Today sees us celebrate International Women's day with the theme 'Pledge for parity'. This day has been celebrated since the early 1900s and is a day where we recognise the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. I am asking the question I always ask myself at this time of year: what did we change and how much closer are we to parity?
Here's what I do know:
- The pay gap here in Australia is the widest it has been in 20 years, sitting at just under 18 percent
- This disparity in the pay gap impacts a woman's ability to obtain a home loan or save a deposit for a home/investment
- One woman a week is killed by her partner or someone known to her
- Domestic violence is the main cause of homelessness for women and children in Australia
- Diversity of women in the workplace is not currently representative of our communities
- Women retire on 1/3 less superannuation than their male counterparts
- 40 percent of women who retire claim their main source of income as the government pension and they make up 55.7 percent of the age pension recipients (ABS)
- Women are still sexualised in advertising, by men the men she works with and business leaders
The issue of gender equality is not unique to Australia. It is a global issue which, according to The World Economic Forum, will take until 2133 to entirely close the economic gender gap and gain gender parity in areas such as economics, politics, education and health.
International Women's Day provides a global opportunity for everyone (men and women) to pledge support to help accelerate gender parity.
For those of us who are business leaders and managers across the globe, it is our responsibility to ensure that we have balanced leadership structures and boards, not just in regards to gender but ethnic diversity as well. We must be focused on creating environments where women will thrive, be ambitious, gain success and not have the concerns of being labelled, bullied or have workplace bias, colour, cultural background and pregnancy impact their career progression.
If we were able to achieve this, imagine the limitless potential our businesses would have, not to mention the impact on the bottom line of not just the business but the economies we operate in. We have a large pool of female talent available to us that many are simply not tapping into.
This form of leadership, however, needs to be thought out and focused. We need to make decisions that are deliberate. We need leaders who will be brave, who will take the lead, who will speak up and speak out and who will commit to taking actions.
Leaders such as the former army Chief David Morrison AO, named the Australian of the Year 2016. His commitment to gender equality, diversity and inclusion is a beacon for other leaders.
Australia is a melting pot of people from all ethnic backgrounds, and they, in turn, have cultural influences on our communities and businesses. Yet in many of our businesses, we are surrounded by white, male baby boomers. Taking into account past migration trends and the current global climate of influences out of China, the next wave perhaps being India and then Indonesia, we need to ensure that our businesses are a reflection of the communities we live in.
A lack of diversity in gender and/or race means that we are stifling our innovation, creativity and thinking, as well as the important cultural nuances of doing business offshore. Consider what impact will this have on business long term.
If you are a male reading this article, understand that you have a role to play in how the issue of gender balance is resolved. It's simple really: there are more men in leadership roles than women, so you have the power to make decisions that will drive change in your business. We need you to become our champions, our ambassadors.
We need to tackle this issue together, side-by-side as partners working together to create better businesses, workplaces, products, cultures and future leaders. However, most importantly, we need to leave behind a legacy we can be proud of for our sons and daughters.
How many men reading this today will take on the role of changing perceptions and behaviours of other men they work with? How many leaders will make a conscious decision to change how their business recruits and supports women through various stages of their careers, creating a ripple effect that will eventually become a tsunami of change?
I believe the future is one where we do have gender balance, where our businesses are as diverse as the communities we work in and that business leaders who don't embrace this will run the risk of their business becoming obsolete.
I don't want to wait until 2133 to achieve this.
The world is getting smaller, we are more connected than ever before and individual influence and reach is greater. All of this enables rapid change. If we don't pledge for parity now and make deliberate necessary changes, when will we? If we don't take responsibility for equality, why will future generations?
Let's not wait until governments start to legislate for quotas and targets, when deep down we all know this is not the right option. We don't want to operate in a world where equality and diversity is forced upon us, where we will have to tick boxes on who we hire and therefore possibly allowing merit to become secondary as gender becomes the priority to meet a required number.
How will you pledge for parity in 2016? What conversations will you start, who you will influence, what changes will you make in your organisations, who will you mentor and elevate? How will you consciously make decisions this year that will be great for business, remarkable for humanity, memorable for future generations and simply good for your soul?