Cultural Attributes

While indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Australians have a rich and diverse cultural history dating back at least 50,000 years, contemporary Australian culture is strongly Western and it has been heavily patterned by its relatively recent British colonial past. The nation-state known as Australia only came into being in 1901, and its way of life has been strongly influenced by differing waves of immigration across the last 200 or so years of its modern history. Contemporary Australia is formally English-speaking, relatively multicultural, and is often regarded as “egalitarian”. However, multiculturalism is not uncontested, and business and politics remain dominated by men of Western European origins.

Hofstede1 noted that Australia scored low on Power Distance (PDI). There is relative informality in workplace communication, and hierarchy tends not be a defining characteristic of interactions within organizations. Australians are, however, highly individualistic on Hofstede’s Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV) spectrum. Society is relatively loosely-knit, and people tend to focus on looking after themselves and their immediate family. In the workplace, employees are commonly expected to be self-reliant, display initiative, and merit-based employee appointment and promotion dominates. Privacy and individual freedoms are valued. On the Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS) dimension Australia tends to the ‘masculine’, and this is evident in competitiveness in sport and other aspects of life. Australia is decreasingly sexist; however, gender can still prove a barrier to career progression and leadership. In terms of Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI), Australia has an intermediate score and this reflects a dominant culture that displays moderate tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity, but is rule-governed. Moderate risk taking is the norm. While Australia scores low on Long Term Orientation (LTO), traditions and norms remain quite important and this is seen in the low score for Pragmatism. Finally, Australia has a high score on the Indulgence versus Restraint (IVR) dimension, and Australians are generally quite optimistic, indulgent and pleasure seeking.

The following provides more details on the six Hofstede dimensions of Australian culture:

  1. Power Distance (score 36) in Australia is low which indicates the relative informality in the workplace hierarchy, “established for convenience, (where) superiors are always accessible and managers rely on individual employees and teams for their expertise. Both managers and employees expect to be consulted and information is shared frequently. At the same time, communication is informal, direct and participative”.1
  2. Individualism (score 90) has to do with whether people´s self-image is defined in terms of “I” (Individual, high score) or “We” (Collective, low score) and hence the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members. In Australia, individualism is very high which represents “a loosely-knit society in which the expectation is that people look after themselves and their immediate families. In the business world, employees are expected to be self-reliant and display initiative. Also, within the exchange-based world of work, hiring and promotion decisions are based on merit or evidence of what one has done or can do”.1
  3. Masculinity (score 61) is high where the “behaviour in school, work, and play are based on the shared values that people should “strive to be the best they can be” and that “the winner takes all” 1. Australia with a score of 61 is considered a masculine society reflecting that “Australians are proud of their successes and achievements in life, and it offers a basis for hiring and promotion decisions in the workplace. Conflicts are resolved at the individual level and the goal is to win”. 1 Australia is decreasingly sexist; however, gender can still prove a barrier to career progression and leadership.
  4. Uncertainty Avoidance (score 51)indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations (such as) novel, unknown, surprising and different from usual. (High) uncertainty avoiding cultures try to minimize the possibility of such situations by strict laws and rules, safety and security measures.

    Source: http://www.clearlycultural.com/geert-hofstede-cultural-dimensions/uncertainty-avoidance-index

    Australia scored an intermediate level on this dimension and slightly higher than the USA at 46. This indicates that Australians display a moderate tolerance for uncertainty or ambiguity but prefer to be rule-governed and more likely to plan in order to reduce uncertainty.

  5. Long Term Orientation (score 21) relates to “how every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and future”. Australia, with a low score indicates that its society “prefer(s) to maintain time-honoured traditions and norms while viewing societal change with suspicion… People in such societies have a strong concern with establishing the absolute Truth; they are normative in their thinking…and focus on achieving quick results.”1
  6. Indulgence (score 71); with a high score Australia is an indulgent country where people exhibit a willingness to realise their impulses and desires with regard to enjoying life, place a high degree of importance on leisure time, have a positive attitude and a tendency towards optimism.

1Source: Hofstede scale: http://geert-hofstede.com/australia.html