Addressing Cultural Diversity

11/06/2016 2:31 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:54 PM AEST

The research is now unequivocal. Diversity of all kinds (but not too much) -- of gender, culture, age and experience -- creates better leadership, better company boards, a more creative and more productive workforce, and it adds to the bottom line.

For the most part, increasing diversity is a numbers game. For example, we hire and promote more women, ensure that we employ and retain people in older age brackets and hire and retain more LGBTI employees. We calculate our success based on the numbers of people we hire and retain in different categories.

The numbers game becomes more difficult when we try and calculate the cultural diversity on a company board or in a workplace. How do you accurately calculate a culturally diverse workforce? Is it just a matter of hiring more people who were born in another country or speak a second language at home? Do we count cultural diversity by the numbers of employees of a different skin colour? Or do we broaden our definition of cultural diversity to include those people who have lived and worked overseas? Does cultural diversity include people who are "culturally aware" or who call themselves bi-cultural? Maybe we need to change our views on what it means to be culturally diverse or maybe the numbers game is the right way to look at it? I'm not sure we have adequate answers to any of these questions.

We live in one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. We are a true melting pot. The up side is a rich tapestry of diverse thinking and culture where words like "sushi", "cappuccino", "tandoori" and "taco" have worked their way into the common vernacular. The downside is an increase of racial biases and racially based hatred.

It has taken me over 20 years in the workforce to have the courage to deal with cultural or racial issues should they arise. It's one of the upsides of age and experience -- the courage to speak up. But I know there are many men and women out there who need help. People who haven't found the strength to be able to deal with the lack of cultural diversity and whose job may be on the line if they speak up. We need to work together to acknowledge that ethnicity can be a strong part of their brand.

For it really is their time. Although we need to help people understand how they can use their cultural diversity in a positive way, it is just as important to help them build resilience and strength to deal with the occasions when their differences are used against them. It is important to remember that we will never be able to eliminate cultural bias. Companies may work hard on education and the promotion of cultural awareness (celebrations of Diwali, Ramadan and Chinese New Year and other culturally important dates in Australian companies are an important part of this recognition), but there will always be people who are culturally lazy and unaware.

It's time to rethink cultural diversity. We need to start seeing our diversity as our strength and our differences as something to celebrate. When we can see cultural diversity in that light, maybe those who are struggling for an equal voice despite their cultural differences won't have to struggle so hard.

More On This Topic