Diversity program helps women rise to their potential

Posted on 01 Feb 2024

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia


A program designed to boost workplace leadership opportunities for women with diverse backgrounds has been given a major injection of corporate support.

The Diversity Council Australia’s RISE project is designed to help break down barriers for culturally and racially marginalised (CARM) women in the workplace.

DCA recently announced five new organisations that will participate in phase one of the program, whose name stands for Realise, Inspire, Support, Energise:

  • Telstra
  • HCF
  • Accenture
  • Uniting NSW.ACT
  • Gilbert + Tobin

The RISE project was initiated after a landmark DCA report identified intersectional barriers locking many women from diverse backgrounds out of leadership positions.

Following a pilot in October 2023 involving Arup and University of Technology Sydney (UTS), the first phase of RISE was launched by DCA in partnership with Settlement Services International (SSI) and Chief Executive Women (CEW) in January.

Participants in the program will use an Australia-first self-audit tool to assess their organisation’s racial literacy.

The results will form part of a tailored 12-month action plan for each organisation, including built-in training from DCA and SSI on anti-racism and cultural responsiveness.

Each of the organisations taking part in RISE has nominated up to 20 female employees identified as culturally and racially marginalised who it is hoped will benefit from an individually tailored career support plan and leadership program opportunities.

DCA said its own research conducted over the past six years has shown that culturally and racially marginalised women in leadership positions in Australia are few and far between.

The research found that while women from diverse backgrounds are ambitious, capable and resilient, they still experience a range of systemic barriers in Australian workplaces, such as:

  • not having their voices or lived experience heard
  • being assessed against biased leadership models
  • not having access to influential social networks where promotion decisions are often made.

To address these issues, the RISE project is working with organisations and culturally and racially marginalised women to support them in tackling the root causes of barriers to success and creating lasting organisational change.

DCA CEO Lisa Annese said the newly announced participating organisations come from a diverse range of sectors, including hospitality, telecommunications, professional services, social justice advocacy, community services and spiritual care.

“DCA commends these organisations for their involvement in the RISE project,” said Ms Annese.

“By taking the lead, they not only elevate their own standards, but also illuminate a pathway for broader organisational learning in dismantling systemic barriers, paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable leadership landscape across Australia."

“We must accelerate change.”
Chief Executive Women (CEW) CEO Susan Metcalf.

SSI’s Sonia Vignjevic said women face unique challenges and often must work harder to achieve goals and overcome societal and cultural barriers that are placed in their way.

This is further magnified for culturally and racially marginalised women, who are strong, resilient, and determined but face additional hurdles to attaining senior leadership positions Australia related to language, race and culture.

Ms Vignjevic said SSI research has shown that migrant women from low- and middle-income countries and refugee women have levels of education that are greater than or similar to those of women born in Australia yet they are more likely to be employed in roles below their education and experience.

“From both a social and economic point of view, it makes sense to invest in both developing the potential of CARM women and addressing barriers by employers, to ensure they are equipped to overcome the gender, cultural and racial barriers they face.”

CEW CEO Susan Metcalf said a census conducted by her organisation designed to track women’s representation in executive leadership teams indicated Australia is still 100 years away from reaching gender balance at the top of the corporate tree.

“We must accelerate change,” said Ms Metcalf.

“This [RISE] program will play an active role in enabling women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds with access to CEW’s leadership development programs, providing them with the space and opportunity to learn, build new networks and accelerate their leadership journey.”

The RISE initiative is funded by the federal government’s Office for Women through the Women’s Leadership Development Program.

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