Migrant women’s leadership and the triple-glazed glass ceiling

Valentina* has been carving out spaces for her Latin community to connect and create for over twenty years. Despite decades of experience, she felt that she was a leader in her own community but didn’t feel that she was respected as one in her workplace. “Is it me or after all these years, why am I still in the same place?”, she would ask in our PACE Leadership program. She described it as the feeling of not being able to “push up” to be equally seen among her peers, to break through a ceiling that she couldn’t quite articulate.

Too often migrant women’s voices, experiences and expertise are undervalued and unrecognised in Australia. Our experiences of gender inequality, racism, immigration and visa precarity have an impact on our access to leadership opportunities. This includes the lack of recognition of overseas qualifications; costly education courses; limited career pathways; limited opportunities to improve our English language skills; the lack of mentors and representation of migrant women in our industry; pay disparity; sexual harassment; discrimination both in the workplace and even on the basis of our given names at the recruitment stage. For migrant women, the glass ceiling is often double, or triple glazed with other intersecting forms of discrimination.

Structural and systemic barriers play a large role in how and where migrant women participate, advocate, communicate and engage within their workplaces and community. Individual skills, knowledge and capabilities are important parts of leadership, but alone are not enough to crack the triple-glazed ceiling. Our workplaces and communities have a responsibility to recognise migrant women’s skills, provide pathways and support them to take on leadership positions. If employees who work with non-inclusive managers are four times more likely to experience discrimination and/or harassment, then we need to change – and create more diverse, inclusive and equitable workplaces, including at the management level.

Community-based programs like PACE (Participate, Advocate, Communicate, Engage) are one way we can centre migrant and refugee women’s experiences while also addressing the structural barriers to leadership pathways. By strengthening migrant women’s skills to collectively advocate for better conditions for all, we’re creating a better future for generations, pace by pace.

At the end of the program, we asked Valentina what she thought about leadership now. She replied, ‘It wasn’t all in my mind all along. But actually, I am a leader.’

*Name has been changed

First published in edition #108 of The WRAP on 28 April 2022.