Immigrant and refugee women make great leaders. We have come across so many amazing women over the years through our PACE (Participation, Advocacy, Community, Engagement) women’s leadership program. So many of these women have ‘what it takes’ to lead. However, a recent study by the Australian Human Rights Commission indicates that key leadership positions across business, government and tertiary education remain a tightly held bastion of Anglo-Celtic homogeneity.
Despite the fact that approximately 32% of the Australian population has a non-Anglo background, only 23.4% of business CEOS and a little under 20% of our Federal parliamentarians come from this group. Within the public service and universities, the leadership includes only 17% and 15% respectively of people from non-Anglo backgrounds. Federal cabinet fares even worse, with only 12%. When we break these figures down further, we note that representation of people from non-European backgrounds is dismal: only 5% of business leaders, 4% of federal parliamentarians and 1.6% of top public servants. None of our federal ministers or university vice chancellors are from non-European immigrant backgrounds.
The AHRC report makes a strong case for inclusion and equity in leadership, noting that the practice of redefining leadership and advancing diversity brings benefits to all. These are extremely important points to make, but it is disappointing that the report, while bringing visibility to the issue of inclusive leadership, does not sort the data by gender as well as cultural diversity, and therefore renders immigrant and refugee women invisible.
The report rightly states, “what gets measured gets done”. An intersectional approach to data collection, that records gender as well as cultural background in leadership, would mean that more would get done to build immigrant and refugee women’s leadership, not just that of men. We could develop a sharper analysis and therefore deliver more targeted and inclusive solutions. There is no reason why our work to bring about gender equality cannot complement and intersect with our work to build racial equality. Australia’s immigrant and refugee women have already displayed many leadership qualities in meeting the challenges of migration, we now need to provide opportunities for wide-spread and formal recognition of their leadership abilities.