Home' HR Monthly : March 2018 Contents COVER STORY
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I thought only a
certain type of
in Australia, and
even now that is
LISA ANNESE, CHIEF EXECUTIVE,
DIVERSITY COUNCIL AUSTRALIA
model. If you're a culturally diverse woman, you are
two steps away. If you have a different leadership
style, you are three steps away. We need to evolve
what leadership looks like in this country."»
Undervalued and unappreciated
The Sydney University study found Australia's
culturally diverse female talent was ambitious,
capable and resilient. Among survey participants,
88 per cent planned to advance to a senior role,
while 66 per cent spoke a language other than
English at home.
Annese believes organisations can no longer
afford to ignore this talent pool. "We know these
women bring a lot of resilience, as they often have
had to overcome racism. As for their skills, they
tend to be good critical thinkers and thanks to
their multiple-language abilities, they can bridge
more than one culture -- and they are ambitious."
Their adaptability is a key strength, says
Groutsis. "[In the study], they referred to
themselves as 'chameleons'. They were women
who, without adjustments, are capable of
entering and brokering across markets."
Long agrees this is a vital skill in a rapidly
changing business environment. "White Anglo-
Saxon males can actually be at a disadvantage, as
it is not as necessary for them to adapt."
Despite their talent, most study participants
reported feeling invisible and undervalued, or a
'high risk' leadership contender. "Only 10 per
cent of respondents felt their leadership skills
were fully utilised," says Groutsis.
From an HR perspective, one of the most
concerning findings was that this under-
utilisation meant many participants were not
highly engaged with their employer, with 30 per
cent thinking of moving to another organisation.
"This has huge implications, as these were
incredible women who had very strong ideas on
what the organisation could do and were willing
to share those ideas," says Long.
Business benefits of diversity
Utilising the abilities of culturally diverse women
has bottom line benefits for organisations.
"There is a strong business case for organisations
to utilise the skills and knowledge of these
women," says Groutsis.
In the study, 40 per cent of the women said
they had a bi- or multicultural identity, and other
research shows this as a marker for innovative
thinking and process innovation.
It can also result in better organisational
effectiveness. McKinsey research found gender-
diverse organisations are 15 per cent more likely
to outperform rivals, while ethnically diverse
ones are 35 per cent more likely.
"You get a double benefit from a culturally
diverse woman, so why wouldn't you consider
them when hiring? Competition for talent is
so strong, why not look where no-one else is
looking?" says Long.
Culturally diverse women can also act as a
risk mitigation tool in a tumultuous business
environment, says Long. "If you are not doing »
it, there is increasing risk the organisation is
only seeing one perspective. Use the opportunity
of disruption to recalibrate your organisation."
For businesses operating internationally,
cultural diversity can be invaluable in meeting
customer expectations, says Nathoo. "You need
to understand the local community if you are
going to develop a strong, sustainable solution,
otherwise it will not work or last."
Key role for HR
HR has an important role to play in
helping culturally diverse women achieve
Undertaking a workplace audit can be a
good first step, says Annese. "Compare your
employee profile to the current leadership
and identify the gaps. You need to have clear
pathways that culturally diverse women can
follow to achieve senior roles."
Introducing broader activities in cultural
change across the organisation can also help.
"That way people can challenge their own
HR professionals also need to challenge
the perception of who makes a good leader,
says Long. "They need to have input into the
leadership culture and ensure current leaders
know how to draw out the best from the people
working for them."
When these women do make it into senior
leadership, they must not be held up as the 'poster
woman' of the organisation's cultural diversity,
says Groutsis. "They are often lauded as the
person who will bring cultural change to the
organisation, but you can't expect one person to
drive all the change."
Hussain agrees, noting that Maurice
Blackburn sets targets to achieve a level of
diversity similar to that in the Australian
community. "We need to get to the stage where
looking different is the norm, with workplaces
reflecting the diversity that is in Australia now."
Mentors are vital
HR can also assist culturally diverse women
overcome the barriers they face by establishing
networking and mentoring programs that help
them build their relationship capital.
"I have been lucky to have several mentors in
my career. They have been beneficial in providing
the support required and guiding me during my
career," says Nathoo.
Groutsis has had a similar experience.
"Mentoring is really powerful, as you end up
with wings if you feel someone is backing you."
To help unlock the leadership potential of
culturally diverse women, HR teams may need to
review how they do things.
"HR processes should be neutral, but often
they are not. For example, studies of performance
reviews overwhelmingly show it is not a neutral
process and there is systemic bias," she says.
Breaking down a full-time, face-time culture
and encouraging flexibility will also assist, says
Nathoo. "Many culturally diverse women lack a
local support system, so it makes it easier if there
are flexible policies in place."
Annese believes these sorts of initiatives are
vital if Australian organisations are to fully
utilise the available talent pool. "For too long
we have been telling women how to change,
but not talking enough about changing the
organisational culture." •••
PHOTOGRAPHY: STUDIO COMMERCIAL
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