'Dismal' diversity among Australian business and civic leaders

One in four Australians hail from non-European backgrounds but they are woefully under-represented in top jobs and government posts (AFP Photo/Peter PARKS)

Sydney (AFP) - Virtually all of Australia's top executives and other senior leaders come from a European or Anglo-Celtic background, research showed Wednesday, sparking calls for more diversity in positions of power.

In a country with a long history of multiculturalism and immigration, where nearly one in four citizens come from non-European backgrounds, an Australian Human Rights Commission report found only eight chief executives in the stock exchange's top 200 companies came from that group.

It was a similar scenario among the cultural heritage of federal ministers, heads of government departments, and vice-chancellors of universities, effectively meaning white Australians run almost everything.

"All up there are 11 of the 372 CEOs and equivalents who have a non-European or indigenous background. A mere cricket team's worth of diversity," said Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane.

"These are dismal statistics for a society that prides itself on its multiculturalism.

"They challenge our egalitarian self-image. And they challenge our future prosperity as a nation. If we aren’t making the most of our multicultural talents, we may be squandering opportunities."

The report, "Leading For Change", found that of the 30 ministers on the government's front bench, none had a non-European background.

It was similarly bleak within the public service, where 99 percent of the heads of federal and state government departments had white heritage. Universities did not fare much better, with just one of the 39 vice-chancellors hailing from somewhere other than Europe.

Putting it into perspective, the study said 24 percent of the Australian population had non-European roots.

Soutphommasane, whose research was conducted with the University of Sydney, the Committee for Sydney, and Asia Society Australia, said it challenged the idea that Australia was a successful multicultural society.

But he said it would be complacent to believe things would change any time soon.

"Getting serious about the issue demands that leaders and organisations take committed action in three areas: leadership, systems and culture," he said.

"The experience of gender equality has demonstrated the power of having data and reporting on gender.

"If we are committed to deepening our success as a multicultural society, there must be consideration of collection and reporting of comprehensive data on cultural diversity within Australian organisations and institutions."

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