‘Double jeopardy’ prevents culturally diverse women from top leadership roles

A new report looks at looks at the reasons why so few culturally diverse women reach top leadership positions

‘Double jeopardy’ prevents culturally diverse women from top leadership roles

There is strong evidence that ‘double jeopardy’ (when gender and cultural background combine) is prohibiting women from top leadership opportunities, according to new evidence.


Indeed, only 2% of ASX directors are culturally diverse women, according to the Diversity Council Australia.


Now, for the first time in Australia, the DCA 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.


The DCA spoke with more than 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.

Dr Dimitria Groutsis, a senior lecturer in Work and Organisational Studies at the Business School, said women from culturally diverse backgrounds face a ‘kind of double jeopardy’.

“They are denied leadership roles because they are both female and culturally diverse,” said Dr Groutsis.

She added that the insights gained from the women interviewed point to ways that organisations can crack the cultural ceiling and make sure that culturally diverse women are able to become leaders and role models for future generations.

“For example, the deliberate partnering of leaders with emerging leaders from diverse cultural backgrounds can be a very good strategy. It is a leader-led approach to recognising, valuing and including diverse voices in the leadership suite,” said Dr Groutsis.

Lisa Annese, CEO of the DCA, added that it’s time to bridge the divide and focus on how diversity and inclusion efforts can benefit culturally diverse women, and organisations across Australia.


“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,” said Annese.


“It’s time to bridge the divide and focus on how diversity and inclusion efforts can benefit culturally diverse women, and organisations across Australia.”


Some of the key report findings include:

  • Culturally diverse female talent are 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% said it was likely they would seek another job within the next year.



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