The future of leadership is diversity


Physiotherapy in Australia is more than 100 years old and, over the course of our history, Australian physiotherapists have been global leaders of the profession. This leadership can be seen in our research output, critical thinking, educational theories and practice development—all of which have been outstanding.

For me, the most transformative international leadership moment for Australia occurred in Tel Aviv in 1978 at the 9th General Meeting of the World Confederation for Physical Therapy (WCPT). At this meeting, the APA sought to achieve international consensus for the first time that physiotherapists should aspire to be autonomous, and no longer work under the direction of doctors. Their mission was successful and the profession has continued to grow and to evolve—albeit not in every country at the same rate, or in the same way that we would recognise in Australia. However, what is clear is that this event—spearheaded by Australian leaders—permanently changed the world of physiotherapy. Direct access continues to be the key aspirational advocacy goal for physiotherapists in many countries around the world.

Truly transformational leadership can only come about if individuals are willing to embrace diversity.

A significant part of my role at WCPT is to support the development of the next generation of physiotherapy leaders across the globe. I believe physiotherapy needs to continue to evolve and reinvent itself. The world is changing rapidly and we need to be future focused and ready for the challenges that lie ahead. To do that we need strong leaders who are prepared to be bold and brave. However, these leaders may not come from where they have in the past. Both internationally and domestically, we need to address issues of diversity and inclusion if we are to going to achieve our full potential as a profession.

Leaders need a supportive environment to grow. We need to encourage ongoing reflection about the assumptions and norms within the physiotherapy profession. This may include considering ways in which we (intentionally or unintentionally) may discriminate against, marginalise, and/or exclude certain people or groups of people from leadership roles. Do we encourage people from diverse backgrounds and lived experiences into our profession? Do we as a profession adequately reflect the communities in which we work? Do our leaders represent who we are as a community of practice?

The global physiotherapy profession is incredibly diverse and growing at an extraordinary pace. If a new generation of Australian physiotherapists are going to take up international roles, they need to be culturally competent leaders with a deep understanding of their own biases (sexism, homophobia, racism etc). They need to openly acknowledge those biases and consider how they affect their leadership style. They need to understand how they are different from others and be comfortable with those differences, because truly transformational leadership can only come about if individuals are willing to embrace diversity.


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