The Australian Human Rights Commission declares that Australia is a vibrant, multicultural country. Our First Nations people are recognised as the world's oldest continuous cultures and Australians identify with more than 270 ancestries. Our most recent Census also confirmed that the majority of Australians are women. By all accounts, our population abounds in diversity.
Yet, positions of senior leadership and power across Australia —in government, business, and beyond — paint a very different picture. While a quarter of the Australian population is estimated to have a non-European or Indigenous background, such backgrounds only account for 5 per cent of senior leadership positions (AHRC). And despite significant strides toward gender equality in recent decades, women remain significantly underrepresented in key decision-making roles. Women make up half of employees, but only 33% of board members and 18% of board chairs, 32.5% of key management positions, and 19.4% of CEOs (WGEA).
This disparity is also reflected in the people making decisions on behalf of all Australians. After the 2022 Australian federal election, we have the most diverse federal parliament on record. But there is still a long way to go before the gender and multicultural composition of Australia is represented by our elected representatives in Parliament.
This Folio Conversation will explore the state of representation in Australia and its impacts, and the barriers and opportunities for greater diversity in positions of leadership and power.
Conversation Leader bios
Caitlin Figueiredo is a proud Goan-Australian, social entrepreneur and gender equality activist. She has nine years of professional experience spanning international, federal and state, non-government and the private sector and specialises in organisation and policy transformation, campaign development, and strategic human-centred design.
From a young age, Caitlin has been passionate about strengthening representative democracies. She is the Founder & CEO of Jasiri Australia, a youth-led social enterprise on a mission to unleash a fearless generation of women and girls. At 22, she was listed on the Forbes 30 Under 30 for co-founding the Girls Takeover Parliament Program, a Jasiri Australia bipartisan program that promotes representational democracy and increasing female political participation across the Asia-Pacific region. Her advocacy efforts in youth development and gender equality have seen her named as the youngest winner of Australia’s ‘100 Women of Influence Young Leader category’, Women’s Weekly ‘Women of the Future’ and Queens Young Leader.
In 2019, Forbes recognised Caitlin as a ‘visionary change maker, whose actions create change throughout all levels of society’ by inviting her as one of Australia’s only invitees to the first Under 30 Global Women’s summit. In 2022, she was recognised by the Museum of Australian Democracy as one of the ‘50 most important changemakers to change the face of Australia.’
Caitlin currently represents 4.5 million young Australians nationally as the Co-Chair of the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition (AYAC). Through AYAC, Caitlin works strategically around the country to promote young people’s voices, rights and issues through public policy and civic engagement. She has sat on three United Nations Task Forces, one of which helped launch the United Nations Commission of the Status of Women Youth Conference in New York City. Caitlin is a trusted non-partisan voice within government, frequently advising Ministers and senior political leaders across the aisle on various topics and Commonwealth priorities, including the formation of the Australian Youth Development Index.
Caitlin currently works at Deloitte Australia’s Indigenous Services Group as a Senior Consultant and is completing her Masters in National Security Policy at the Australian National University.
Tharini Rouwette is the CEO and founder of COMPELL, an organisation dedicated to advancing multicultural Australia in politics and positively impacting the lives of marginalised communities in Australia.
At a professional level, Tharini hails from a strong media and tech background, having worked in a digital media capacity with companies such as Amazon, Adobe, Singtel/Optus and Google. At a personal level, she used her skills to campaign for political parties and grassroots organisations across Australia, Singapore and the US. As an experienced political campaigner, she has worked on campaigns including Barnie Sanders' in the US where she managed a 500-strong volunteer team to campaign for the 2020 presidential candidate all the way from Australia. Bernie Sanders may not have become POTUS but Tharini's team won him the Democrats Abroad votes for him to become a significant influence in the Biden-Harris Administration.
Tharini also established Allies in Colour, the first networking group for multicultural Australians interested in understanding Australian politics and potentially running for office. She's also hosts the podcast 'Allies in Politics - A Person of Colour's Rough Guide to Australian Politics', dedicated to helping its listeners better understand our political landscape. Tharini also conducts numerous workshops that delve into multicultural issues.
As a daughter of migrants and coming from a multicultural background, Tharini is always identifying ways to improve outcomes for multicultural Australia through brave and innovative ideas.