Diversity is an asset. Use it.

Cultural diversity and ancestral appreciation prove invaluable to strengthening corporate culture and promoting respect.

Hakan Harman FCPA started his career in financial services and had several government roles before being appointed in late 2013 as chief executive of Multicultural NSW. He had worked in the organisation before, as chief financial officer, back when it was called the Community Relations Commission. But now he heads the body that promotes cultural diversity and community harmony in one of the most culturally diverse states of the world, New South Wales.

In any role when you step in as a CEO there is really no honeymoon period. But the fact I knew how to navigate from within the public sector certainly helped. Having been the CFO at the agency years earlier was a bonus, too.

We’ve spent months evaluating everything we do, even down to whether our name really reflects our work. When I first started, the minister said: “It’s fantastic to have you, you can review everything”. And we did.

The processes of conducting that review were not very different – in principle – from what you might go through in the private sector. But the transparency and the depth of stakeholder consultation and the feedback you give to your stakeholders – who include our minister and premier [of New South Wales] – are probably much greater.

It has led to some big changes, including who we are – we used to be the Community Relations Commission for a Multicultural NSW. People would ask exactly what that meant. Now we’re Multicultural NSW and people know that we deal with cultural diversity.

We administer a grants program, provide interpreting and translating services, perform a substantial community engagement function with diverse communities, and partner with the private, public and non-government sectors to achieve greater social cohesion.

We also celebrate cultural diversity through a number of events including the annual Premier’s Harmony Dinner held in March, the Multicultural Media awards and the Multicultural Marketing awards.

Our approach starts with the idea that we’re committed as Australians to ensure our social cohesion and community harmony. As Australians we’re all free to profess, practise, promote and celebrate our cultural diversity.

We’ve now got, for the first time, an Indigenous person on our advisory board and we have removed the words “ethnic” and “race” as descriptors within our legislation and simply replaced them with “ancestry”, which connotes respect for one’s ancestry. I think it’s really, really significant.

During the review we also removed references to multiculturalism because to us the “ism” is a philosophy, an ideology. But Australia is actually a model society for cultural diversity in action, or multicultural practice. Multicultural is who we are. We should not be afraid to say we’re multicultural.

We’ve begun working also with Diversity Council Australia, a not-for-profit private sector organisation that advises companies about diversity in the workplace. We want to deepen those connections with the private sector. We’re not here just to serve the public sector.

Trick of the trade
Being culturally diverse is who we are as Australians. Cultural and linguistic diversity is a social and economic asset – one of our most significant assets. It should be front of mind for all leaders.

This article is from the March 2015 issue of INTHEBLACK.

March 2015
March 2015

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