Why We Need To Try Harder At Empowering Women In The Workplace

It's 2017 people.

28/04/2017 2:08 PM AEST | Updated 05/07/2017 5:34 PM AEST
eternalcreative

A few years back I was working in a senior position for an IT consultancy firm. I had a client meeting, except on that particular day something happened that would change my life forever.

Walking into the office of my new client, the man in front of me glibly looked me up and down and said: "So, I guess they just hire pretty young blondes to make all of the sales, eh?" Temporarily shocked, I brushed his comment aside and began to talk shop. Soon he was clearly taken aback by home much I -- a young woman -- knew.

I realised that my expertise, my career history and my education didn't matter -- it all boiled down to the simple fact that I was born a woman.

Afterwards, I went back to the office and asked my manager what I should have done, to which he replied: "Nothing. You'll ruin the relationship with the client."

I realised that my expertise, my career history and my education didn't matter -- it all boiled down to the simple fact that I was born a woman.

More than 90 per cent of girls worldwide now finish primary school. More women than men are now graduating with degrees. Yet despite this, only 50 per cent of women aged 15 and older are in paid employment, compared to almost 75 per cent of men.

While I had several bad experiences in my career, there was one positive standout -- a software company where my manager and my manager's manager were female. Here age, gender or sexual orientation didn't matter -- everyone was treated with respect. It was here that I first met Valeria -- my now-business partner.

Gemma Lloyd
Valeria Ignatieva (left) and Gemma Lloyd (right).


A few years after we both left the company we saw one another again -- on the committee for a female IT not-for-profit network in Australia. All of the women on the board had similar stories to tell -- including Valeria.

I wanted to create an organisation that would help women be empowered. Something that would cause real change.


A single mum with a son who has a disability; she's always needed employers who are understanding and offer flexible working, but in several job interviews -- after revealing her situation -- she has been promptly rejected. And this is a woman who has won worldwide awards on behalf on Microsoft!

Armed with experiences of both sides of the coin, and with anger at my own mistreatment, the seed of an idea was sown. I wanted to create an organisation that would help women be empowered. Something that would, I hoped, cause real change. I contacted Valeria -- who has a marketing background -- and she asked if she could do it with me. I didn't even have to think twice. She's amazing.

So we became co-founders and Diverse City Careers was born.

Just over two years in business, Diverse City Careers has eight employees and the feedback we're getting has been phenomenal, as has been the growth. We're now planning to expand into the UK and Singapore later this year due to demand.

We're the only jobs board in Australia that selects companies we work with based on their internal policies and culture. It's quite simple, if a company is not focused on creating a female-friendly workplace, we will not advertise their jobs.

Before companies advertise, we pre-screen them about their gender quality policies and support they offer, such as parental leave, flexible work arrangements, professional development, equal pay and the like. If they pass, they can advertise.

Companies need to be purposeful about getting women into leadership roles and reducing gender gaps. Many businesses are doing this setting targets or quotas — I'm certainly a huge supporter of that.

We typically turn down 10 per cent of companies, and from the ones that are rejected about 80 per cent go on to improve their workplace polices to employ women. So we're driving that change and educating employers at the same time.

Empowerment is created when the strengths that women already bring to the company are recognised and utilised.

Sexism is also a two way street. Until it's okay for men to be primary carers at home, women will find it challenging to balance work and family commitments.


Creating more flexible work choice also definitely helps, particularly when it comes to family-friendly policies. While it may seem one sided, sexism is also a two way street.

We need to work on the stigma attached to men being the primary carer too, breaking down these stereotypes. Until it's okay for men to be primary carers at home, women will find it challenging to balance work and family commitments.

Gemma Lloyd
Gemma Lloyd (left) and Valeria Ignatieva with their Leaders In Advertising award at the 2016 Tech Diversity Awards.

It's an uphill slog, but both myself and Valeria are determined. No matter how many times (a woman gets a role through Diverse City Careers), the feeling is always the same -- an overwhelming sense of happiness and gratitude.

In the future we want to help enable all women globally to gain employment with organisations which will truly support and respect them. It means so much to Valeria and I, to be making and driving change towards gender equality.

We know we're helping to pave the way not just for this generation, but for the next, and the next.

At Johnnie Walker, we love sharing stories of personal progress, innovation and spirit. And why wouldn't we? Our own story is one of a pioneering spirit passed on from generation to generation. It's this belief in the philosophy of perseverance and progress that allows us to continuously share inspiring stories to all.

In this series, we are shining a light on people who approach life with this same philosophy – one of a humane, resilient and optimistic mindset, especially in the face of adversity that enables them to Keep Walking.

Johnnie Walker

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