Ideas in Action

March 9, 2017 | Posted by: Madeleine Scanlon

Bang the table or be a little bolder

For this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD), we celebrated being bold, generous and open to change.

Australian treasure, Annabel Crabb, journalist and all-round amazing lady, spoke beautifully at last night’s Institute of Public Administration Australia’s IWD dinner. Her use of language and humour is truly brilliant. The message was clear – expectations, of ourselves and others, are powerful. It doesn’t matter if we have the most progressive policies in the world, if we don’t connect human to human, and break down cultural messages and gender expectations we won’t improve gender equality anytime soon.

In my twenties I was impatient for change – we should be doing more about ‘the boys’ club mentality of Australian sport’ or ‘female stereotypes’. It was the making of loud family dinner table debates. In hindsight, my assertive and youthful tactics were in vain, as the focus should be on the needs and expectations of the person, not the ‘game’. The challenges people face in our community and workplaces are complex and require collaboration rather than ‘banging the table’.

It’s a team effort

‘Feminism’ is not the female battle I once thought it was. My male friends, family members and colleagues care just as passionately about equality, diversity and accessibility of opportunities as I do. Attitudes and behaviours in the workplaces must cater for the needs of the individual – not their gender. One in ten employees in Australia work in jobs that didn’t exist several decades ago (human resource manager, project administrator, digital analyst). Workplaces must remain agile to the needs of an individual (male or female) such as access to training, skill development, technology and ‘family friendly’ arrangements to remain a competitive, attractive and safe workplace in a changing world. It makes commercial sense. Elizabeth Broderick, former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner stated that as long as flexible work remains simply a female issue, and men (and women) are not supported culturally to embrace flexible work arrangements, change will be very slow.

IPPA IWD Speakers

Elizabeth Broderick (former Sex Discrimination Commissioner), Annabel Crabb and Marlo Baragwanath (Victorian Government Solicitor General) at IPPA’s IWD Dinner 2017

Step up

Much of the discussion last night focused on fixing the workplace, not the person. The structural instruments (such as quotas/targets/financial consequences) to address inequality in wages and lack of senior executive positions for women, are important to consider.

Equally, and others may disagree with me on this, in my observation of friends and former colleagues over the years, confidence can also be one of the toughest barriers for taking opportunities. Sometimes we need a pep talk to take the leap. Portia Mount, Chief of Staff at the Centre for Creative Leadership had some advice – “Take opportunities even if you feel you are not ready, even if it scares the heck out of you…Women tend to over prepare, over think and over analyse every opportunity and then it’s gone. Someone else has taken it. Sometimes the best way to learn and get the experience is to just jump in and do it! Project that confidence and soon it will become a part of you.” Similarly, if the culture and values of the organisation don’t support being brave then no one, male or female, will be inspired to do so.

Express yourself  

Authentic leadership will take gender equality to the next level. It was reported earlier this week that the Swedish women’s soccer team removed their names on the back of their football shirts in favour of messages that “inspire and motivate to show that everything is possible”. A message on the back of one player’s shirt simply said ‘Believe in your damn self’. Role models, including colleagues, leaders and mentors, can be great at giving us a different perspective, confidence or to bounce an idea around with.

Cube Group, like many public value organisations we work with, has great workplace policies to support the flexibility and diversity we expect from a modern employer. It’s important – but only brings us so far. I value the informal discussions with female and male colleagues about what they have done in their professional past, how they juggle work/life commitments and about their passions (we have some very talented musicians in our group). Through these discussions you connect with their character, individuality and ability, and that is worth supporting.

Challenges for rural, regional and indigenous Australian women

Nonetheless, these elements present a relatively limited view of modern feminist challenges, when in reality many women in regional and rural communities in Australia can face a lack of employment opportunities (or underemployment), poorer educational outcomes and accessibility to services. Women in some Indigenous communities confront poor health outcomes, a shorter life expectancy and inadequate human rights. Many of the structural and legal requirements are in place to support change, but there is a lag in the investment, prioritisation and social change needed. Our public policy makers must remain vigilant in supporting educational and health outcomes for women and communities in rural and regional Australia if we are going to make any headway in lifting broader equality outcomes in Australia.

The jury’s still out on how women should go about shaping their professional and personal trajectories and days like IWD provide an opportunity to challenge the status quo. But yelling louder at those around us, doesn’t help to make the case for change. We need to be smarter, bolder and braver to have convincing conversations and tap into the potential of every individual no matter their gender, sexuality, race, or where they live. Our laws, policies and culture need to balance accessibility of employment opportunities (particularly for regional and rural communities), encourage and respect brave choices and value an individual’s creativity and intellect.

International Women’s Day was held on 8 March 2017. This year’s theme was Be Bold for Change

Swedish Women's Soccer Team - Photo credit The Guardian (Aus)

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