Push for culturally diverse women to be given opportunity to lead

The InteGreat Conference in Sydney, run by womens support group Shakti NSW, has highlighted the need to give migrant women a stronger voice when it comes to high-level decision-making.

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The seminar addressed barriers female migrants and refugees face when resettling into Australia and educated attendees on the types of services availiable to help with integration.

Pakistan-born Greens MP Dr Mehreen Faruqi was a guest speaker at the conference in the western Sydney city of Parramatta.

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Dr Faruqi knows what it’s like to break down barriers.

In 2013, the New South Wales Greens Party MP became the first Muslim woman to be elected to any parliament in Australia.

She says very few others have been able to follow her lead.

“Often migrant women’s voices are not heard, they’re quite silent,” she told SBS World News.

“We know that there is gender inequality of course: in the parliament that I sit in, there are just nine women in the upper house out of 42 men and these affect migrant women even more.”

Many of the other guest speakers, including Muslim community advocate and lawyer Mariam Veiszadeh, spoke about the need for deeper integration.

That includes promoting more migrant women to positions of power, Ms Veiszadeh said.

 “In order to be able to raise your voice you need the platform to be able to do so,” she said.

“What I spoke about today was acknowledging that in the corporate world there are inherent barriers that women of colour face.

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“While Australia is very diverse, we’re not necessarily seeing that diversity reflected in the top ranks of society.”

A 2016 Australian Human Rights Commission study found of 200 Australian Stock Exchange-listed (ASX) companies surveyed, 76 per cent of senior leaders were of Anglo-Celtic background.

Eighteen per cent were European and just five per cent were of non-European background, while Indigenous persons were not represented.

The data also revealed just 2.5 per cent of more than 7000 ASX company directors were culturally diverse women.

Dr Faruqi said migrants were often dismissed as just cogs in the wheel of the economy.

She said their value should instead be reflected in leadership roles.

“We need to work together to make sure that women across the board – new migrants, old migrants, women who’ve already lived here, Indigenous women – have a seat at the table and that their voices are heard loud and clear,” she said.

Ms Veiszadeh said society must afford migrant women that opportunity.

“I don’t think anyone arrives in Australia and says, ‘I don’t want to be part of the fabric of this country’,” she said. 

“They’re very grateful for the opportunities and they definitely strive for that but it’s also about the rest of society allowing them to flourish and provide them with the opportunities to do so.”

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