Macquarie University
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Making visible the intersectional and liminal lives of professional culturally and linguistically diverse women in Australia

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posted on 2023-07-26, 23:47 authored by Mojdeh TavanayanMojdeh Tavanayan

Investigating the working lives of professional culturally and linguistically diverse women (PCALDW) in Australian organisations has become, in bell hooks’ (1991) terms, a location of healing. I explore the enduring effects of racism and gender discrimination on women’s professional careers. Understanding the intersections between gender and ethnicity in professional work has been crucial in exploring intersectional differences of women in organisations. This thesis contributes to extensive research in diversity management, by both exploring these intersections in lived experiences (my own and other PCALDW) and existing literature. Drawing from feminist theory, critical race theory and intersectional thought, this thesis explores the identities and working lives of PCALDW.

Written in a PhD by publication format, this thesis contains three new co-authored papers. In Paper One, through an in-depth and cross-disciplinary review (SLR) of the diversity management literature, I1 identify how scholarship that examines the intersectional experiences of PCALDW can indirectly reinforce heterogenous narratives, individualist solutions, and non-radical alternatives in knowledge creation. In Paper Two, through life history, interview study, qualitative work life experiences of PCALDW living in Australia are highlighted. In conclusion, suggesting that experiences of liminality, surface encounters of ambiguity and disorientation, during PCALDW’s transition from their cultural pasts towards their futures. Drawing from Kimberlé Crenshaw’s (1989) writing on intersectional systems and structures of inequality to understand institutional inequalities, and Doyin Atewologun’s (2014, 2015) notion of identity salience from her work on intersectional identities and identity construction, Paper Two develops the metaphor of the mermaid to analyse how PCALDW experience pressures to manage different aspects of their identities so they are othered less. The research finds that many PCALDW choose proactive self-salience both culturally and linguistically to be able to have voice, and in some cases their appearance, in pursuit of inclusion. Inclusion for PCALDW matters and women adapt their identities to fit into their work and organisational lives, whilst remaining loyal to their cultural backgrounds. Using Crenshaw’s (1989) metaphor of the basement to critique the embeddedness of structures and systems of inequality in social and institutional life, PCALDW become visible because of their demographic characteristics and can benefit from organisational diversity and inclusion practices. Simultaneously, they are invisible and trapped due to their non-prototypicality of their gender. PCALDW who manage the shift between being visible and invisible are likely to have more opportunities for social (and work) mobility and escape the identity and social hierarchy entrapment. Through interviews with PCALDW working in a range of Australian organisations, intersectionality (Crenshaw 1989) and feminist perspectives were used to explore whether essentialised identities can be dismantled.

In Paper Three, reflecting on both the diversity literature in management and organisation studies (MOS) and my own experiences of researching PCALDW, I draw on the work of Martha Nussbaum (1996) to propose a compassionate research methodology to counteract epistemic injustice which can emerge in researching ‘others’. This methodology is composed of six pillars: respecting context, acknowledging privilege, listening as political intervention, care-based affinity, recognising shifting identities, and sharing stories through intercorporeal ethics. This is an ethics that emerges in a pursuit to understand women’s experiences alongside my own, women who are often invisible and silent, and deemed ‘other’; in researching diversity. Through an ethico-political (Pullen and Rhodes 2014) commitment to compassion, epistemological and processual justice is made possible.

Together, these three papers contribute new insights into the ways in which PCALDW are researched and represented in the diversity literature in MOS, why the heterogenous and liminal nature of PCALDW’s identities trouble whiteness and masculinity, and how compassionate methodological alternatives can mitigate the risks of white privilege and otherness that dominant qualitative research reinforce. In ending, this thesis makes visible the gendered, raced realities of professional culturally and linguistically diverse women through reviewing the literature systematically, reflecting on my own experiences and talking with women like me, and thinking through the implications for researching CALD women in future.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction -- Chapter 2: Literature Review -- Chapter 3: Paper One -- Chapter 4: Research Methodology -- Chapter 5: Paper Two -- Chapter 6: Paper Three -- Chapter 7: Conclusion -- Appendix -- References

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD

Department, Centre or School

Department of Management

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Alison Pullen

Additional Supervisor 1

Layla Branicki


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256 pages

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