A concious effort is needed to change gender inequality

 

International Women’s Day will be held on 8 March. So, quite appropriately, the editor of this magazine asked me to focus this column on my reflections and experiences as a woman in leadership. In the spirit of openness, I’ll admit I felt an instinctive reservation to write about this.

Almost invariably, a woman’s account of her career, viewed through the lens of gender, will reference some unpleasant things. Things like sexism, bias, inequity, and even abuse. It is, at times, a discussion which polarises people.

We’re fortunate in Australia to enjoy a far better level of gender equality than in many other countries. But there is much to improve on. Australia is not ranked among the top 10 countries for gender equality. The Scandinavian nations occupy the first few spots, while the ninth belongs to Rwanda (source: UN Women).

Whether Australia has a gender inequality issue or not is the subject of much discussion. I have yet to hear anyone say that their workplace deliberately discriminates against women in their hiring processes, and I have no reason to believe they’re not telling the truth. Yet, at a macro level, it is hard to deny the statistics.

There are only 12 female CEOs in ASX-listed companies. Seventeen of the top 200 companies have no female representation on their executive teams.

So, if people don’t willfully discriminate, and the numbers tell us inequality is real and present, what is going on? In my opinion (and echoing the views expressed in First Word on page 6), much of it can be attributed to unconscious bias—unintentional prejudice for or against something in a way that is usually considered unfair.

I’m fortunate not to have suffered harm through overt or deliberate actions on account of my gender.

For me, it came in the form of condescension and dismissiveness. You’d be hard pressed to find a woman in the workplace who has not had to contend with this issue in some form or another. Usually, it is at the hands of well-meaning, decent colleagues who probably don’t know the impact of their words or actions.

While I will never put  responsibility  for  change  on the shoulders of victims, I do urge women to do one thing when inequality rears its head—speak up. And it’s everyone’s responsibility to be self-reflective and  to try to examine their own biases, particularly those that are covert, subtle, yet very real.

At the APA, the representation of  women  on  our Board of Directors, among  our  past  presidents,  and on the executive team is exemplary.  I’m  proud  to work for an organisation that bucks the norm in so many ways and provides support and opportunity for women to flourish.

And when women flourish, we all do.

 

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