Very few women of colour sit on Australian corporate boards or hold senior executive roles.
This is one of the findings from the first corporate cultural diversity study conducted by the Diversity Council of Australia (DCA) and released last week.
But did we need a study to tell us this?
A couple of weeks before DCA released the study, Kelly Briggs wrote in theguardian.com: “Can you name an Aboriginal woman off the top of your head that occupies a CEO position? Can you name a woman or man of African descent that is a member of parliament?”
The answer is no.
Briggs said when she reads “about affirmative action and quotas to get more women on boards and in senior positions, I cannot help but think the lack of attention towards racial diversity is becoming a severe oversight”.
The DCA study reflects the extent of this oversight in Australia’s ASX 200 companies.
Only 2 percent of the 177 women who hold directorships have ancestral origins in North East Asia, South Asia, Middle East, Central Asia, Africa and Pacific Islands. This is only 0.25 per cent of 1,437 directorships.
None of the female directors are of South East Asian origin.
Most of the women who hold directorships are of Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and European origins.
Women of Anglo-Saxon origin hold 48 per cent of female directorships, followed by women of Celtic origin who hold 30 per cent, women of North Western European origin 14 per and women of Southern and Eastern European origins 6 per cent.
A similar situation is reflected among senior executive ranks.
Only 3 per cent of women who hold executive positions have ancestral origins in North East Asia, South Asia, Middle East, Central Asia, Africa and Pacific Islands.
Women of South East Asian origin hold none of these positions.
Women of Anglo-Saxon origin hold 55 per cent of these roles, followed by women of Celtic origin who hold 23 per cent, women of North Western European origin 12 per cent and women of Southern and Eastern European origins 7 per cent.
The study provides limited statics on women of South American origin. Of the 20 cultural origins identified among female board directors, South American was one of the least frequent, ranking nineteenth.
Limited statistics are also provided for Indigenous Australian women; however, the study notes that DCA’s work is not specifically focused on issues for Indigenous Australians.
“While we recognise the cultural diversity among Indigenous people, we consider that the issues require specific consideration in the context of Indigenous Australians’ unique position as First Nations people,” the study said.
The study relied on data the Workplace Gender Equality Agency used in its report, 2012 Australian Census of Women in Leadership.
Using OriginsInfo name analysis, personal and family names from the data were analysed and categorised according to ancestral origins rather than country of origin.
Despite the DCA not focusing on Indigenous issues, the study applied the name analysis to identifying Indigenous Australians as well as people of other cultural origins.
No women or men of Indigenous origins were identified as holding directorships or executive positions.
The study acknowledged the limitations of the analysis, including that many Indigenous Australians have adopted Anglo-Celtic names.
Similar limitations were also noted for people of other cultural origins.
Methodologies aside, it should be obvious that not only are few women in leadership roles at the big end of town, but very few of these women are women of colour. The same goes for parliament.
What are we doing about it? Are we demanding racial equality when fighting for gender equality?
In her theguardian.com article, Briggs highlighted the large amount of column inches devoted to analysing Prime Minster Tony Abbott’s mostly male Cabinet.
She said most commentators focused on Abbott’s insistence that he had picked his Cabinet based on merit, but she was yet to see any commentators mention race inequality.
A short time later, a similar situation occurred when former Speaker of the House of Representatives Anna Burke criticised the ALP right faction for electing too few women to its Shadow front bench team.
Although Burke’s criticisms referred to a lack of women from Indigenous and non-English speaking backgrounds and she noted this in an opinion piece, which she wrote for theguardian.com, these criticisms weren’t picked up and reported by all media.
In addition, my blog post The casting vote – 110 years of women voting in federal elections and women’s experiences over that time – for the most part is written from a white feminist perspective.
Since the release of the DCA study, only a handful of stories about its findings have been published in the mainstream media and very few of these have taken issue with the lack of women of colour in corporate leadership roles.
The limited media response to the study, my earlier blog posts etc. are examples of what Briggs and people tweeting at #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen are concerned about: white feminist perspectives dominating the feminist movement.
Universal feminism has come in for criticism because it is viewed as being based on white western privilege and seen as a form of oppression against women of other cultural origins.
An article recently posted to the blog site Critical Legal Thinking highlights the problem. “The persistent claim to universalism, which is the core of this White feminism, renders the experiences, thoughts and work of Black and Third World feminists invisible, over and over again. Time’s up!” said Brenna Bhandar and Denise Ferreira da Silva in White Feminist Fatigue Syndrome.
Briggs says feminism must address the intersection of gender, race and class, as not all women are white or middle class.
“Australian feminists must recognise and join the fight for racial diversity. Aboriginal and indeed many black/brown women are being left behind because as it stands, while the table may still be lacking women, it’s also lacking colour,” she said.
This story was updated on 8 December 2013.