The Social Services minister told The Australian that “anyone who has actually visited Australian business and professional organisations can see that the embrace of diversity is on plain display.”
The Liberal MP made the comments while rejecting recommendations by the Australian Human Rights Commission that organisations explore aspirational targets and the possibility of further data collection on the diversity of employees.
It’s one thing to say the HRC’s recommendations are a bad idea. It’s another thing altogether to say that corporate Australia has “the embrace of diversity on plain display”.
Perhaps I’m missing something.
Across accounting, engineering and legal firms, even many of the (mostly male and white) CEOs I’ve interviewed will concede they’re behind on diversity. They might be “embracing” the necessity of it, and achieving some results in the process, but there’s still significant work to do.
If the embrace of diversity was truly everywhere, we’d see it in the leadership teams across large employers. We’d see it on the boards of listed entities, in the names and pictures of those senior leaders and decision-makers featured in the business press and across executive positions in organisations.
We’d see it on the ‘about us’ sections of the websites of major accounting, engineering, legal, media and banking firms. We’d see it at the very top of mining and resources companies.
I suspect we’d also see more companies actually publishing photographs of their board directors. Call me cynical, but I’ve noticed some of the worst performers on board directors now prefer to simply publish names and bios without the traditional headshot.
At Resolute Mining, they don’t even want to publish the first names of their directors — preferring to simply go with initials.
(It’s not immediately obvious, but there are no women on the Resolute board, according to the Australian Institute of Company Directors.)
While I don’t doubt the efforts and good intentions of some leading Australian employers regarding a further push for more diversity across their teams, the majority still have far to go, especially across their leadership teams. Gender is only one facet of the diversity that’s needed — and even that’s still a challenge for many large firms (13 ASX 200 boards still can’t find a single woman, while women make up just a quarter of all ASX 200 board positions).
As Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said at the University of Sydney last year, 95% of ASX 200 CEOs have either “Anglo-Celtic” of “European” backgrounds.” Indeed, as Conrad Liveris has found, there were 32 ‘Johns’ either chairing or leading ASX 200 organisations, along with 32 ‘Peters’ and 21 ‘Davids’ -(Conrad also found there were just 19 women in general in the 400 positions he researched earlier this year).
While diversity is starting to be recognised as beneficial by smart business leaders, Porter’s assessment of it being “embraced” across the board, is nothing but a vast and potentially damaging overstatement.