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To reach equality in the workplace, we need transformative change. As men hold the majority of executive positions, the responsibility is theirs too. We spoke to down with some who are helping drive this change.
International Women’s Day (IWD) has been observed since the early twentieth century. In 1908, motivated by debate and discontent, 15,000 women marched through the streets of New York campaigning for change. They wanted shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.
Throughout Europe, similar gatherings were then staged to advocate for training, to enable women to hold public office positions, and to end discrimination.
It’s a collective day of global celebration, but the underlying call for action remains the same more than a century later. But for progress to continue, the status quo must be challenged, and minds must be changed. As men still hold power in most industries, it is also their responsibility to see change through and see that an even playing field is reached.
So on the eve of IWD 2020, we interviewed some of our male associates and partners about the progress in their industries, and where the opportunity lies for improvement.
James Webb – Founder, FlexiEngineers
There is a push in the engineering space for an increase in women across the various disciplines, to meet the very real skills shortage that the industry is facing. James, a freelance engineer, launched FlexiEngineers for freelance engineers and contractors to connect across a scope of different projects, focusing on services to benefit both the specific talents and the organisations in the engineering space.
When we asked James about equality in his workspace, he quoted the Dalai Lama, simply that “human rights are of universal interest because it is the inherent nature of all human beings to yearn for freedom, equality, and dignity and they have the right to achieve it.”
While James agrees that meeting gender quotas may be essential in some industries, he believes for the engineering space gender there are better options. “The encouragement of gender diversity in engineering should be multi-faceted,” he said, “including encouraging STEM interest in girls (and all children!) from a young age and ensuring that it’s is supported in higher education settings as well as workplaces.”
He believes that marketing and advertising also have important roles to play in equality, imagining “children’s toys that feature girls on the packaging and encourage interest in exploring, experimentation, science, maths and problem solving, to posters advertising university degrees with females as featured students.”
James recommends that the industry also needs to see more gender diverse representation on boards and panels in the industry to “provide a top-down approach to enable some of the lower-level changes to occur.”
Lachlan Grant – CEO, Vital Addition
More and more women are entering the traditionally male-dominated finance industry every year, and while executive leadership teams are still only a third women at best, the figure is rising. The vibrant Vital Addition team, that features several female financial experts, is a great example.
Lachlan chooses his team solely based on merit and performance. “This has been more our natural views coming to the fore rather than by design,” he explains. “Whether it’s race, religion or gender we always seek to ensure that our staff are treated equally and fairly. Performance in an accounting firm is fairly binary and easy to measure, so it’s a clear gauge of whether someone is performing – or not.”
To empower the women in his workplace, Lachlan ensures that “they know that everyone is equal.” Not surprisingly, merit trumps quotas at Vital Addition, but Lachlan does acknowledge why it may be necessary and invaluable in other industries or companies, clarifying that “I think a set quota detracts from the substance of someone’s achievements in a way, but understand that some companies and industries rely on them to regulate decision making on staffing.”
Glen Hamilton – Director, Darlo Drama
Darlo Drama’s values are open-mindedness, honesty, adventure, and integrity. So everyone is welcome into their creative space to learn confidence, communication skills, public speaking and acting, with the vision centering around inclusivity for everyone.
When asked about how gender inequality affected the Darlo Drama workplace, Glen said he believed there was a false cultural acceptance that leaders were men, “so when a woman is in a position of power or leadership she is measured first on whether she is a woman suitable of being a leader, rather than reflecting on her capacity to lead effectively.”
To tip the scales of inequality, he believes, “requires a concerted effort to empower the marginalised,” in addition to a radical change of mindset and culture, all of which needs energy to execute.” He also acknowledges that while it may not be overt, there is “a culture of misogyny that exists in Australia; and there is a process of re-education that needs to take place over time to rectify it.”
Mark Cadry – Director, BuyEast
Mark’s team at BuyEast includes his wife and fellow Director, Nicky, and is well gender-balanced. Has equality has impacted the way he hires and empowering women? “No I don’t think it has,” he explains. “I hire based on gut feel, experience, cultural ‘fit’ and skills.”
“I empower the women around me in the exact same way I empower all my staff; constant communication and being available to chat with my team at any time of the day. Being there as emotional support.”
He sees his role as a leader as an invaluable and important opportunity to be a mentor for all of his staff, helping them grow their skillset, and encouraging them to become better agents for themselves. “The real estate industry can be pretty male dominant,” he concedes, “but I believe there is a huge opportunity for women to be even more successful in this space.”
Lee Featherby – Founder and CEO, PowerfulPoints
Lee’s professional background included executive roles at major brands before founding PowerfulPoints. Having grown up flanked by powerful women – his mum and sister – Lee has reflected this in his business, as four out of the five senior management are women.
Nor is Lee a fan of gender quotas; he doesn’t believe that they address the real issues. “What needs to be addressed is the discrimination,” he goes on to say, “…the attitude. Quotas don’t address this. I think they will give those who don’t think women are capable even more confirmation of their beliefs.”
Open communication and continuing conversations were the common threads in all our interviewees’ responses. Listening to the concerns of women, and validating them by being supportive, was also cited as being imperative to the advancement of the movement.
Lee Featherby believes that top-level, top-down transformation is the most powerful way to drive change in the gender equality movement. “I know there are some ‘boys clubs’ still around. You can’t enforce this stuff away with quotas, but the power of public opinion and industries (like super funds) taking a stand about organisations having women on the boards that they invest in are the things that will drive lasting change.”
James Webb adds that “the world is starting to realise that women, men, and people of all gender identities are producers, consumers, and an equal part of society.” Gender diversity should be encouraged,” he says, as it “enables everyone to be able to do their job to their best ability and to feel valued within their work environment.”
Glen Hamilton concludes that “the benefits of genuine equal opportunity and diversity must be celebrated.”
International Women’s Day highlights this broad spectrum of views and is a movement that gains traction more every year. If the positive discussions of our interviewees are anything to go by, the men are listening.
#eachforequal | #IWD2020