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Is it time we did away with International Women’s Day?

Women around the world today will be celebrating at morning teas and lunches to mark the occasion of the 101st International Women’s Day.  That’s a good thing, right?  Well that depends.  If the celebration is to recognise the contribution of women, it’s a good thing. If you want to improve the status quo for women, and mark real change and progress towards gender balance in your workplace, and community, I would argue that a once-a-year celebration does more harm than good, it creates a perception that people care about change without actually doing much.

Here in Australia we know that:

  • Women outnumber men in our universities and comprise more than half of business, commerce, economics, accounting and law graduates – the feeder disciplines to leadership roles in business and government – and have done for more than 2 decades.
  • We’ve had a female Prime Minister, Governor General, Governors and Premiers, not to mention Local, State and Federal representatives and ministers
  • We’ve had legislation that outlaws sexual discrimination for almost 30 years and enhancements in legislation to support women who balance families and careers.

And yet,

  • Women comprise only 33% of Government boards, 13% of the board directors on our public companies, only 8% of key executive roles, 3% of CEOs, and 2% of company chairs
  • Despite legislation that mandates flexibility for working parents, 30% of women say their career has been negatively impacted by having children and 24% say its not economically viable to work after paying for childcare
  • And women continue to work for only 83cents for every dollar their equivalent male counterparts earn

In a former life I worked as a business consultant in a global professional services firm.  I’ve managed my share of change management programs and the one thing I know for sure is that change doesn’t happen just because the launch date has arrived.  Sustainable change requires ongoing, organisation-wide commitment, day in and day out.

If we are to see an improvement on the economic empowerment of women in Australia, of the representation of women in leadership roles in our workplaces and communities, and in the productivity and engagement of women in our workplaces, more needs to be done every day.  Not just today.

So what’s the alternative to a day of global recognition? It has to be a world of constant recognition of the role that women play, and the rights of women who comprise 51% of the world’s population.

Every single woman needs to become an everyday activist for the rights of women to enjoy equal pay, equal career opportunities and equal access to board and leadership positions.  As Wendy McCarthy AO has said – and done – you can make activism a part of your every day life.  So ask for a payrise.  Ask what your peers are being paid. Demand flexible work arrangements, under the Fair Work Act. Speak out in meetings. Start a petition. Say what’s on your mind – out loud! Just do it, no more apathy, no more holding back.

Almost every single company CEO and Chairman needs to appoint more women to their leadership teams and boards.  How much is enough? If you’ve reached 50 percent, this won’t be your number one priority.  But otherwise, just do it.  If you’re one of the 87 Chairman of ASX200 companies that has no women on your board – make it the next thing you do.  And don’t say you can’t find the women – they are out there!  Women on Boards has a database of over 13,000 women, many of whom are qualified, educated and experienced and just looking for the right opportunity. The Premier’s office in almost every State has a similar database. Blogs like this one have a following of senior and experienced businesswomen in the tens of thousands.  LinkedIn groups like Executive Women Australia has over 5,000 members that regularly discuss the barriers they face in their senior roles and appointments. The women aren’t hiding – we’re here and we’re up for it.  We just need the chance.

In your business, you must create a culture in which everyone feels equally valued, regardless of their gender, the hours they work or the role that they hold.  Ask yourself: when I’m allocating the salaries and bonuses in my team, do I reward part timers proportionately with full timers?  Are there career paths for everyone? Do I pay people equally, for performing equivalent roles with equivalent skills?

And the media has a role to play.  Too often women are left out of important public debate.  Too often men are cast as the experts, the opinion makers, the ones who have a voice.  Well that need not be the case.  Women for Media is a new initiative launched today aimed at increasing the voice of women in Australian media.  A free resource for journalists seeking expert comment on Australian business, finance and social issues, journos can now use the Women for Media website to find a source, access their details or send an automated interview request.

In this interview for the Australian School of Business, I’ve pointed out that there’s no silver bullet for creating gender balance in our workplaces.  It’s a hard slog, and got to be a year round effort.


So yes – International Women’s Day is a great way to recognise the contribution that women all around you are making.  So do it, for sure.  But don’t let this be all that you do this year to create a world of gender balance around you.

Your thoughts?


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