Posted: 22 May 2019 05 min. read

How to capitalise on cultural and linguistic diversity

Emerging research on CALD


While there has been much scholarship and research on diversity in the workplace, particularly in relation to gender, one area that has not received as much focus is Cultural and Linguistic Diversity (CALD) – defined as Australia’s non-Indigenous ethnic groups other than the English-speaking Anglo-Saxon majority (Sawrikar & Katz, 2009). More specifically, research has not previously attempted to discover where this talent is located within organisations. Consequently, leaders are not able to assess whether they are ‘capitalising’ on the benefits that come from CALD employees. To address this gap, Professor Groutsis (Sydney University), O’Leary (Diversity Council Australia) and Russell (4Points, Sydney) conducted research to better understand where CALD individuals are located within organisations. 


The researchers aimed to assess CALD within the senior ranks and talent pipeline of multinational professional services firms in Australia. 


To assess the representation of CALD employees in organisations, the researchers developed an online survey questionnaire. The survey was completed by 1,506 individuals across four different Australian professional service firms that were members of the Diversity Council of Australia. The participants were senior executives (Partners) at the firms and their direct reports who were next in line to become senior executives.

In developing the survey, the researchers reviewed a large body of literature, investigated global census surveys and also consulted with industry and academic experts on a bi-monthly basis. After developing the survey, a pilot questionnaire was given to focus groups to test for inclusiveness and appropriateness. 

The final survey included 33 questions that measured the following:

  • Objective cultural diversity measures (e.g. citizenship, country of birth) 
  • Subjective cultural diversity measures (e.g. cultural/ethic identity, religious affiliation) 
  • Global experience measures (e.g. experience travelling or working overseas)


Three key findings emerged from this survey:

  1. The CALD of these organisations, while broad, was less than that of the general Australian community. The participating firms comprised employees with citizenship from 50 countries, 100 different ancestries, 70 countries of birth, and 57 different languages. However, these numbers were less than the general Australian community, which represented over 250 ancestries, over 200 countries of birth, and almost 400 languages. 
  2. The CALD in the talent pipeline is relatively similar to the CALD of senior leadership except in a few measures, such as linguistic diversity. A large representation (74%) of individuals in the senior ranks of an organisation were born in Australia or other English-speaking nations. However, there were a few differences between the pipeline of talent and the cultural diversity of senior leaders. For example, 6% more individuals in the talent pipeline were born overseas than senior leaders. The talent pipeline was also more linguistically diverse. Of the talent pipeline, 15% spoke a language other than English at home, compared to only 6% of the executives. 
  3. Cultural identity provides a more meaningful assessment of cultural diversity rather than country of birth. Using cultural identity metrics, participants showed a broader range of cultural diversity (92 cultural or ethnic groups) compared to when the country of birth was used as a metric (70 countries of birth).


Reflecting on their findings, the researchers suggested that there were three practical implications for organisations: 

  1. Organisations should develop clear processes to identify, measure, and evaluate CALD. For example, the results suggest that cultural identity provided the most meaningful evaluation of cultural diversity; 
  2. Senior leaders should begin to question their diversity management initiatives and talent processes to increase organisational CALD, and potentially include government agencies and diversity advocacy bodies in those discussions; and
  3. Organisations, especially senior leaders, are responsible for understanding their workforce, especially as it relates to CALD in recruitment, selection and career management.  

For more information contact Andrew Vitaliti

To read the full article, see Groutsis, D., O’Leary, J., & Russell, G. (2018). Capitalizing on the cultural and linguistic diversity of mobile talent: Lessons from an Australian study. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 29(15), 2231-2252. doi:10.1080/09585192.2016.1239213


Sawrikar, P., & Katz, I. (2009). How useful is the term ‘culturally and linguistically diverse’ (CALD) in Australian research, practice and policy discourse? Sydney: Social Policy Research Centre, 1-16.