When Dr Dimitria Groutsis was on a popular AM radio station discussing her Beyond the Pale report which highlighted the lack of cultural diversity in Australia’s boardrooms, she was stunned at the response.

“It was so horrible,” she told Neos Kosmos. “The Host said to me, ‘what do you expect?  A brown face, a Greek like you, having one person with each ethnic background on a board?’ I said, ‘no. That’s not the end  game. What we want is people to potentially have access. People to potentially have transparency and to know how to navigate their way into a leadership position.”

In 2018, official data from the ABS showed that over half of Australia’s population was either born overseas or had one parent who was. However when it comes to the make-up of boardrooms up to 90 per cent of positions are filled by Australians from Anglo-Celtic backgrounds.

The statistics are even more damning when it comes to gender,  as an analysis of 100 ASX directors in 2015 found that only two women were of a culturally diverse background. In fact there are more men in senior leadership positions named John than there are women.

These figures come from a combination of two reports, Cracking the Glass Cultural Ceiling and Beyond the Pale, with the latter being partnered by Sydney University, the Australian Human Rights Commission and Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Both reports have been co-authored by Dr Groutsis, a senior lecturer in Work and Organisational Studies at the University of Sydney Business School. Her findings show that women of culturally diverse background face a ‘cement ceiling when it comes to gaining a leadership position in Australian companies.

“That metaphor really captures what culturally diverse women experience,” she says. “They have got this double blockage where they can’t access those senior leadership positions.”

Even though there is clear evidence that there is a lack of cultural diversity in leadership positions, Dr Groutsis revealed more data needs to be collected to find out why this is occurring.

“We need to define what cultural diversity means and how people identify,” she says.

“For now the definition is very simple. It is someone who has been born overseas and someone who has a parent or parents born overseas. We don’t know what organisations look like and where people are located. We have no real understanding of the organisational landscape, public or private and in our tertiary institutions.  What we do know is whether it’s public or private there is a lack of cultural diversity in the senior leadership suite.”

As well as better defining, monitoring and reporting of cultural diversity in the workplace Dr Groutsis would also like to see real outcomes.

“I’d love for something like the Workplace Gender Equality Agency to be set up so we have a reporting body where we have examples of employers of choice,” she says. “I’d also love to see a female representation on ASX 200 boards reach 30%, that would be great. I see this as a fantastic way for Australia to be a leader in how we explain and understand this wonderful landscape and wonderful potential of diversity that we have.”

One way to penetrate the barriers for culturally diverse women is for them to start having a different discussion about what leaderships looks like revealed Dr Groutsis.

“We have this very narrow understanding of this male western leadership model,” she explained. “Leadership means very different things to different groups. The next chapter in these reports is to look at migrant and refugee women and how they see leadership and what women leaders look like in these groups. That in itself is a very powerful message in how we can break through that cement ceiling.”