A study which was conducted between 2015 and 2016 by the Australian Centre for Leadership for Women (ACLW) to explore the underrepresentation of women in minority groups in leadership in Australia and to what extent is diversity inclusive of minority women in Australia, found a resounding theme: minority women develop and do leadership differently.
Minority women’s unique contexts of identity, experiences of adversity and marginalisation shaped a unique style of leadership that was more people focused, resilient, collaborative, interpersonal, empathetic, flexible, creative, lateral and innovative in their approaches to leadership, problem solving and developing business solutions.
In that the pathway that shapes the leadership of minority women is different to normal pathways linked to training, education and career progress, and their leadership style and strengths are not the same as the mainstream masculine western style of leadership, it can be said that minority women develop and do leadership differently, as found in this study.
An analysis of the open-ended survey responses and roundtable discussion of this study indicates that the leadership style of minority women bears the hallmarks of emotional intelligence and echoes elements of Transformational Leadership and Servant leadership. As such, it can be said that minority women have the essential leadership ingredients to excel as leaders.
Findings of this national research study cannot be ignored as it reflects the situation for the following minority groups: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women; Women with a Disability; Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) women; Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender Intersex, Queer (LBGTIQ) women; older women and rural, remote and regional women.
Moreover, Phase 1 participants were predominantly senior executives (73%), mostly from organisations servicing minority groups across Australia (87%), with nearly half (55%) identifying as being from minority groups themselves. Of these, 30% identified as being Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD); 21% Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender, Intersex, Queer (LBGTIQ); 15% were women with a Disability and 13% were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Phase 2 participants were all senior minority women servicing minority groups in NSW.
If, as this study found, that marginalisation from social norms shape leadership strengths and a unique style of leadership, then what are organisations doing to harness the power of women from diverse backgrounds?
Organisations need to firstly appreciate the strengths of minority women and change their cultures and practices of diversity and inclusion, and their norms of leadership to make workplaces authentically inclusive of women from minority backgrounds.
These themes will be further explored through the voices of minority women leaders in the Unique Leadership of Minority Women Conference being held on 27 September 2017 in NSW Parliament House Sydney.
The Conference Program will further discuss the research and reflect the journeys of diverse minority women and how an understanding of intersectionality is critical as a starting point for recognition of the challenges faced by minority women in their unique contexts.
It is time that the discussion moves beyond tokenistic inclusion to giving minority women a place at the decision-making table as organisations will benefit from the rich potential and leadership that they possess to influence people and drive change.
Organisational leaders and those who are in the Diversity and Human Resources portfolios in organisations have an opportunity to substantively include minority women.
We all have the opportunity to value minority women and enable them to reflect on their own journey as leaders in their own right beyond a focus on adversity and exclusion and its impact on those around them.
Seeing the world through their eyes and understanding their lived experiences is a humbling experience that gives one a rare opportunity to fathom their courage, strength and resilience to navigate multiple barriers of identity, belonging, survival and inequality. It also affords one an opportunity to appreciate the richness of diverse identities, lives and norms which in an ideal world would thrive if equality for all was valued.
Tickets to the conference are limited and close on 19 September. Women’s Agenda readers who are interested can obtain a $50 discount by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and writing Women’s Agenda in the subject line.