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Culturally diverse women breaking through the ‘glass-cultural ceiling’

Mayuri Nathoo

Mayuri Nathoo, Project Manager

07 September 2017 - According to the most recent high-profile research conducted by Diversity Council Australia with The University of Sydney Business School, culturally diverse women are experiencing a ‘double jeopardy’ when accessing leadership roles due to their gender and cultural background.

This double jeopardy often results in a ‘glass-cultural ceiling’ in which invisible organisational barriers lock out culturally diverse women from accessing leadership positions in their workplaces.

The ground-breaking partnership research is supported by research partners global engineering and infrastructure advisors Aurecon, Google, Deloitte and CBA and has resulted in a report called Cracking the Glass-Cultural Ceiling: Future Proofing Your Business in the 21st Century. The report draws on insights from culturally diverse* female leaders and emerging leaders to answer two key questions: ‘Why do so few culturally diverse females reach top leadership positions in Australia?’; and ‘What can Australian organisations do to better recognise the skill and ambition of culturally diverse female talent?’

William Cox, Aurecon’s Managing Director Australia & New Zealand, believes that while many Australian organisations, including Aurecon, are well advanced in their gender equality practices, there is still much more that can be done to ensure culturally diverse women have opportunities to thrive – not just in Aurecon but also in the wider property, construction and infrastructure industries.

“As a global firm engaged on myriad projects in a wide variety of countries across Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Aurecon delivers projects in multicultural societies in partnership with multicultural clients,” said Cox. “Inclusion is imperative in helping drive the innovative problem-solving collaboration that creates the best possible client solutions: be that about rebuilding earthquake prone Christchurch or award-winning infrastructure able to respond to climate change induced extreme weather events.

“However, this research highlights how much more our business leaders must do to create an inclusive culture within their organisations,” he added.

“While the business imperative to encourage inclusion is clear, our people are telling us that the biggest challenge inherent in being a culturally diverse woman in the Australian workforce, and more particularly in the engineering industry, is the need to constantly fight deeply embedded stereotypes.”

Aurecon Project Manager Mayuri Nathoo, who will be a panel member at the launch on 7 September of Cracking the Glass-Cultural Ceiling: Future Proofing Your Business in the 21st Century, has strong views on the issue.

“I have an Indian appearance and often come across managers, both men and women, who assume that I do not speak English very well or cannot be assertive. In reality – I am from Mauritius, French is my first language and my ancestors are from India, but four generations back. There is definitely more to the story than my appearance,” she said.

“Having to constantly overcome this invisible barrier can be a challenging task. I have found strength in using my background as a way to create a bond and bring in different and unexplored ideas to the table. At Aurecon – diversity of thinking is not ‘tolerated’; it’s celebrated as key to innovation.

“The findings of this research are a call for organisations to stop tolerating stereotypes and are a clear call to action. Rather than trying to retrofit culturally diverse female talent to the traditional leadership model, embrace this cultural difference and use it as a powerful leverage in business.

“Inclusion means empowering all Aurecon talent to bring their best creative and authentic selves to work every day, including our culturally diverse females. The organisations who do this best will be the winners in an increasingly global multicultural marketplace for talent.

“In my previous role, as the leader of our global young professionals network, I successfully brought together 25 teams from nine different countries to make the experience for our graduates consistent worldwide and connect them to our senior leaders, all while embracing stark cultural differences.”

Cox concludes: “Aurecon looks forward to leveraging the findings of the Cracking the Glass-Cultural Ceiling research and to sharing this journey with our people, clients and partners.”

* ‘Culturally diverse’ refers to any woman who identified in part or in whole in this research as being from a non-Anglo or a non-Main English Speaking Country cultural background.

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