Category Archives: Opinion

We need more role models like Michelle

The name Michelle Payne has become a household name since becoming the 2015 Melbourne Cup winning jockey on Prince of Penzance.

I happened to be at home with a bad cold on the day of the Cup so, with my cup of tea in hand (no glass of bubbly for me that day), I sat in my PJs to watch the race that stops a nation. I had the opportunity to watch the build up to the race, and was interested to see that there was a lone female jockey. What was the chance that she, on the Prince of Penzance, would win? The odds were long and not much attention was focused on the pair.

But once the race had been run, Michelle became the Nation’s focus for several reasons – for winning the Cup of course, but more so for being a woman and winning the Cup. In her acceptance speech, Michelle spoke about the difficulties of being a female in a male dominated industry. She had her supporters and her detractors, and Michelle spoke about her uphill battle to get and keep the ride. The media coverage has shown that she is a determined and resilient young woman, and becoming a competent jockey was only part of her journey.

Michelle’s win brings the gender equality issue firmly back into public debate, breaking down yet another barrier which has previously defined female capability. We applaud her obvious expertise, but also thank her for making her battle public, and for making her voice heard in an arena that reached every corner of the country.

Michelle has now become a role model and an inspiration to women in their quest to be successful in their chosen career, sport or other areas of their lives. There are so many other successful women (in whatever way a woman wants to define success) and we need to keep celebrating their achievements until the headlines don’t need to define success based on gender.

Is Workplace Gender Equality only important for Enterprise level organisations?

By Cecelia Herbert

It was revealed yesterday by the Australian Financial Review that there is a real threat to gender equality reporting looming.  These whispers have been around for some time, but it looks as though the Federal Government is seriously considering changing the threshold for Workplace Gender Equality reporting from a minimum of 100 to 1000 employee organisations.

So what is the big fuss about?  The Business Council of Australia says that the current reporting is too time consuming and costly.  According to BCA Chief Executive, Jill Westacott, “The BCA’s chief concern has always been that it will divert resources from the real effort being made by companies to change recruitment and retention processes, performance management and other practices that are holding back individual women and the Australian economy as a whole,”

As big fans of data and evidence based practice, our heads are spinning as we try to figure out how collecting benchmark data is a diversion of resources that could be better spent elsewhere.  It is the assumption of The 100% project that it is data such as this that guides where efforts are best targeted, tracking change over time.  Real effort can be made, but without feedback metrics (which WGEA provides to every reporting organisation), how can we identify areas of strength and improvement?  Given that the ABS considers any business with more than 200 employees to be a large organisation, this proposed 1000 employee threshold means that the Workplace Gender Equality data will become Enterprise  Gender Equality data only.

The BCA has long been opposed to changes to the WGEA reporting requirements.  Back in 2012 (when the WGEA legislation was being passed), the BCA made a submission to FaCHS about the reporting requirements.  The Council voiced their concerns of ‘regulatory burden on business’, explaining that “Sufficient data is already available on the gender equality indicators to enable WGEA to complete its reports to the public and the minister on trends and issues in gender equality in the workplace.”  (You can read the submission here.)  

Despite their long held opposition to reporting, the BCA has been very public and forward about their support of  movement towards gender equality – there is a plethora of evidence indicating this, such as the BCA President explaining that we should be aiming for gender parity in leadership and their detailed report and checklists for increasing the number of women in senior roles.

It seems that they support gender equality, but not gender equality reporting that is onerous for business, and that would appear reasonable.  But….  is it too onerous?  WGEA released survey results that say that employers do not share this view about the the reporting.  They surveyed over 2500 HR Practitioners (who are the people that fill in the report) and found overwhelming support for the reporting requirements.  This seems to be in direct contrast to the view of the BCA, an organisation that represents 100 CEOs of Australia’s top companies.

So why, given that these CEOs are most likely from organisations of 1000+, are they pushing to make changes that will probably not affect their businesses, but have a huge impact on the quality of gender equality data in Australia?  The 100% Project does not have the answer to this question, but we will keep looking for it.

Are women funny? The BBC seems to think so.

By Cecelia Herbert

A few weeks ago, the head of the BBC Danny Cohen announced that they would no longer create all male comedy panel shows, such as QI. Given the success of such shows, this may seem quite bold, but as Cohen explains, there really is no excuse for the lack of female representation in the media.

The 2014 Women’s Media Center Report on the Status of Women in the U.S media paints a dire picture.  As this Buzzfeed list illustrates, women’s representation in all areas of media (such as video games, commentary and hosts) is not only painfully low, but sometimes in decline.

This is why the BBC’s move is so important and it a standard that we can expect from all media outlets the world wide.  Being half the population, there is no reason why women should not be equally represented in the media.  In the US, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media has been established to shine a spotlight on gender inequality in the media and entertainment industry.  This makes me wonder whether the BBC’s move is a push for better representation or is a response to the changing expectations of the audience.

However, just as we think things are getting better, I see this video of Jerry Seinfeld.  When asked his view on why there are so few female comedians, he says that the question alone makes him really angry, explaining that “I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that” and looking for diversity is ‘anti-comedy.’  So… are there just no women with comedic talent?  The BBC seems pretty confident, so fingers crossed we will start to see more of them on our screens soon.

Reflections on Level the Playing Field Symposium: a participant

The learning and insight, both personal and professional, continues to flow even in the weeks that have passed since [the Symposium]. This is testament to its reach and influence. The insights will be useful.

I … was particularly excited by your innovative work on men and flexibility….

I share your vision for an inclusive approach to gender equality. For too long business, researchers and employers have considered this “women’s business”. The time has come to broaden our understanding. Examining the thoughts and contributions of men as key informants and stakeholders to full participation is essential.

The 100% Project provides an important source of relevant, contemporary information for organisations and individuals. I plan to sign up as a volunteer in 2014. To [use] a phrase from Marty [Linsky], this should help move me from “clapping on the sidelines” to being in the arena.

Samone McCurdy
Department of Social Work
Monash University

Participant at the Level the Playing Field Symposium

Marty Linsky’s reflections on the Level the Playing Field Symposium

As the external facilitator, I came to Leveling the Playing Field with curiosity, commitment and conviction. I had seen the statistics, read all about the state of gender equity in Australia, and particularly about the comparative dearth of women in senior authority roles across all three sectors.

I was curious about why there had not been more progress, committed to making a contribution, and convinced that gender equity in Australia was the kind of challenge that the tools and frameworks of adaptive leadership were ideally suited to employ.

One of the paradoxes of leadership is the need to maintain relentless optimism and brutal realism. The optimism prevents the realism from turning cynical; the realism prevents the optimism from becoming naïve. Holding both together is itself a leadership challenge.

I left the Symposium with my optimism and realism intact. Progress can happen, but the pathway forward will be difficult.

Among the more than 90 participants, several factions emerged, each with its own dynamics and its own particular needs, and each will require customized interventions if the drivers of the Symposium are to build on the momentum of that day and mobilize the participants to do more than they have to date on behalf of gender equity.

There were those who have been laboring in these vineyards for years and in order to keep up the struggle, they came needing to be affirmed. We did not do enough of that. I think of them as the Exhausted Veterans.

There were those who were sent by their organizations, were relatively new to the work, many of them women in their 20s or 30s, who desperately wanted to hold on to the hope that more progress could be made if we all just made the obviously compelling arguments to those who were not aboard. I think of them as the Untested Idealists.

There were the men, too few of them, who were mostly watching, learning what it felt like to not be in the majoritarian culture, struggling to find their voice in the conversation, mirroring the struggle the women were experiencing trying to get them involved. I think of them as the Supportive Observers.

Finally there were the hard core, women whose have been out front on gender equity, were bruised and frustrated, but willing to continue to put themselves on the line, who realized that if they kept on doing what they had been doing, nothing would change. They came knowing there was no silver bullet, but open to seeking new ways of approaching the challenge of mobilizing people on behalf of gender equity, understanding intuitively that they, too, had to adapt their behavior if more progress is to be made. I think of them as the Relentlessly Committed.

The Symposium participants were in no way a microcosm of Australian society as a whole. My guess is that they were a pretty good representation of what the Australian Women’s Movement looks like today. They reminded us that there is reason to continue to be optimistic about the possibilities for progress, but that the way forward will require different strategies for different people. Potential allies are going to bring different values, different rationales, and different world views and comfort zones to the work. The challenge of mobilizing them to do more than they are currently doing will require even the most committed among the participants to make some hard choices about what risks they are willing to take, how much disturbance they are willing to generate, even among their friends, on behalf of gender equity going forward.

Marty Linsky - lead facilitator

  Marty Linsky – lead facilitator

Marty Linsky has been a faculty member of Harvard Kennedy School since 1982, except for 1992-1995 when he served as Chief Secretary and Counsellor to Massachusetts Governor William Weld. He has taught leadership, management, politics and media, and is currently faculty chair of several of the school’s executive programs on leadership. He has worked with a wide range of clients in the public, private and non-profit sectors in the US and abroad, including Fortune 500 companies and major federal government agencies.

Linsky has worked on advancing gender equity as a coach, trainer, facilitator, and advocate in a variety of settings and co-authored the book Leveling the Playing Field: Advancing Women in Jewish Organizational Life. He is the author or co-author of more than a dozen books and chapters. He is a co-author with Heifetz and Alexander Grashow of the book The Art and Practice of Adaptive Leadership and co-author with Heifetz of the best-selling Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading, both published by Harvard Business Press.

Progress for women and girls: social and economic disparities still exist

The latest COAG report highlights the need to address pay equity for women, as well as boys’ lower attainment at school. As Mikaelewa Amberber, a Year 10 student at Sydney Girls High School says:

If females do just as well, if not better, at school and are just as qualified, if not more, at uni, then why do they not receive the same pay as men? Why do they hold so few leadership roles?