The real meaning of International Women’s Day – close enough is NOT good enough.

I wasn’t planning on writing today, I actually was struggling to do much of anything this morning after waking up with a head cold. I’ve had a hectic week, the life of a small business owner is all about juggling cashflow, doing the work and growing the business! Throw into that a renovation that has been going on for two years and I’m not surprised I’m run down!

Equality isn’t a quiet achievement.

I don’t always speak out, I grew up in a family where the motto ‘be the quiet achiever’ was reinforced, and prefer to let my actions and results speak for themselves. But more and more over the last few years I’ve found the need to speak out against a wave of complacency that we have come ‘far enough’ with equality. Gender equality, marriage equality, religious, racial equality and more. Today is about gender equality, but the principals apply for equality generally.

I have been the only female in the boardroom, I have been the only female leader on a leadership team, and I am female business owner and leader. I am passionate about making the path for those younger than me easier than my experience.

We have come a long way – and it’s a win-win.

I have been watching with interest the lead up to International Women’s Day this year, especially what is different – the kick to kick at the MCG this year to mark the AFLW, my builder greeting me this morning to wish me ‘Happy International Women’s Day’ and a male ex colleague asking my advice on unconscious bias. All are great progress towards equality, and as someone reminded me this morning equality doesn’t mean sharing the ‘pie’ it means having two or three pies, quality is win win, not one wins and the other loses.

But we are far from done.

However, what has led me to write today is the wave of commentary that has accompanied today suggesting we are ‘done’ with equality and need to move on! I’m frustrated and I’m disappointed because I wish we were done already! In the last week alone I have experienced at least three examples of not quite done!

Last week I attended a new client opportunity with a male counterpart for a joint venture. On paper, I have significantly more knowledge and experience in delivering the opportunity however the potential client continued to refer to the male lead in the meeting! Even more frustrating was after the meeting, the potential client contacted my male counterpart and asked if he could deliver the project alone. That happens, clients connect with different people regardless of experience, I was ok with that. What was frustrating was the counterpart suggested that he could accept the offer and I ‘help him behind the scenes’, let him win the business and I would do the work without the credit?!

Those are a few examples that I’m still fuming about, but there are plenty more, and worse, examples every day.

Pay gap.

Another baffling and enfuriating example of an equality failure is the gender pay gap. Many on our team come from insurance and financial services backgrounds, which has consistently been listed as the industry with the worst pay gap over the past few years…and even in the news today we can see that little progress is being made.

What makes it worse is that we’ve experienced recent occurrences of men within this industry (prominent men in positions of leadership, no less – and not making off the record ‘locker room banter’) say that they ‘don’t believe there’s a gender issue and we should all stop pretending there is.’ Yeah…that really happened. We have it in writing. I sure hope those men don’t have daughters, mothers, wives, sisters or female friends, because if they do I bet those women are pretty disappointed in that attitude.

By the way, this is a pretty cool article on how to respond to a pay gap sceptic.

So why should we address pay gap and equality (hint: this is the silver lining).

Glad you asked…you see, it’s not only about doing the right thing. It’s also good business. This EY report indicates that no business will thrive in this disruptive climate without gender diversity (and, one could easily extrapolate based on their findings, diversity on the whole).

Actually, scratch that, we don’t have to extrapolate – these exact results found AGAIN (thanks to this article from The Australian) in McKinsey and Company’s research which clearly highlights the dividends of diversity: companies that are more gender diverse are 15% more likely to outperform others; for those that are ethnically diverse, it jumps to 35%.

The stats do tell us that while you may have gender diversity at entry levels of your organisation, the representation dies off significantly the closer you get to the top. But both Harvard Business Review and Forbes reported that businesses that had women on their boards and in leadership positions performed better and were more profitable than those that did not.

I remember years ago businesses were focusing on diversity because it was a buzzword and everyone was doing it, but occasionally you’d hear comments like ‘this would be easier if we had tangible evidence of improved business results rather than ad hoc feedback or gut feel.’
Wish. Granted.

But before you get too hopeful, we need to talk violence against women.

We’ve given you a sliver of a silver lining (say that three times fast) in the section above, but would be remiss if we didn’t address the huge, deadly elephant in the room. And it’s not a hidden threat, it’s exposed right from the top.

There were plenty of (arguably deserving) headlines during the recent election of Donald Trump in the USA, particularly around his treatment and comments on women. And while I wholeheartedly cannot understand why someone would a) make those comments or b) ELECT someone into the highest office of their land after making those comments, I do have to point out a bit of hypocrisy on the part of all of us Australians heckling the US citizens and their leader from the other side of the world. ‘Those in glass houses’ is another phrase I grew up with, and in this case it’s entirely right. We hurl stones while the same or worse is happening in our own backyard.

According to Our Watch, here are some of the shocking facts about violence against women, right here in Australia:

  • On average, at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia.
  • One in three Australian women has experienced physical violence, since the age of 15.
  • One in five Australian women has experienced sexual violence.
  • Of those women who experience violence, more than half have children in their care.
  • Violence against women is not limited to the home or intimate relationships. Every year in Australia, over 300,000 women experience violence – often sexual violence – from someone other than a partner.
  • Eight out of ten women aged 18 to 24 were harassed on the street in the past year.

Had enough? Me too. I don’t know about you, but surely this is what ‘gender fatigue’ means. We’re exhausted from being beaten up and when we see stats like this of womenkind being murdered EVERY WEEK, it’s not just devastating but overwhelming – how are we ever going to surpass these insurmountable obstacles, from pay parity to the basic human right of not being killed?

By the way, I know that’s not what gender fatigue means…my favourite definition of it is definitely from this Terri Psiakis article ‘So you suffer from gender fatigue? Get well soon’ which sums up the idea as: ‘apparently some blokes get a little weary of talking about the ways women aren’t treated equally in the workplace. Poor things – please excuse me while I go and vomit and/or repeatedly punch the nearest wall. If those terribly exhausted male CEOs were actually decent blokes they’d know that for every male experiencing gender fatigue there’s a bunch of professional women fatigued by the number of men suffering gender fatigue.’

I don’t know about you, but just quietly, we’re not done achieving equality.

I’m sick, I’m tired, and I’m still mad as hell. One thing I’m not though, is done. We’re not done. But I can’t make a difference on my own, and neither can you. It’s not about any one of us losing our voice or our power so that those previously oppressed can speak or lead. It’s not mutually exclusive! We can all win, and all have equal opportunities to pursue our dreams without discrimination, but male or female, black, white, foreign, indigenous, gay, straight or otherwise, we have to together bring each other up. #PressForProgress #BeBoldForChange