Time to disrupt Australia’s leadership model?

It’s an honour to be asked to contribute to the Asia Society #disruptiveasia publication to mark the 20th anniversary of Asia Society in Australia. This unique publication provides a platform for the thinkers, leaders and game changers of our generation to discuss and share insights on how Australia can grow and prosper in the 21st century.

As our economy and strategic centre of gravity shifts to Asia, how can we play an active role with our neighbours across Asia and how do we tap into the dynamic pool of culturally diverse talent, in particular, Asian Australian talent, to help advance our nation?

For me diversity and inclusive leadership is important. It’s important to have our leadership teams reflect our society. For many organisations, diversity and inclusion are too often derided as “soft” human resource issues. However, organisations who neglect these ‘soft’ skills do so at their peril, their failure to understand the different perspectives culturally diverse talent can offer to the organisation will have repercussions for the business.

Take for example the case of CPA, an industry body that has been in the news recently regarding the exorbitant bonuses and salary paid to its CEO Alex Malley and the significant amount spent on marketing the organisation and its leadership. The men (as they were mainly men) appointed to the board of the CPA agreed to Alex Malley’s spending in order to take CPA global. As an industry body, representing over 160,000 members, no doubt Malley’s activities lifted CPA’s profile. But to travel to fly to Holland in 2016 to interview a 67-year-old classical violinist as a strategy to attract more young people to the accounting profession is questionable (if the media report is correct). What is CPA’s business? What are its mission and values? Would a diverse board hold its CEO more accountable and transparent? (Read more: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-05-16/accountants-at-war-cpa-members-want-a-closer-look-at-the-books/8521882).

Across the corporate world, CEOs are being asked to look into how to best achieve diversity in leadership representation, beyond gender. What are the solutions? What are the different methods?

DAWN is the blueprint for diverse and inclusive leadership. We aim to connect emerging leaders from culturally diverse backgrounds with senior and executive leaders from major institutions through our online community, face-to-face events, and workshops in partnerships with corporate Australia.

Since our inception in 2014, we have hosted events that have brought together culturally diverse talent and senior executives to engage and share perspectives on subjects that have been thought of as ‘taboo’. We have created genuine and moving experiences in a safe and nurturing environment, enlisting the help of a group of luminaries to lead these discussions such as renowned business woman and educator Wendy McCarthy AO, Dr Simon Longstaff AO of the Ethics Centre, former Group Executive IOF Ming Long, CEO of Banna Group Brad Chan, and Chair of the Benevolent Society Lisa Chung, just to name a few.

We believe inspiration and giving people permission to discuss ‘difficult’ subjects will support cultural change within organisations. Our events have also allowed emerging leaders to personally build the courage and confidence to step up to leadership roles that will help Australia grow and prosper, harmoniously and productively.

But there is still much to be done.

One in five Australians today speak another language other than English. One in four in NSW. And one in three in Sydney speak another language at home. How do these numbers translate in the workplace? And what does the leadership profile of our major organisations look like? Should it reflect society or the organisation’s client base? What needs to be done? How do organisations make this shift?

Diversity in organisational leadership is an issue that many countries and global companies continue to grapple with. This is in spite of increasing international evidence and research that supports the case for change. McKinsey & Co’s Diversity Matters (2015) is an often cited report that argues that diversity is good for businesses around the world. The report studied 366 companies from the UK, Canada, Latin America and the US and found that companies with greater diversity were more likely to perform better financially. Companies with greater gender diversity were 15 per-cent more likely to have financial returns above the national industry median, while culturally diverse companies were even more successful with 35 per-cent more likely to outperform the industry median.

Despite the availability of this kind of research, culturally diverse leadership discussions can cause unease within mainstream society. It can be interpreted that such advocacy moves us away from a merit-based system. Far from it. What DAWN is creating, is the opportunity for culturally diverse talent who have the skills and capability to step into leadership roles, and for those in positions of power, to recognise and understand how to harness the cultural human resource capital. Until our current leadership system recognises this gap, our nation will fail to tap into this productive diversity.

Asia Society will launch its Disruptive Asia publication on June 28th.

Dai Le
Culturalpreneur and Founder, DAWN


Dai Le is the founder & Culturalprenear at DAWN – a network that connects emerging leaders from culturally diverse backgrounds, aiming to create genuine and moving experiences in a safe environment. Dai Le will be sharing her expertise around cultural diversity on both the multiculturalism panel and a roundtable session at the upcoming Workplace Diversity & Inclusion Conference held in Melbourne on the 25th and 26th October. Click here for further information.