Cracking the glass ceiling

Recent research conducted by the Diversity Council Australia and the University of Sydney Business School has found that culturally diverse women are experiencing a ‘double jeopardy’ when accessing leadership roles due to their gender and cultural background. 

The report titled Cracking the Glass Ceiling: Future Proofing Your Business in the 21st Century was conducted with the support of engineering and infrastructure advisor Aurecon, and draws on insights from culturally diverse female leaders and emerging leaders. 

Aurecon’s managing director William Cox suggests that while many Australian organisations, including Aurecon, are well advanced in their gender equality practices, there is still much more that can be done to ensure culturally diverse women have opportunities to thrive. 

“Not just at Aurecon but also in the wider property, construction and infrastructure industries,” said Cox. 

“As a global firm engaged in a myriad projects in a wide variety of countries across Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Aurecon delivers projects in multicultural societies in partnership with multicultural clients.” 

“Inclusion is imperative in helping drive the innovative problem-solving collaboration that creates the best possible client solutions; be that the tallest building in the Middle East, rebuilding earthquake prone Christchurch or award-winning infrastructure able to respond to climate change weather events.” 

“However, this research highlights how much more our business leaders must do to create an inclusive culture within their organisation. While the business imperative to encourage inclusion is clear, our people are telling us that the biggest challenge inherent in being a culturally diverse woman in the Australian workforce, and more particularly in the engineering industry, is the need to constantly fight deeply embedded stereotypes,” said Cox. 

Key report findings: 

  • Culturally diverse female talent is ambitious, capable and resilient
    • Ambitious. 88% 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% stated it was likely they would seek a job with another employer within the next year
  • Key barriers are locking out these women
  1. Amplified Bias – The combination of gender and cultural biases compounds culturally diverse women’s lack of career progress and opportunities.
  2. Divisions in Driving Change – Perceptions that organisational changes, designed to benefit culturally diverse women, represent an unfair advantage.
  3. Lack of Relationship Capital – A lack of access to sponsorship, mentoring and networking prevents culturally diverse women from progressing into leadership positions.
  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.



 Image sourced from Flickr cc: Hernan Pinera

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