Social inclusion and professional female migrants in multicultural Australia

Marina Jurman

PhD thesis, conferred 2016

The goal of the thesis is to scrutinise the experiences of professional female migrants in Australia. The study was undertaken in the context of the emergence of a policy focus on ‘social inclusion’ and ‘social exclusion’ in Australia and elsewhere and in the context of renewed debates in Australia about multiculturalism. Social inclusion refers to a policy focus on enabling the full participation of citizens in the life of the nation, including economic, social, cultural and political participation (Gillard & Wong, 2007). In turn, social exclusion refers to a policy focus on identifying and addressing groups whose participation is constrained, often measured along the dimensions of consumption, production, political engagement, social support and cultural life (see for example, Burchardt, Le Grand, & Piachaud, 2002; Richardson & Le Grand, 2002). This research is interested in testing the relevance of these frameworks for understanding and addressing the experiences of professional female migrants in multicultural Australia.

The thesis involved a study of twenty professional female migrants living in Sydney who participated in in-depth interviews. All respondents belonged to a highly skilled occupational group and a prerequisite was that they held a primary professional qualification before migration to Australia. Participants, who were from both English speaking and non-English speaking backgrounds provided detailed narratives of their lives and experiences since migration to Australia, and these narratives provided a window into the specificities of professional female migrants’ perceptions of moving to Australia, settling in Australia and ‘belonging’ in Australia. These insights add to the body of knowledge on migration and social inclusion and exclusion. The research found that the relevance of the dominant social inclusion framework for analysing their migration and settlement experiences is only partial: this is because of the prioritisation of economic participation as a route to social inclusion. The social inclusion framework, consequently, fails to recognise the cultural dimension of social inclusion by assuming that social inclusion in multicultural Australia can be achieved and maintained through the active economic participation of Australian citizens. In addition, the study found that the dominant social inclusion policy framework does not recognise an important aspect of professional female migrants’ identity: transnational relationships and transnational belonging.

In terms of the specificities of professional female migrants’ experiences, the thesis proposes a structure for talking about differences in experiences of inclusion that uses measures such as participation in paid work, either in mainstream or in ethno-specific workplaces; participation in social life, either in or in and beyond their own ethnic community; self-perception of being, or not being, included - a dimension that was often based on whether or not they experienced racism. Based on these factors, women’s experiences could be categorised as varying between deep, borderline, marginal and shallow inclusion. The thesis also finds that although social inclusion does not equal assimilation or a transition from being a migrant, social inclusion is possible in the context of ethnic and cultural differences.

Supervisor: Professor Susan Goodwin