'Act white': Some women left out by equity initiatives

Culturally and racially marginalised women are failing to benefit from gender equity initiatives like International Women's Day, which unfairly favour white women.

In a new survey by Diversity Council Australia, 66 per cent of respondents said they felt they had to "act white" to get ahead.

The report asked 370 women from diverse backgrounds about the challenges they face in the workplace, with most feeling like they had to work harder for recognition and respect.

Intersectionality was at the heart of the findings, prompting calls for more emphasis on the compounding impacts of discrimination and disadvantage.

Diversity Council Australia chief executive, Lisa Annese said too often the voices of marginalised women were ignored on occasions like International Women's Day.

"Often, inadvertently, workplace gender equity initiatives fail to consider the different life experiences and needs of women - and so end up improving gender equity mainly for white, middle class, able-bodied, heterosexual, cisgendered women," she said.

Some white women may even be acting as 'gatekeepers' rather than allies, with 30 per cent of survey respondents having been told by women advocating for gender equality not to mention race.

I think [white women] have fought so hard over the last 20 years to get to where they are that they can't empathise," one survey respondent said.

"I'm also a woman but [white women] are discounting that we're different."

Another respondent said not following cricket or going to a private school, or having different cultural references to a white person made it more difficult to create connections at work.

One of the steps the report took was to re-term participants as culturally and racially "marginalised", rather than "diverse", with 56 per cent of respondents saying it better described their experience.

Other common preferred terms were 'woman of colour', 'culturally and racially diverse' and 'non-white.'

Ms Annese said she understood the use of new terms is challenging for some people.

"If we want to effectively address issues of racism in workplaces, we have to use language that specifically addresses it," Ms Annese said.

The report identified four "lock and key" issues and strategies to overcome them - reshaping gender equity to include race, redefining the leader "prototype" , making social capital more accessible and bringing marginalised voices to the centre.