There is a “dismal” lack of cultural diversity across government and the private sector, according to new research.

The Human Rights Commission’s latest Leading For Change report has found 97 per cent of top CEOs are of Anglo-Celtic or European background.

Just 11 of the 372 CEOs and senior executives in the report were of non-European or Indigenous background.

“Although those who have non-European and Indigenous backgrounds make up an estimated 24 per cent of the Australian population, such backgrounds account for only 5 per cent of senior leaders,” the report notes.

“This is a dismal statistic for a society that prides itself on its multiculturalism.”

Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane says cultural diversity is particularly low within the senior leadership of Australian government departments and Australian universities.

“This report challenges Australia’s egalitarian self-image. It also challenges Australia as a nation whose prosperity relies upon international trade, capital inflows and mobility of people,” he said.

“It would be complacent to believe that it will only be a matter of time before cultural diversity is better represented. There remains limited cultural diversity that appears in the leadership pipeline, as demonstrated by our findings regarding non-chief executive senior leaders.

“In a society where nearly one-quarter is estimated to have a non-European or Indigenous background, the findings of our latest study challenge us to do better with our multiculturalism.

“Getting serious about the issue demands that leaders and organisations take committed action in three areas: leadership, systems and culture.

“The experience of gender equality has demonstrated the power of having data and reporting on gender. If we are committed to deepening our success as a multicultural society, there must be consideration of collection and reporting of comprehensive data on cultural diversity within Australian organisations and institutions.”

Leading for Change: A Blueprint for Cultural Diversity and Inclusive Leadership Revisited was written and researched in partnership with the University of Sydney Business School, the Committee for Sydney, and Asia Society Australia.