It’s official, we are more culturally diverse than ever! Let’s start changing the way we do business

Dr Som Sengmany - multicultural insights director, Think HQ, talks about the recently released Census 2021 data and the fact that it reveals not only the growing cultural diversity of Australia’s population, but also its increasing complexity. Sengmany also suggests that with all this in mind, businesses should be operating very differently.

The recently released Census 2021 data reveals not only the growing cultural diversity of Australia’s population but also its increasing complexity.

As Dr David Gruen AO, Australian Statistician, observes, “the Census captures the extent of the linguistic diversity across Australia. 2021 Census data collected information on over 250 ancestries and 350 languages.”

The data confirms that we have become a majority migrant nation, with 51.5 per cent of residents born overseas or having an immigrant parent. This is an increase from 48.2 per cent at the last census in 2016.

Almost half of Australia’s population (48.2 per cent) were either first or second-generation migrants, having at least one parent born overseas.

Across the country, 5.5 million Australians speak a language other than English at home. That’s 24.8 percent of the population.

The number of people who use a language other than English at home has increased by nearly 800,000.

Put simply, the picture of Australia that emerges is one of a multicultural nation where cultural diversity is the norm, where half of us have at least one parent born overseas and are increasingly likely to speak a language other than English at home.

The data should drive the way we do business

As well as providing a rich snapshot of Australia, the information collected by the Census is important because it helps governments to plan and deliver services that can better respond to the needs of Australians.

We encourage the communication industry to also make use of the Census data to better inform the way we do our work.

Within a practical context, the data shows the multicultural reality of communication practice in Australia.

As practitioners, whether working in agencies or in-house, most of us are already working in complex multicultural environments and having to regularly work within and across cultures.

As such, the release of the 2021 Census data provides an ideal time for the communication sector to reassess its approach to cultural diversity.

An initial first step is for the industry to better recognise the socio-demographic reality of our multicultural population.

Adopting this approach means shifting our understanding of cultural diversity as something that is marginal to recognising that it is central to who we are as a nation.

Culturally and linguistically diverse communities should not be seen as “secondary” or “other” audiences because the reality is that they are now part of our primary audience.

Secondly, we should use the rich insights from the Census to increase our knowledge and understanding of the complexities of multicultural communities. For example, what do we know about the Nepalese community, who are one of the largest growing communities in Australia? What are their communication preferences? What type of different languages are spoken in the community? Do gender or age differences impact how members of the Nepalese community consume media?

To answer these types of questions, we should begin by asking multicultural communities what their communications needs, wants and preferences are.

There often are no easy answers to these questions, as multicultural communities are not monolithic but complex and heterogeneous.

Not only are we a culturally diverse nation, but as the 2021 census shows us, there is also diversity within that diversity.

While recognising the importance of ensuring access to translated and culturally appropriate information, we encourage practitioners to go beyond translation towards meaningful engagement.

There is no doubt that Australia’s increasing cultural diversity offers some critical challenges for the communications sector.

However, there are also many opportunities for us as an industry to better respond to the changing needs and realities of Australia’s culturally diverse population.

The 2021 Census paints a compelling picture of contemporary Australia as an increasingly multicultural and multilingual nation.  Our role as communicators is to work towards better reflecting that reality.

Dr Som Sengmany – multicultural insights director, Think HQ


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