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Facing a double ceiling

Facing a double ceiling

By Anika Baset

Diversity Leadership Workplace 


For many women of culturally diverse backgrounds there are further barriers to leadership in the workplace. A 2017 report by the Diversity Council of Australia “Cracking the Glass-Cultural Ceiling” found that in a room of 100 ASX directors, 64 would be Anglo-Celtic men, 28 would be culturally diverse men, six would be Anglo-Celtic women and two would be culturally diverse women. These figures indicate both the gender and cultural imbalance in the leadership of Australian workforces compared to the Australian population.1 It is also clear, however, that culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) women fall at the intersection of these imbalances, despite 88 per cent of CALD women surveyed saying they planned to advance to senior roles in their profession and 91 per cent saying that working in a job that offered mobility to leadership was extremely or very important to them. Within the legal profession, the barriers faced by CALD women have been confirmed anecdotally. At the 2017 Victorian Women Lawyers’ (VWL) event on cultural diversity in the legal profession, Magistrate Urfa Masood recalled an experience at the Victorian Bar where a senior barrister made an assumption that she was the cleaner, forgoing the possibility that she could be a colleague based on her appearance. The panel was also asked whether CALD women face an added disadvantage in the workplace. The unanimous response was yes. Social commentator Tasneem Chopra noted the following interaction with a group of corporate lawyers at a diversity event: “When asked what strategies they might scope to address the lack of cultural diversity in this cohort, the reply was, ‘We need to get gender sorted first. The diversity quotient will have to wait’”.2 These barriers are compounded by the belief sold to all women lawyers that consistent, quiet achievement will result in one day being called to the leadership table. A critical examination of the notion of merit, however, has shown that this is problematic. The solution is twofold. First, there needs to be an open acknowledgement of the layers of unconscious bias faced by CALD women in the workplace. Initiatives promoting cultural diversity don’t acknowledge the role of gender and initiatives to promote gender diversity don’t acknowledge the role of culture. Intersectionality – the recognition of the interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, gender, sexuality and class – should be the norm when discussing diversity. Second, CALD women need to courageously advocate for their right to hold a seat at the decision-making table. To further these aims, the VWL Cultural Diversity Committee is hosting The Double Ceiling, a panel event featuring prominent women from diverse backgrounds within the legal profession and beyond. Its aim is to bring intersectional issues of diversity and gender into the spotlight and move the agenda forward through an interactive discussion of lived experiences and a candid evaluation of the legal profession. Anika Baset is co-chair of the VWL Cultural Diversity Committee. 1. The 2016 ABS Census data shows that 50.6 per cent of the Australian population is female and 49 per cent of Australians were either born overseas or had at least one parent who was born overseas. 2. Victorian Women Lawyers, Dame Roma Mitchell Memorial Luncheon Oration by Tasneem Chopra in Portia (2017).

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