National Conference on Reconciliation, Multiculturalism,Immigration and Human Rights

Santina Bertone
Executive Director, Workplace Studies Centre, Victoria University

Mary Leahy
Research Fellow, Workplace Studies Centre, Victoria University

Productive Diversity

In Australia, we have seen a range of governments, federal and state, promoting the business benefits of productive diversity. This is the notion that companies can extract a 'diversity dividend' from their multicultural workforce by using their linguistic and cultural capital for exporting and domestic marketing purposes. Sometimes these promotions include some reference to the superiority of diverse work teams and the need to reflect the Australian population. Recently, the National Multicultural Advisory Council has made productive diversity a national priority issue, requiring proactive action and education and training initiatives. But how much we do know about the way productive diversity is implemented in practice? How do we get beyond the glossy promotional literature and assess the actual dynamics at the workplace? Is productive diversity really happening? What exactly are the benefits and what, if any, are the problems?

Previous research has shown that a minority of Australian businesses have adopted policy strategies in this area (Bertone et. al, 1998). More recent research by the authors involved conducting detailed case studies in two organisations which had advanced diversity management strategies. One used the bilingual and bicultural skills of managers to service ethnic niches within the domestic market. The other treated diversity holistically and emphasised the participation of all individuals within the organisation's decision making. The results were surprisingly different. Both programs suggested there were clear benefits in harnessing cultural diversity, but equity problems remained for minority ethnic groups in both organisations. In the first, ethnic stereotyping and a lack of policy coherence was evident, in the latter, ethnicity had become invisible due to the large range of individual differences canvassed within the policy.

Santina Bertone is Executive Director of the Workplace Studies Centre, Victoria University. She has led numerous research projects and specialised in research on immigrants, women, cultural diversity and the labour market. Santina has published extensively in this area, including six books, numerous papers, articles and contract reports. Her most recent book in this area is Diversity and Dollars (1998, with Alexis Esposto and Rod Turner). She has recently completed detailed case studies on diversity management for a consortium of agencies, and is an executive member of the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria.

Mary Leahy is a research fellow at the Workplace Studies Centre, Victoria University and is currently completing a masters degree in Asian studies at Victoria University. She has significant experience in the higher education sector and has also worked for the Health Industry Training Board and the Office of the State Training Board in Victoria.

Presentation Type
30 min paper

University of Technology, Sydney, 1-2 December 2000

Papers & Workshops