5 things you can do to #pressforprogress this International Women's Day

Charles Wooley's interview of Jacinda Ardern has met extensive public backlash with his questionable choices including asking about the conception of the NZ PM's child and calling her 'attractive' 

Charles Wooley's interview of Jacinda Ardern has met extensive public backlash with his questionable choices including asking about the conception of the NZ PM's child and calling her 'attractive' 

Despite designing and participating in many International Women's Day events and conferences over the past 20 years - which are always insightful and inspirational events - I feel frustrated that too often we end up preaching to the converted, the usual suspects, rather than the broader workforce and society. This lack of success has meant too many leaders have not seen gender equity as their issue to fix, resulting in a glacial pace of change. This trend has significantly slowed down the progress we need to create an equitable Australia for our children and our grand-children.

The evidence is overwhelming. The latest data from the World Economic Forum has once again pushed out the date to achieve gender equity to another 217 years away, and this is reflected in Australian workforces where it is clear there is not yet a level playing field for men and women. A recent study once again showed that interventions in Australian workplaces are failing to achieve diversity as they are well intentioned, but not effectively designed to actually change culture.

As journalist Jessica Irvine pointed out this week, the belief that women just need to be more confident, more ambitious, and more outgoing in the workplace to achieve career progression has been proven wrong again. Instead it’s clear women often suffer backlash, and negative career impact from ‘demonstrating ambition, confidence, assertiveness and leadership qualities in the workplace.’ This shows it’s not women who need to change or can change this issue alone, but the working environment itself, with every person needing to get involved and become active members of a widespread cultural shift. 

The ‘cringe-worthy’ interview with NZ PM Jacinda Ardern and her partner by ABC journalist Charles Wooley was just another example in a long line of women in leadership being treated differently and not being taken seriously as professionals. As comedian Mark Humphries described, the interview was a real masterclass in how to ask smart women dumb questions. 

The latest DCA research supports the evidence that it’s not enough to keep focusing on women alone and expect to see real workplace change. Despite men being less supportive of diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace, the research shows that inclusion initiatives actually boost male job satisfaction, success and security as much as, and sometimes even more, than their female colleagues.

The greatest joy that I get from my D & I work is when I am involved in strategically designed events and evidence-based training that reaches beyond the usual suspects to include men and women at all levels and from all departments in organisations. The outcome is always amazing – unleashing leader and staff energy and potential with commitments to take personal actions to achieve real change. These events also include an intersectionality lens where we understand the need to understand the multi-dimensional nature of people, and value the mix of difference that makes every human being unique, rather than treat them as 2-dimensional, based on gender or race alone.

This diversity lens can overcome the double, triple or quadruple jeopardy of disadvantage that non-Anglo women experience. In Australia it’s only been recently that leading companies have started to apply a cultural diversity lens to their women in leadership initiatives to overcome the previous sidelining and invisibility of this valuable talent. It is vital that such growth in understanding continues to ensure all female talent can progress and achieve their potential, while feeling valued in a non-tokenistic and inclusive way.

In my experience it’s also helpful to create ground rules to have safe, robust and well-informed conversations. Asking people to agree to be open minded, not politically correct but respectful, works well in my experience. Otherwise you can end up like Google where it’s become unsafe to talk about diversity at all. 

Here are 5 things you can do this International Women's Day to help #pressforprogress:

–      Check your unconscious biases – we all have them so be aware of them, and notice how your comments and behaviour impact on others who are different to you

–      Educate yourself – Be aware of the gender equity data which demonstrates the challenge we’re all looking to solve

–      Bring a +1 to International Women's Day events – challenge yourself to convince a colleague who normally wouldn’t attend

–     Buddy or mentor someone different to you – build an understanding of their lived experience

–      Speak up - when you see anyone being made to feel small, uncomfortable or excluded

So this International Women's Day, it’s time to actively involve everyone in your workplace to #pressforprogress.

By increasing awareness and action we can all help create a safe, respectful and inclusive workplace where everyone can thrive.

Image via Channel Nine & Daily Mail

Fiona KrautilComment