Victorian local councils and gender equality: Examining commitments to diversity and the experiences of women from migrant and refugee backgrounds

Research into migrant and refugee women working in local government

The research team

Monash University:

  • Dr Hyein Ellen Cho
  • Professor Marie Segrave

What was the research about?

The research explored approaches to gender equality and the diversity of women’s experiences and needs in the workplace. The project researched experiences of migrant and refugee women working for Victorian councils. It considered the commitments to cultural and linguistic diversity in councils. 

How was the research conducted?

The researchers:

  • invited 6 councils to take part
  • analysed the councils’ Gender Equality Action Plans
  • held focus groups and interviews with migrant and refugee women employees
  • held focus groups with executives in charge of gender equality.

What did the research find?

The main findings were:

  • Everyone agreed that the broader perspectives of gender equality makes workplaces fairer.
  • Some executives recognised migrant and refugee women faced barriers to advancing their careers. Despite this, workplaces had paid limited attention as a priority.
  • There was a desire to improve workforce diversity, but limited attention on how to achieve this both through recruitment and retention. 
  • Many women reported facing discrimination in recruitment at work.
  • Employees wanted better ways to move up in the careers. 
  • Migrant and refugee women felt their leadership styles weren’t appreciated.
  • There are different levels of value placed on different cultures and languages. Perceptions about language barriers stopped some women from seeking promotion. 
  • Policies and guidelines for safe workplaces and complaints handling weren’t adequate. There were also concerns about sexual harassment and the low rates of reporting.
  • Migrant and refugee women often don't have a say in making policies and practices. They need better representation in diversity groups and committees. 
  • Many people don't understand what "intersectionality" means in practice. 
  • It is important to shift away from rhetoric to meaningful efforts to support diverse workforces. 


Recommendations for all organisations and government

  • Use the term “intersectionality” carefully. 
  • Collect data to better understand women’s experiences.
  • Recognise the diversity of women in gender equality work. 
  • Diversify the workforce and increase diverse women in leadership.

Recommendations for local government

  • Prioritise working groups that focus on diversity, and include migrant and refugee women.
  • Make sure migrant and refugee women have a say in decisions about their jobs and policies. This includes gender equality and diversity initiatives.
  • Advertise jobs to migrant and refugee communities within your local government area. Think about their needs and experiences. 

Recommendations for the Commission

  • Promote discussions around diversity of experiences and needs within the public sector. Recognise not all women benefit the same way from gender equality efforts.
  • Support future research on migrant and refugee women in the public sector.

Read the full report

Victorian Local Councils and Gender Equality: Examining Commitments to Diversity and the Experiences of Women from Migrant and Refugee Backgrounds
Word 119.52 KB
(opens in a new window)

Citing this research

Cho, HE and Segrave M ‘Victorian local councils and gender equality: Examining commitments to diversity and the experiences of women from migrant and refugee backgrounds,’ Monash University, 2023