs Chambers Westgarth chief John Denton, University of Queensland vice-chancellor Professor Peter Hoj, EY Oceania chief executive Tony Johnson, Emotiv founder and chief executive Tan Le, Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet Secretary Dr Martin Parkinson, ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie, and Commonwealth Bank of Australia CEO Ian Narev.

Dr Soutphommasane launched the Council on 21 March, with a panel discussion featuring Council members Ian Narev and Michelle Guthrie, as well as author and journalist Benjamin Law, and Amnesty Indigenous Rights campaigner Roxanne Moore. ABC presenter Kumi Taguchi was master of ceremonies.

Mr Narev said: “Diversity is critical to long term business success. We need to mirror the people, businesses and communities that we exist to serve.

“To do so, we need an inclusive culture, where everyone feels motivated and inspired to give of his or her best. Embracing all the cultures that comprise Australian society is a business imperative.”

Dr Soutphommasane said the Leading for Change report identified a significant lack of cultural diversity in Australia’s leadership positions. He urged corporate leaders to improve cultural diversity by setting diversity targets in employment and to counter bias by expanding professional development programs.

“Progress on cultural diversity requires leadership. Cultural change is only possible when it is driven from the top. This council will provide some of that leadership,” Dr Soutphommasane said.

“Australia’s multiculturalism is a success. But often it stops at food and festivals. We should be doing more to ensure cultural diversity also makes it beyond our lobby and lunchrooms, and into our corridors of power.

“Merit requires a level playing field. If cultural diversity is under-represented in leadership, it may reflect biases and barriers. We should be doing more to ensure we make the most of our society’s talents.”

Reflecting on whether merit should be the sole criteria for appointment, the ABC’s Michelle Guthrie said she found it hard to believe that in the 84-year history of the national broadcaster, she was the only woman that had the merit to lead the organisation. 

“I’m not a believer in quotas,” she said, “but I do believe targets are important.”

Asked if it is important to have other leaders and chief executives on board with the Leadership Coucil, Ms Guthrie said: “It’s important that we share our experiences, but I also think it’s important to have leaders reflect on what’s happening in their own organisation, and to think about the pipeline [of leaders] and potential blockages” to culturally diverse leadership.

“It’s important that we don’t make employees feel like they’re the one who need to change. We need to think about the ways in which we are welcoming and inclusive, throughout our organisations, rather than say ‘this is the model of what diversity looks like and you have to fit that model’.”

More launch photos

More information abou the Council at