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Culturally-diverse women in ASX leadership: a double jeopardy?

"There’s still a serious lack of women leaders from culturally-diverse backgrounds".

In good news, women’s representation in leadership roles across Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) listed companies is now at an all-time high. However the more sobering news is that the actual number of culturally-diverse women leaders remains low.

In landmark research funded by CPA Australia and led by Associate Professor Shireenjit Johl of Deakin Business School’s Department of Accounting and Dr Jane O’Leary of Diversity Council Australia (DCA), the study – Capitalising on Culture and Gender in ASX Leadership – tracked the extent of culturally-diverse women leadership representation in ASX companies from 2004-2015.

Dr Johl says that while there has been an improvement in the representation of women’s leadership roles, there’s still a serious lack of women leaders from culturally-diverse backgrounds.

‘In some of the categories we examined, the number of culturally diverse women – when defined narrowly – remained less than ten until 2013. Further, their growth in the ASX leadership space over the last decade has been extremely slow. Clearly work is needed to increase the representation, and actual numbers of, culturally-diverse women in ASX leadership.’

In terms of cultural diversity within the portfolio, the research showed that as women move into ASX leadership roles around one third are from culturally-diverse backgrounds – a proportion that matches the Australian population.

‘For example in 2015 about 39% of the women in senior executive positions have a culturally diverse background which in fact is higher than proportion of Australian adults who are culturally diverse (33%).  So we’re seeing a move towards a healthy cultural mix within the female ASX leaders’ portfolio,’ says Dr Johl.

However she adds that the downside of the research is that culturally-diverse women experience a ‘double jeopardy’ in ASX leadership because both their gender and culture make access to leadership roles more difficult.

‘In 2015, only 2.5% of all 7,491 ASX directors were culturally-diverse women, compared to 5.7% who were non-culturally diverse. For men, 27.8% were culturally-diverse and 64.0% were non-culturally diverse.’

In response to these concerns, and in-line with the 2017 International Women’s Day theme “Be Bold for Change”, the report makes four key recommendations to improve representation of culturally-diverse female leaders:

  • boost the percentage of female ASX leaders, particularly of culturally-diverse female CEOs
  • ensure female ASX leaders are representative of the Australian community cultural mix
  • when appointing CEOs, target culturally-diverse women in senior executive roles
  • consider introducing targets for culturally-diverse women in leadership.

‘Our results clearly show that positive action is necessary in these areas,’ says Dr Johl. ‘We are definitely not making the most of the talent that is out there in the community.  We need to pay attention at the biases – either conscious or unconscious – that are hindering women, particularly those from a culturally-diverse background, from moving into top management positions.’

The report is the fourth release in the DCA’s innovative Capitalising on Culture research series. 

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