‘Include the voices who are missing’. Call for greater diversity on International Women’s Day


International Women’s Day is about celebrating all women, so why do a an increasing number of Australian females who say they are being left out of this landmark day?


The theme of Women on Boards' virtual IWD luncheon - which is being hosted by our Cultural Diversity Committee - is on Embracing Equity and Diversity and guest panelist Karen Loon will be share her experiences and the key insights from her book "Fostering Culturally Diverse Leadership".

And yet according to a recent nationwide survey of 419 women, seven in 10 women (69.4% of respondents) do not feel represented at International Women’s Day events, panels or in the media.

Half of the respondents indicated having at least two intersecting identities and being from racialised, minoritised or marginalised communities such as First Nations, refugees, people with a disability, women of colour, culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD), and LGBTQIA+, amongst others -4.8% identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

The More Voices, More Representation campaign (a coalition of 25 Australian advocates and organisations) is calling for greater intersectional representation to ensure all women are recognised, celebrated and represented on IWD.


'Isolated, disrespected and excluded'

Women on Boards member Div Pillay, CEO of MindTribes and co-founder of Culturally Diverse Women is one of the women behind the campaign.

“As a migrant professional in Australia for 20 years I have never seen keynotes or panels include gender intersections on IWD without me or someone else bravely challenging the organisers to change their decisions,” she said.

“As a practitioner in DEI, women have shared with us that hearing women and men on IWD, year on year, who do not share any lived experiences with them; makes them feel isolated, disrespected and excluded. This matters from a productivity and mental health perspective and can so easily be changed.”

South-African born Div was a guest speaker at a WOBMeet event in Melbourne in November, where she talked about driving the inclusion agenda in Australia. She also commented on WOB’s Truth Be Told research into Cultural Diversity on Boards for SBS News.

She warns against organisations including “tokenistic” gestures to visually suggest they are doing the right thing. “Back it up by leading change for these women already in your workforce, supply chain and customer base.

“IWD is a megaphone to steer system change, who is listening? 9 out of 10 leaders in Australia are Anglo or European and they are often listening to narrow, often homogenous narratives that represent only a sliver of even the Anglo-European demographic. These leaders then make change from where they stand - which is to advance, develop and support women from similar socio-economic classes, races, ethnicities, countries of birth, geographic locations, gender identities, sexual orientations and ability levels.

“I challenge all decision makers to look at their gender representation through this lens, who is missing and why? If we don’t include voices who are often missing; this and every IWD in the mainstream, we will lag even further behind our global position in gender equality ranking.”

Australia ‘increasingly diverse’

According to the 2021 Census, Australia is becoming increasingly diverse with 3 in 10 Australians (27.6 %) born overseas and the number of people who speak a language other than English at home has increased by nearly 800,000, rising to over 5.5 million people. Women from CALD backgrounds make up a significant proportion of the Australian population. 

The three largest groups of respondents to the More Voices, More Representation survey identified as women of colour (54%), CALD women (52%) and immigrant women (42%), and the majority did not feel that IWD has been representing them in the past. 

83% of women of colour, 79% of CALD women and 75% of immigrant women reported that they have felt excluded from IWD celebrations in Australia, the top reasons being that the women speaking at previous IWD events appeared to be from economically privileged backgrounds, had more opportunities and access to networks and that they did not look or sound like them. 

While the issues surrounding gender equality are well documented, there is very little conversation or advocacy for the advancement of women with intersecting identities on, or outside of IWD. Around 1 in 6 (18%) people in Australia – or about 4.4 million – have a disability and yet of the 19% of respondents who identified as having a disability, 75% reported that there was no representation of their community on IWD. 

Key findings from the survey include: 

● Only the Aboriginal women who celebrated IWD within their own community, felt represented on IWD. 27% of Aboriginal women reported not feeling like IWD in the past years have celebrated or honoured them. 
● 83% of women of colour, 79% of CALD women and 75% of immigrant women reported that they have felt excluded from IWD celebrations in Australia 
● One fifth of respondents identified at LGBTQIA+, of which 79% reported not feeling represented on IWD 
● Only one quarter of respondents who identified as having a disability reported feeling included and represented in IWD celebrations 
● 54% of respondents over 55 years old don’t feel that events and panels surrounding IWD have been representative of their demographic so far

WOB EVENT: Join the Women on Boards' staff and Cultural Diversity Committee at our IWD Virtual Lunch on 8 March to embrace equity and celebrate culturally diverse women leaders and directors.

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