Cracking the Glass-Cultural Ceiling: Disrupting ‘double jeopardy’ to unlock the talents of culturally diverse women

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Given only 2% of ASX directors are culturally diverse women, there is strong evidence that ‘double jeopardy’ (when gender and cultural background combine) is locking these women out of leadership opportunities. For the first time ever in Australia, Diversity Council Australia and The University of Sydney Business School have asked culturally diverse women about their experiences in the workplace, what is preventing them from progressing and what organisations can do to better harness their talents.

DCA talked with over 230 culturally diverse women who are leaders or aspiring leaders in Australian-based organisations in its new report, Cracking the Glass-Cultural Ceiling: Future Proofing Your Business in the 21st Century, said DCA’s CEO, Lisa Annese.

“These women told us that gender equality initiatives typically benefitted women from Anglo-Celtic backgrounds, and that cultural diversity initiatives typically benefitted culturally diverse men. It’s time to bridge the divide and focus on how diversity and inclusion efforts can benefit culturally diverse women, and organisations across Australia,” said Lisa.

Prominent company director, Ming Long, who participated in the research and recently joined the DCA Board, said Australian companies are missing out.

“There is a deep pool of highly capable and talented culturally diverse women out there. If we don’t harness this, we risk missing out on talent, skills and important new perspectives. With an increasingly global marketplace and disruption, this is something Australian organisations can’t afford not to do,” said Ming.

Key report findings:

  • Culturally diverse female talent are ambitious, capable and resilient
    • Ambitious. 84% of culturally diverse female talent we surveyed planned to advance to a very senior role and 91% said mobility into leadership was extremely or very important.
    • Capable. 66% of culturally diverse female talent spoke a language other than English when at home, and 37% had a bi/multicultural identity so are able to communicate across cultural contexts.
    • Resilient. Culturally diverse women reported that their personal resilience had been key to them retaining their leadership aspirations in the face of the career barriers.
  • But they are under-leveraged, under-valued and likely to resign
    • Under-leveraged. Only 15% of participants strongly agreed that their organisation took advantage of workforce diversity to better service clients or access new markets.
    • Under-valued. While 88% of culturally diverse women planned to advance to a very senior role, only 1 in 10 strongly agreed that their leadership traits were recognised or that their opinions were valued and respected.
    • Moving on. 26% agreed that cultural barriers in the workplace had caused them to scale back at work (i.e. reduce their ambitions, work fewer hours, not work as hard, and/or consider quitting) and 28% said it was likely they would seek another job within the next year.
  • ​Key barriers are locking out these women
  1. Lack of relationship capital – A lack of access to sponsorship, mentoring and networking prevents culturally diverse women from progressing into leadership positions.
  2. Amplified bias – The combination of gender and cultural biases compounds culturally diverse women’s lack of career progress and opportunities.
  3. Divisions in driving change – Perceptions that organisational changes, designed to benefit culturally diverse women, represent an unfair advantage.
  4. Masculine western leadership models – Models used for assessing talent are inherently biased towards more masculine Western or ‘Anglo’ leadership styles.
  5. Lack of flexibility – Full-time face-time cultures, lack of genuine managerial engagement with flexibility, and stigma associated with flexible workers mean organisations are failing to make flexibility standard business practice.
  6. Lack of accountability – A culture of disinterest/lip service and few measurable objectives contribute to a lack of leadership accountability for delivering on diversity and inclusion.

​Drawing on these findings, DCA has crafted an organisational framework for action to dismantle these six barriers and unlock the talents of culturally diverse women.

For more information, download the infographicthe synopsis report or visit our research page on this topic, where members can download the full report.

Sponsored by Google, Aurecon & Commonwealth Bank; Supported by Deloitte