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The one thing I hope for on International Women’s Day is action.

Claire Harris

Gender equality — and diversity generally — is valuable across all sectors.

Diverse teams perform better. Diverse leadership teams make better decisions. Diverse boards and business leadership teams create more profitable businesses. 

The one thing I hope for on International Women’s Day is action. What I mean by ‘action’ is a commitment plus a forward motion to address issues that are plainly staring organisations and businesses in the face. We have equality problems, but there are opportunities to address them, right there at our fingertips. 

Taking action for gender equality

What can business owners and leaders do to steer their businesses in the right direction? The easiest thing is to apply a lens of equality. This could be simply asking: “how can I be a ‘good human’ as I make this decision?”

Some other examples of actions that business owners can take include:

  1. Choosing your clients and customers wisely. If there’s a values misalignment, this should be a red flag or an opportunity to educate and lead. I’ve opted out of supporting initiatives because the advisory board or the panel of speakers wasn’t diverse across gender and cultural background.
  2. Talking about gender, sexuality, culture, behaviour and what being a good human means in the context of your business.
  3. Amplifying examples of equality. Where has your business stood up for equality? Use these examples across your communication channels both online and offline.
  4. Revising your brand messages to bring to the fore your good human focus and how you’re addressing inequalities.

The evidence is clear about how much gender inequality holds humanity back. In Australia, we still have gender pay gaps, a third of Australian workers still experience sexual harassment in the workplace (41% of women, 26% of men) and most harassment is still perpetrated by men (77%).

The reasons to address inequities are obvious while also being multi-faceted: from higher profits to happier employees. So, quite frankly, if your company or organisation isn’t addressing inequality then I ask you to examine why. It could be because of your deeply held biases and stereotypes.

A focus on STEM organisations 

I recently ran a workshop with Dr Susan McGinty exploring what science communicators can do within their Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) organisations to advance gender equity.

To set the scene, Susan and I presented a range of statistics and facts (you can see many of them presented in this blog post). We then summarised a list of key barriers (noting that many of these are intertwined with each other and ‘culture’ underpins many of the others):

  1. Culture: STEM disciplines typically ‘masculine’ and competitive, bias and gender stereotyping, alpha/autocratic leadership styles.
  2. Invisibility: Lack of female leaders, role models, mentors and sponsors.
  3. Unbalanced caring responsibilities/expectations.
  4. Career interruptions, re-entry into the workforce can be difficult, lack of meaningful work on offer.
  5. Career advancement: Less access (bias) to resources and career development opportunities, slower progression, flawed processes for reward, recognition.
  6. Poor behaviours in the workplace e.g. isolation, discrimination, harassment.
  7. Low valuing of women’s contribution (diversity) to STEM.
  8. Funding: lower awards of dollars e.g. grants and commercial investment.

Over a one-hour workshop the participants brainstormed and shared tangible actions that they could implement in their day-jobs. Examples included: 

  • choosing better, more diverse images for the website
  • sharing stories that bring diverse groups together and combat isolation
  • making sure flexible working conditions are emphasised in job advertisements
  • encouraging internal communication about different gender identities (highlighting this isn’t just about women and men).
  • promoting awards that showcase women-identifying and non-binary people in STEM and gender equity initiatives.

You can see how a targeted process with defined outcomes generates tangible ‘next steps’ with buy-in from the people participants. It was great to see that many of these actions are simple and quick to implement. They can help to shift the needle but if there’s problems at the core, such as with structural and cultural issues, these will need strategic investment and change throughout the organisation. 

Leadership and core values crucial to achieving equality 

With good leadership and the embedding of appropriate culture, organisations can transform themselves from the inside out and amplify what’s important.

So, this is why deep action based on core values — not tokenism or ‘gender washing’ — is critical. 

What a legacy that could be for people in leadership positions. Imagine if you could tell your children and grandchildren how you made their lives, and their peers’ lives, better because you stood up and took action that mattered.

I love the quote from Simone Clarke, CEO UN Women Australia to lay out how crucial all this work is: “Our gender equal future is only possible with more women in leadership, financially empowered and able to fully participate — a future where all women are safe and free from violence, at the heart of decision making for inclusive, educated and innovative communities.” 

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Claire Harris

Claire Harris

Entrepreneur and Founder of Innovate Communicate and Cowork Coplay, Claire Harris is a marketing-communication and science professional with a passion for inclusive innovation and positive change. She has worked in the innovation ecosystem for over 20+ years; 7+ of those years dedicated to business.

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