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Do we have to be more revolting?

01 September 2014

We have to be more revolting…

I could put it down to Melbourne’s very wintery weather, or finding myself on the downhill run to the end of another year, but I have been reflecting a lot lately on career, life in general, the causes and ideals I hold dear to me and the wonder of a new puppy, who has both absorbed my time and made me think.

People often say to me I can’t believe you’re 62. You don’t look 62. I wonder what 62 looks like and what is the point of age really? You are, as they say in the classics, only as old as you feel, and as our Ruby of the Month, the CEO of COTA Victoria, Sue Hendy, points out, birthdays are really just markers that either keep you out of or let you in to certain ‘clubs’ – 18 you can vote and drink; 60 you can get a pensioners card.

Age is so arbitrary, but most significantly, I believe it’s led society - and that means us - to link the ability to do things to age, and that, as Sue would also say, is very, very negative. Capacity and age are separate entities. You can be enthusiastic and creative at any age; you can suffer depression, like memory loss, which are diseases and not a natural part of ageing, at any age. As for driving, if we were really serious about cutting road deaths, people would have to be over 25 years old to get a licence. So why, once we turn 80, must our capacity to drive be reassessed? And what about saving money as our grandparents did. If you do, are you old? Not according to futurists – those people who assess what the next generations and trends are going to be. The generation growing up now favours saving - as our grandparents did. They want the cash not debt.

What can happen as we grow older is we become disengaged because we feel disempowered. Reflecting on my career and the lobbying, networking, advocacy and speaking I’ve been involved in to advance women and promote equality of opportunity, especially financially and economically, I have to say the ROI can feel very disheartening.

Just take the ABS figures released in August which show the gender pay gap has widened to more than 18 percent, and the disturbing anecdote I’ve heard from my friend (and Ruby member), journalist Tracey Spicer, that women are being hired into roles because they are cheaper.

Then I read findings like this from the Museum of Australian Democracy (a survey carried out by the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra): the most politically engaged people in Australia are the over 70s and the under 35s, and that makes me smile. Or this from our own Women of Influence report, men are acknowledging that unconscious bias in the workplace exists and that women do suffer the challenges associated with it.

Tackling diversity

The upshot of all this reflecting: I’ve decided to take a new tack in the way I tackle equality and diversity. I kicked it off with a talk at Randstad, the flexible workplace specialist and HR services organisation, and it seemed to go well. (The hour tuned into 90 minutes, the audience didn’t wriggle and I am being asked to present again.)

My new tack: it’s up to every woman to make sure they are heard. We can’t expect government, the workplace, community to solve the issue. Instead we have to exercise our vocal chords and find the platforms to demand and exercise our rights. We have to be more revolting.

I’m not going to stop campaigning or speaking out and I’m also not about to leave us girls hanging out to dry, which is why I have some key points I think will help redress the balance and move us forward.

Take A Risk Women

1)     While getting on boards is I believe one of the things women can do, it should not be at the expense of celebrating and making prominent the achievements of women who run their own businesses, or who form public policy and work in the public service, or who wish and and/or have achieved success at executive level. Our 100 Women of Influence awards are just one way to support women to do this.

2)     Professional development, education and networking offer choice, without them we can stagnate and deplete our options. It is important to think about and put yourself and your development in the mix.

3)     Choose to work in organisations which measure how they are doing when it comes to sustainability, which must include diversity and equality issues. Equal pay for equal work of value should be embedded in the organisation’s systems and structures. Westpac, as the world’s most sustainable company, has reflected on how it behaves and has policies and procedures in place that redress the balance and continually develop diversity and equality of experience. (In fact, any company that purports to be an employer of choice has had to reflect on disparities and, by rights, act to eradicate them.)

4)     Consider the roles you could do and take risks. Skills are often transferable, so think strategically about what you can do across industries. Consider, as our young Women of Influence winners have done, such as Marita Cheng of Robogals and Yassmin Abdel-Magied, careers outside the box. It could be in engineering, or in technology as Westpac graduate Eileen Bell has chosen to do. Eileen is a world champion E-gamer. Professional E-gamers can make a reasonable living out of playing, but Eileen is more interested in becoming CEO of a gaming company, one in which games are used to increase workplace interaction and diversity.

5)     Remember to ask for what you’re worth and for pay rises when you know you have the credentials and the outcomes to prove that remuneration is warranted.

6)      We need to take risks and go for promotions. That can mean putting your hand up for that challenging task or team or opportunity and not expect just to be handed things. Keep in mind you don’t have to be able to do 100 percent of the job from day one.

In the end we all have to start speaking up, and as British feminist Laurie Penny states in her new book, Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies, Revolution, we need to be “more fearless and forceful”.