Cultural indicators used in census data provide a valuable reference base for the whole or part of Australia. But there is no satisfactory way of using census data to assign cultural indicators to individuals in a list. The only semi-practical way to achieve a comparison between the list population and the wider population, is to collect data through forms or surveys and to use an approximation of the questions asked in the census.
However, organisations choosing to collect cultural diversity data in this way enmesh themselves in the challenges of framing the questions, collating and classifying responses, and analysing and reporting in a statistically meaningful way. The fact that response rates to forms and surveys of this kind rarely reach 50 percent and the inherent variability of data quality from multiple collectors means that the data is likely to be unrepresentative, of untested quality, and of limited benefit.
Most organisations do not collect data about cultural background, largely because they have insufficient reason to do so. And few organisations are operationally set up to categorise and analyse the data in ways that maximise the value of having collected it in the first place.
In terms of customer engagement, requesting such data from an individual may damage the relationship between the individual and the organisation, because the request is often seen as intrusive, or the purpose is not transparent or sufficiently compelling.
Moreover, the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs),embedded within the recently amended Privacy Act, detail whether and how ‘personal information’ should be collected and managed. The APPs are also clear about the definition of ‘sensitive information’ which includes information about an individual’s “racial or ethnic origin”. A higher standard of management applies to ‘sensitive information’, and non-compliance runs the risk of incurring significant penalties.
Much of this is unfortunate because as suggested in the introduction, data on cultural background, when appropriately used, provides an evidence-base and invaluable insight into how well an organisation reflects Australia’s culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. Such evidence informs management and government with priority areas for attention where the goal is to maximise advantages of inclusivity –for organisations, individuals, CALD communities and wider society.
Quite apart from the substantial privacy obligations, most organisations simply find the expense and logistics of collecting good quality data through application forms and surveys too difficult to justify.