Uniting RISEs up to tackle leadership barriers for women from diverse backgrounds

Last updated on 5 March 2024

Women from diverse backgrounds face the toughest leadership challenges, but a new program is providing invaluable support. [Source: Supplied]

Aged care provider Uniting NSW.ACT is the first in the sector to benefit from the Diversity Council Australia’s innovative RISE project which is designed to build pathways to leadership for women from culturally and racially marginalised (CARM) backgrounds.

Key points

  • RISE (Realise. Inspire. Support. Energise) is a collaborative project between Diversity Council Australia (DCA), Settlement Services International (SSI) and Chief Executive Women (CEW)
  • The RISE project will work with 25 organisations across several phases to implement organisational change interventions that will help address systemic and organisational barriers for CARM women
  • Research shows CARM women face systemic barriers such as biased leadership models, not having their voices or lived experiences centred and not having access to influential social networks to support their career progression

Uniting is no stranger to cultural diversity programs; it’s in the fourth year of its Diversity and Inclusion Strategy journey and last year trialled and delivered a diversity, inclusion and mentoring program to staff. 

Tammy Pararajasingham, General Manager Impact and Innovation at Uniting, told hello leaders there’s a drive to be an employer that provides a safe and diverse environment for all staff. 

Yet even with their internal initiatives, there are limitations as a not-for-profit organisation. The wide-reaching resources and networks established through RISE break them down.

“What RISE adds that we can’t as an internally driven program is the opportunity to meet women, mentors and colleagues across not just our sector but others as well. What’s important when you’re talking about lifting career development is seeing what opportunities exist even beyond your own organisation,” Ms Pararajasingham said.

“I wish I had a program like this 15 years ago. When I reflect on my career development within Uniting and before, it has come down to a manager or a sponsor who believes in you and is willing to champion you.”

“Also, the culture and environment where you are not just tolerated for your diversity but truly seen and valued for your diversity. We all want to be at an organisation that creates spaces where people like myself can show up and not feel that we have to blend in, but be proud and consider our diversity as an asset rather than something to be hidden,” she added.

Tammy Pararajasingham, General Manager Impact and Innovation at Uniting. [Source: Supplied]

Research shows that women are constantly underrepresented in leadership positions, particularly if they come from a CARM or CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) background. Even something as simple as a non-Anglicised name can deter recruiters, the Monash Business School found.

“As we look up the spine of our organisation, diversity does decrease and that’s standard across our sector and many others. We have honed in on what that means for us, what it looks like and how we can shift the dial to see increasing diversity in higher levels of management, leadership and senior leadership in our organisation,” Ms Pararajasingham said.

“We know from data, and I know from my own lived experience, that women of colour are least likely to put their hand up for career development opportunities. We also know that diversity is the secret source to being a successful business and a caring and compassionate service provider.”

Working with DCA as part of the RISE project offers Uniting, and other participants, the chance to identify areas of improvement and new opportunities for CARM women. In many ways, RISE is the icing on the cake for Fiona Krautil, Diversity and Inclusion Lead at Uniting. 

With access to new mentors, including female executives and board members, and over 300 peers, RISE offers countless new champions for every participant. Ms Krautil told hello leaders this will complement the leadership provided by their line managers. 

Fiona Krautil, Diversity and Inclusion Lead at Uniting. [Source: Supplied]

“This program will also give our women visibility and confidence. We saw it through our mentoring project, their career aspirations just grew dramatically because we expanded their thinking around what was possible. We have these highly capable women and we’re identifying them, but this is about accelerating their careers and showing what’s possible,” Ms Krautil said.

In addition, not only will RISE positively impact the participants through access to tailored development plans, but it will benefit the organisation as a whole and the people it cares for will benefit, she added.

“When you talk about us being a care organisation this is about enabling us to connect better with our clients, to create an inclusive space for our clients where they can feel like they belong and they see people like them in our services at all levels, including leaders and decision-makers,” Ms Krautil added.

“We will also have the opportunity to identify any gaps in our processes or any systemic barriers. We see the biggest barrier in this space as unconscious bias and we talk about it all the time. Our CEO talks about it and we’re providing education to help people see core bias. We all have blind spots.”

Applications for Phase 2 of the RISE project will open in March.

women in business
Diversity Council Australia
uniting NSW.ACT
women in aged care
female leadership
RISE project
Tammy Pararajasingham
Fiona Krautil