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Leadership & Management

‘Up to now, only some women have benefited from the work of the gender equality movement,’ says Diversity Council Australia CEO 

Health Industry Hub | March 7, 2023 |

New research is focussing on how the intersections of two key marginalising characteristics – race and gender – are operating in Australian workplaces. In the lead up to International Women’s Day, Diversity Council Australia (DCA) is launching ground-breaking data examining the state of play for culturally and racially marginalised (CARM) women in leadership.

DCA’s report Culturally and racially marginalised women in leadership: A framework for (intersectional) action shows the representation of CARM women in leadership in Australia remains scarce, despite the clear business case where companies in the top quartile of racial diversity in leadership are 33% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median, while for gender diversity, the figure is 21%.

“Up to now, only some women have benefited from the work of the gender equality movement,” said Diversity Council Australia CEO, Lisa Annese, at the launch of the new research.

In fact, Women on Boards conducted an audit of the boards of 232 organisations and found that while women comprised 46% of board directors across the sectors, culturally diverse women (women with non-Anglo Celtic origins) accounted for 12.8%. The Federal Government had only 7.5% of culturally diverse women directors compared to 48.5% of women directors overall while 2.5% of ASX directors and 1% of ASX CEOs were women with non-Anglo Celtic origins.

DCA conducted surveys and focus groups with more than 370 CARM women, as well as a review of industry and academic research, to gain insights into the challenges faced by these women in the workplace.

CARM women reported high levels of negative workplace experiences like being under-estimated, ignored, harassed, and excluded from networks that help people get ahead.

The research results showed that 78% of CARM women wanted to advance to senior leadership levels. Yet, 65% agreed that CARM women employees received fewer opportunities for career advancements than other women. Also, 66% of the women said they felt they had to “act white” to get ahead and 85% felt they had to work twice as hard as employees who weren’t CARM women to get the same treatment or evaluation.

The report outlines an evidence-based framework for organisations, identifying the locks and the keys for CARM women and leadership and offers employers ways to be more inclusive of CARM women and diversify leadership teams.

Lisa Annese, CEO, Diversity Council Australia, said “On International Women’s Day, we often talk about women at work but too often miss the voices of women whose lived experience has been marginalised, as a result of their social class, their sexual orientation or gender identity, disability, their identity as a First Nations woman or because they are from a racially or culturally marginalised group. This research
explains intersectionality and why intersectional approaches to gender equity strategies are essential.

“Often, inadvertently, workplace gender equity initiatives fail to consider the different life experiences and needs of women – and so end up improving gender equity mainly for white, middle class, able-bodied, heterosexual, cisgendered women.

“Two-thirds of our respondents, culturally and racially marginalised women, report they feel they need to act white to get ahead at work. Code-switching in this way is unacceptable – it is harmful to the women and to our organisations. “We have deliberately shifted away from using the term ‘culturally and linguistically diverse’ in this research, instead using the term ‘culturally and racially marginalised’ (CARM) which recognises the significance of race and racism in the lives of the women we spoke to. We know this will be challenging for some people.

“But we also know that if we want to effectively address issues of racism in workplaces, we have to use language that specifically addresses it.

“These findings and our recommendations offer a great opportunity for employers across our country and economy to check how they are embracing and including all women and how we can be better – for the benefit of all.”

There is a clear need to work together to challenge the thinking behind ‘cultural fit’, and seek to understand and address unconscious biases around cultural diversity in the workplace. Personal and corporate commitments together will move the needle on this issue so that workplaces better reflect Australia’s diverse culture at every level, including the senior leadership level.

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