• Tim Soutphommasane.
The Human Rights Commission hopes to inject more cultural competency into Australian businesses with a new online tool to assess how well they encourage diversity. 
By
Angelo Risso

Source:
19 Sep 2014 - 8:28 AM  UPDATED 19 Sep 2014 - 9:57 AM

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

Cultural diversity is a concept Australians know well.

Now, the Human Rights Commission hopes to inject more cultural competency into Australian businesses, with a new online tool to assess how well they encourage diversity.

Advocates say it is another way businesses can help launch themselves into the Asian Century.

Angelo Risso reports.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

Price Waterhouse Coopers is a business with a global outlook and healthy prospects.

But the international auditing firm is concerned about one thing in particular -- the cultural diversity of its workplace and boardroom.

And the firm has agreed to make use of a new online tool to begin addressing the issue in Australia.

The Workplace Cultural Diversity Tool is a new program developed by the Human Rights Commission in partnership with VicHealth and the Diversity Council.

It provides a free online assessment of how an organisation is faring in maintaining and nurturing a culturally diverse workplace.

Price Waterhouse Coopers, or PWC, partner Ken Woo says his company will be using the tool and its first consideration will be the social benefits from diversity.

"And, certainly, the business outcome is one we mentioned as important, but equally important is the societal outcome, because, if you're just looking at everything from the point of view of dollars, you're losing sight of the most valuable aspect of it, which is, if you're doing something that is right or something that is noble, you can really bring people along."

And PWC certainly is not the only one planning to use the tool.

The general counsel of the pharmaceutical company Novartis, Ray Steinwall, says it will provide a valuable insight into his company's progress in improving its Australian workplaces.

"For Australia, I think the advantage of this tool is to be able to get our executive and our broader group to be able to be aware of diversity and to be able to use the tool to utilise how well we are tracking in Australia."

The online tool works by quizzing businesses on their leadership structures, strategies, recruitment practices and mentoring programs.

It then gives each business an indication of its level of cultural diversity and suggests where improvement can be made.

This could be as simple as providing employees with more time to express their cultures at work or tweaking recruitment policies to champion ethnic and religious variety.

Speaking to SBS prior to the tool's launch, Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said the tool is designed to help create a more welcoming workplace for all Australians.

"We are very relaxed and comfortable about our cultural diversity in Australia, but we don't always get things right in the workplace, and this Workplace Cultural Diversity Tool will offer a guide for people on how they can get the most out of diversity in their workforce and in their workplace."

And the economic benefits are clear as well, as trade links with an ever growing Asia become all the more critical.

The Australian newspaper's economics correspondent Adam Creighton participated in a round table discussion on cultural diversity with PWC's Mr Woo and Diversity Council CEO Lisa Annese.

A hot topic of discussion among the trio was the use of targets and their efficacy in bringing about desired outcomes.

Mr Creighton opposes targets and says the profit incentive will ultimately motivate all Australian businesses to embrace structural change in the workplace.

"The pros of more cultural diversity are very well-known, so we have greater propensity for innovation, we have better problem solving, we have greater knowledge of different cultures and, therefore, better ability to access those markets."

New South Wales' new Community Relations Commission CEO, Hakan Harman, echoes that view.

Mr Harman says Australia must continue being a role model to the rest of the world in encouraging and sponsoring cultural competency.

"People with diversity bring a significant strength and innovation, and I think innovation and leadership and vision, from a team that has a really diverse perspective, will always outperform a team that is maybe not embracing of that diversity."