On Friday 8 March, International Women’s Day 2019 (IWD) will celebrate the incredible
achievements of women with the theme Balance for Better.
By raising awareness and acknowledging the important goal to achieve gender balance between men and women, IWD inspires the community to debate and discuss all we are yet to achieve.
This year’s theme resonates strongly with me. The word ‘balance’ best describes what women continue to ask for - and I find my voice amongst their many.
When it comes to discussing and implementing gender balance in our personal and professional lives, we continue to find ourselves at the starting gates. Whether it’s balance in diversity, equality, financial success, positions in the board room, within government, media and sport, the equilibrium favours men.
We continue to have false starts when it comes to gender balance in Australia.
· One of our core political parties, The Australian Liberal Party, consists of white, pale-stale men, preceding as reputation as a boys’ only club.
· Australia ranks 48th in the world in favour of female political empowerment.
· Women earn 15.3% less than men.
· Women aged between 60-64 will retire on half the superannuation that men will.
· In fact, many women will retire into poverty.
· Women in Australia work an extra 56 days to earn the same money as men for the same job.
· Women spend twice as many hours each day performing unpaid care work.
· 1 woman a week is killed in Australia by her current or former partner.
· 1 in 2 women have reported experiencing workplace discrimination
These facts drive home that what we’ve yet to achieve outweighs what we’ve accomplished to date.
I see that the world is waking up from its long slumber and is demanding balance. Women notice the imbalance in different circumstances and are more confident to call it out. Today, the voice of the people who see inequality is much louder than ever before. The most recent example of public protest being the sister rallies in the USA, opposing Trump, demanding equality and an end violence against women.
Balance for business
We understand balance to be a state of equality and parity – yet our lived experience in business is a long way from this ideal.
Balance is certainly not having one woman on your board, or one woman on your leadership team - where it is impossible to hear their opinion amongst numbers of men. While women remain a minority in leadership positions and on boards, they are working together to present a strong, influential voice that embraces their collective thoughts and opinions.
Recent surveys by McKinsey and PWC have revealed that businesses employing people from different backgrounds are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors. Powerfully, 86% of female millennials will only consider a prospective employer depending on their diversity, equality and inclusion policies.
The conversation about diversity in Australia is very much based on gender and diversity. Balance is not just about equalizing the playing field for women - balance is about more people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, sexualities and abilities.
Even though 1 in every 4 Australian is a migrant, the diversity gap and cultural glass ceiling is very real in Australia. Between 2004 and 2015, placement of women with ethnic backgrounds in executive roles in Australia increased by only .9%. Our multicultural and diverse communities are under-represented in corporate Australia, which has a negative impact on a local, national and global scale.
My journey of being a female leader from a culturally and linguistically-diverse background has been challenging. People see my colour before they see me as a woman, and I have always wanted to achieve more than the opportunities presented to me. I’ve had to work twice as hard to get half as far.
We need to closely look at the issue of balance in business through a different lens. If we can do that, the next step would be to ask the question: how do we shift the current paradigm?
· It starts with our government, communities, business leaders and most importantly, with us.
· Be hyper-aware of the levels of balance in your business.
· Commit to business strategies that will have a positive impact within a certain time frame.
· Make sure your talent pipeline is balanced.
· Connect with those in your organisation who are from diverse backgrounds. Ask about their journey, their challenges and share their stories to gain an understanding and positive connection.
· Engage customers with this vision and your direction towards diversity. It is just as important for them to be aware of your values as it is for you to live them.
· Don’t outsource or make it HR’s responsibility to achieve balance. Ensure your organisation’s business strategy reflects your community and role as a leader.
You can’t be what you can’t see!
In 2013 I was at a breakfast with the Victorian Telstra Finalists and we were all seated around a large round table, each one of us eyeing the other, making mental notes on who we thought would win.
Part of the morning was dedicated to getting to know each other, share who we are, what we did and a little about our businesses. This breakfast was a turning point for me. As I listened to all these amazing women, I realised something about myself that horrified me.
I did business like a man. Upon reflection, the reason I did business ‘like a man’ was quite simple. All my role models and mentors were men. I was a part of the first-wave of strong female leaders with robust opinions and goal-driven aspirations – like most men in business. There are many women in organisations around the country (just like me) that only have male role models. If we are serious about balance, male and female leaders need to make stronger connections with talented female mentors in business and beyond.
Without a doubt, balance is the option we need and deserve as a community. If we can’t see it in our workplaces and our homes, then we can’t be it. If we better the balance, we will better the world. We could make huge gains towards balance if leaders made equality a priority and core to their business strategy.
This is not an issue for our children to fix. It is up to us to ensure that the next generation inherits a better, more balanced world.