Change begins with us: Leading for diversity

The Australian population has rapidly changed its multicultural identity but today, in the faces of media and leadership, there still seems to be a lack of diversity. It made me wonder what the reasons behind this were – lack of opportunity or connections? No support for them? Racism? Or was it simply that people of different heritage were not interested in these positions?

On 10 November, I attended a panel event convened by Asia Society Australia (ASA), a global non-profit organisation whose aim is to forge close ties between the Western world and Asia-Pacific region in politics, business, education and arts. An inter-generational conversation was held to discuss solutions to break down stereotypes in professional relationships within and out of Australia. They also took this opportunity to announce the launch of their program ‘Gen A’ which provides a communal platform to build workplace skills, enrich understandings of Asia and Australia’s relations and create opportunities for Asian Australians in their careers.

On the panel sat Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane, Ming Low, an influential thought leader in the property industry, and Jessica Wirawan, a Program Lead for cultural diversity and inclusion. They touched upon the existing biases toward people of Asian heritage in the Australian work industry and made a call for progressive action to change these negative perspectives of race and identity. Also emphasised was the need to open debates and ask questions about whether Australia was providing a true portrayal of multiculturalism. This not only meant focusing on one racial group but across all cultures and races. They noted that cultural professional development needed to occur to draw awareness to different cultural nuances, particularly to foster respect and cultural sensitivity.

This topic was particularly interesting as these issues of equal opportunity and support for those aspiring for success, were in line with the release of the Widening Participation Unit’s Strategic Framework for 2017-2022. Emphasising the values of equality, this framework endeavours to weave pathways of opportunity for future and current students, particularly of regional and remote low-SES or refugee backgrounds. Regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender or SES, I think that it is immensely important that these open discussions and changes are occurring within universities and workplaces to provide that equal access to all individuals for a chance of success.

During Q&A, it was stressed that diversity meant being inclusive of all areas including LGBTI and gender, and not culture alone. The panel speakers highlighted the importance of alliance and networking, the significance of diverse role models for future generations and the idea of having cultural intelligence. Most importantly, it didn’t matter who was in a position of leadership, what mattered was that people were doing the right thing by holding onto values of equality and respect, and making positive change. I feel that this message is imperative for our own students here at Macquarie and that our staff and leaders all have a role to play in their future success.

So, if you’re a leader or aspiring to be one, what actions are you taking for cultural diversity and equality?

If you are interested in joining Asia Society Australia or would like to find out more information, visit their website at http://asiasociety.org/australia

If you have any questions or interest about the programs running at Widening Participation Unit, please don’t hesitate to contact us at wpu@mq.edu.au or call on (02) 9850 1933.

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