The future of leadership is diverse

Australia is a diverse country made up of people from all over the world. It is estimated that 58 per cent of the population have an Anglo-Celtic background.

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Karen Huxley (left), Yuri Mariano and Aravindan Madhava Murthy (right).

A further 18 per cent of the population have a European background, 21 per cent are non-European and 3 per cent have an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background.

However, such cultural diversity is not reflected within the senior leadership of organisations in Australia. Only 5 per cent of senior leaders have a non-European and Indigenous background.

An Australian Human Rights Commission report says Asian-Australian workers occupy just 3 per cent of leadership positions and 1.6 per cent of chief executive roles, despite today representing over 17 per cent of our population.

How do we foster change and growth towards cultural diversity in leadership? I spoke to two senior leaders at ANZ from non-European backgrounds about navigating their careers in leadership.

Both Karen Huxley and Aravindan Madhava Murthy share their journeys through the corporate environment, showing how their experiences shaped their careers and approach to leading and managing people. Karen is General Manager of Audit Technology, Data & Automation while Aravindan is Chief Operating Officer of ANZ’s Global Capability Centre in Bengaluru.

In today’s corporate world, the significance of diversity in leadership cannot be overstated. Organisations are recognising that diverse leadership teams bring different perspectives, ideas and experiences to the table, leading to better decision-making and improved organisational performance.

Aravindan puts it simply: “A diverse workforce will increase organisational effectiveness and productivity by at least 9 per cent. This is backed up by McKinsey & Company. The business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) is stronger than ever. Taking a closer look at diversity winners reveals what can drive real progress.”

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Moreover, McKinsey found the case for ethnic and cultural diversity is strong: “In 2019, top-quartile companies outperformed those in the fourth by 36 percent in profitability, slightly up from 33 percent in 2017 and 35 percent in 2014.”

Karen's experience working in Asia provided valuable insights into navigating cultural differences. She emphasises the need for leaders to be empathetic, recognizing the different communication styles and respecting the humility of various cultures.

We must do the hard work to achieve ethnically diverse spaces. McKinsey says the profitability of top-quartile ethnically diverse companies outperformed those in the fourth by 36 percent.

Karen explains she had many challenges as a culturally diverse individual, particularly in corporate Australia's Western leadership model.

Sponsorship, advocacy and creating an inclusive environment were pivotal in her career progression.

Breaking barriers early and promoting diversity

The discussion concludes with both leaders addressing how they actively work to break down barriers and promote opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds to ascend to leadership roles at ANZ.

Karen advocates for identifying key decision-makers and allies to drive education and awareness, opening doors for diverse colleagues and creating inclusive environments where people feel safe to speak up and take risks. Aravind echoes these sentiments, emphasising the need to change organisational policies and recruitment practices to foster a truly diverse workforce.

He cites successful initiatives, such as leadership development programs and digital transformation academies, that empower diverse talent to thrive.

I asked what career advice would they give to their younger selves? Aravind emphasises the importance of a compelling vision, measurable goals and time to execute to become a great leader.

He also highlights three key tips for career progression: being hungry to learn, demonstrating commitment and pursuing goals and passions relentlessly.

On the other hand, Karen suggests being open about your career aspirations, taking risks, maintaining curiosity and having a thirst for learning.

As we progress into a more globalised and interconnected world, embracing cultural diversity becomes not just a corporate imperative but a moral obligation. When we glance up the corporate ladder or cite an organisational chart, the lack of cultural diversity implies “you can’t be what you can’t see”.

When we see leaders who look like ‘us’, we are compelled to seek our true potential. Which in turn will ignite change and provide inspiration for others.

Leaders like Aravind and Karen prove that organisations can cultivate culturally diverse leadership teams to drive innovation, competitiveness and success in a dynamic business landscape.

Through their stories and experiences, we can strive to champion cultural diversity in leadership for a brighter and more inclusive future. 

Yuri Mariano, Learning and Development Facilitator, Retail Business Execution, ANZ.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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