Through the looking glass

Culturally diverse women are experiencing a ‘double jeopardy’ when accessing leadership roles due to their gender and cultural background according to a recent research report conducted by the Diversity Council Australia in conjunction with the University of Sydney Business School,

The report states that this double jeopardy often results in a ‘glass-cultural ceiling’ in which invisible organisational barriers lock out culturally diverse women from accessing leadership positions in their workplaces.

Aurecon project manager Mayuri Nathoo, who was recently a panel member at the launch of the Cracking the Glass-Cultural Ceiling: Future Proofing Your Business in the 21st Century, spoke with journalist Kylie Field about the challenges of facing deeply embedded stereotypes and how they are prevalent in the engineering construction sectors. 

OHS: How important is the report Cracking the Glass-Cultural Ceiling?

MN: The DCA report is critical for companies, who must start embracing all cultures/ personality types, comparable to the current Australian landscape.

The report highlights the biases towards multicultural women and the need to be more inclusive, issues that many in the workforce are unaware of.

The notion of an international workforce is a reality today and it is important, for the benefit of our Australian economy that we embrace it and leverage, its advantages, especially as Australian businesses expand offshore.

The good news is that companies are thankfully responding positively to gender diversity initiatives. This report is about going to a deeper level to acknowledge cultural diversity. 

OHS: What does the report mean for women who find themselves in “double jeopardy”?

MN: Hopefully, the findings will kick start a conversation about the talent that has been falling through the cracks, due to both sexism and racism.

The DCA report highlights the culturally diverse women are ambitious, capable and resilient but yet, only 10% of the women interviewed agreed their leadership skills were recognised in their organisations.

For diversity and inclusion champions and drivers within organisations, the report is an evidenced based opportunity to seriously investigate the changes that will enable this group of culturally diverse employees to achieve their full potential. 

OHS: How challenging has it been throughout your career to overcome these obstacles?

MN: The biggest challenge of being a culturally diverse woman in the Australian workforce, more particularly in the engineering industry, is the need to constantly fight deep embedded stereotypes.

I have an Indian appearance – so I have come across managers, both men and women, who assume that I do not speak English very well or cannot be assertive. I am actually from Mauritius so French is my first language and my ancestors are from India four generations back. There is definitely more to the story than my appearance.

Having to overcome this invisible barrier constantly can be a challenging task. But I have found strength in using my background as a way to create a bond and bring in different and unexplored ideas to the table.

At Aurecon, we are all about bringing ideas to life – hence why it is even more important to have this diversity in solutions and means to create a lasting and positive impact for our clients.

Another challenge for aspiring leaders in Australian firms is the constant pressure to conform to a Westernised masculine leadership model - forcing some culturally diverse women to lose their authenticity.

Re-evaluating how a leader must behave, allows organisations to broaden their leadership pipeline and enable culturally diverse women to naturally ‘float’ to the top. 

OHS: How important is it for companies that operate in a global market to have access to this report and to have diverse cultural representation?

MN: It is paramount for the companies who operate in a global market to have an understanding of the various talent locks that culturally diverse women face and the keys that are required to unlock this untapped potential within Australian companies.

At Aurecon, we operate within a broad and diverse market across South Africa, the Middle East and Asia as well as Australia and NZ. We hence need to cultivate our cultural capabilities to better lead teams.

Developing a more inclusive leadership, allows Aurecon to leverage the diversity of thinking of its multicultural workforce, to better deliver innovative solutions to our clients.

Furthermore, the complex nature of infrastructure projects in Australia has built a skilled engineering workforce that can be more effectively deployed offshore, if they understand inclusive leadership and are able to successfully work with multicultural clients and workforces in other countries 

OHS: How prevalent is stereotyping in a culturally diverse country like Australia?

MN: The level of stereotyping in Australia is big enough that a portion of the workforce does face barriers to the natural progression of their careers, preventing them from breaking the glass ceiling.

Much of the stereotyping features culturally insensitive comments in the workplace; unconscious biases towards those who are different culturally and a genuine lack of awareness around the various cultures and backgrounds within a team setting. Better understanding of different cultures, often delivered by team based cultural diversity training can start the education process. 

OHS: What would you like to see change over the next five years?

MN: Five years from now, I envision that the diversity profile in the leadership group in Australian organisations will be more reflective of the diversity of the people they are leading – more culturally diverse men and women working collaboratively together.

This will ensure that up and coming professionals and aspiring leaders will have role models who they can identify with and relate to. The pool of mentors and sponsors available to them will also better reflect this diversity.

Furthermore, I would like to see that clients and co-workers in organisations are able to acknowledge the cultural differences without stereotyping individuals. This will allow everyone to come to work as themselves and hence be at their very best.

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