Leadership program tailored for women of colour

Leadership program tailored for women of colour

By Sue White

For senior managers, the opportunity to undertake leadership programs can be an important part of career progression, building both skills and networks. But what if those programs were inaccessible, or designed without your needs in mind?

Tasneem Chopra, a cross-cultural consultant and diversity, equity and inclusion trainer.

Tasneem Chopra, a cross-cultural consultant and diversity, equity and inclusion trainer.

It’s an issue a new Women of Colour Executive Leadership Program (WoC ELP) is trying to address for Victorian women. The seven-month program, backed by the state government, is designed to build the capability and confidence of women-of-colour leaders: advancing careers, creating a pipeline for senior leaders into C-Suite and board positions and improving diversity, equity and inclusion in Australian institutions.

“Research on leadership development programs for people of colour and migrant communities has found that career leadership programs are very accessible to Anglo Celtic Europeans. They are often inaccessible for marginalised demographics, and not contextualised for their needs,” says program director Kat Henaway, a descendant of the Mer and Mua peoples of the Torres Strait Islands and director of the organisation Women’s Business.

Henaway designed the WoC ELP for not-for-profit organisation Women of Colour Australia. Programs like this, she says, are “230 years overdue”.

“We’ve been led by Anglo-Celtic leaders so had their insights and education and leadership. People of Colour will have their own, valid perspectives,” Henaway says.

She also points to the rise of economies like China and India.

‘These perspectives of people of colour are not integrated into our learning in Australia.’

Program director Kat Henaway

“These perspectives of people of colour are not integrated into our learning in Australia, despite them being our neighbours and globally influential,” Henaway says.

Tasneem Chopra OAM, a cross-cultural consultant and diversity, equity and inclusion trainer is one of the experts invited to deliver the WoC ELP. She says cross-cultural representation is “still uncomfortable ground” in Australia.

Chopra began her own work as a cross-cultural consultant to help address the fact that the overwhelming number of people of colour didn’t lack capacity or skills, but platforms and opportunities.

“To me that was a problem with systems. It was the inability of systems to teach and manage cultural diversity in a way that was progressive,” she says.

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This year, the call for more diverse women’s voices is also being pointed out ahead of International Women’s Day. A recent campaign called More Voices, More Representation at International Women’s Day features a coalition of 25 Australian advocates and organisations. They’ve joined forces to push for future IWD events and celebrations to better reflect Australia’s diverse population of women. Kat agrees with their call.

“What we saw in 2012 [when she volunteered for UN Women] and see today is the peak organisations running the biggest and most prestigious [IWD] events are often lacking diversity in their own leadership,” Henaway says.

As for Victoria’s Women of Colour Executive Leadership Program, even before its May start date, organisers have had requests from women across Australia to run something similar in their own state.

Chopra sees it as a chance for businesses, government and recruiting organisations to take note.

“The fact that we need this program is indicative of their inability to do better with recruitment…There is a wealth of talent out there that they’ve not tapped into. If they don’t, they’re going to miss out because these women are capable, skilled and passionate.”

Key facts:

  • The Women of Colour Executive Leadership Program is run by Women of Colour Australia. It begins in May 2023.
  • To donate, or to find out more visit womenofcolour.org.au

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