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Inspire Change now for a better tomorrow
05 March 2014
On March 3 Westpac women attended an Inspire Change for International Women's Day event in Martin Place, Sydney.
March 8, International Women’s Day (IWD) marks a day of reflection for me.
Not in that awful way Narcissus did, drowning in a pond because he couldn’t take his eyes of himself. But in that way women do when they think about what each decade of their life has meant to them and what changes for the better have occurred for themselves and other women over the years.
I spent my twenties married with a young child. My thirties were a real awakening: a second child, single motherhood and a lot of fun. In my forties I made a silly financial decision but learned more about myself, and what I could do, than ever before. Then along came my fifties. That was when I really discovered myself, excelling and growing and developing at work and personally. Your 50s are fabulous years. It’s something I tell everyone.
If we think about where IWD came from - the women’s rights movement, the fight for equality and diversity - I reckon there are parallels between it and my growth.
International Women’s Day has been observed from the early 1900s, a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies.
(See what I mean. It’s just like my twenties.)
Then from around 1908 to the 1920s debate began occurring amongst women about oppression and inequality spurring them on to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. Women marched and protested (they were known as suffragettes) demanding voting rights and equality. The first National Woman’s Day (NWD) was observed across the United States on 28 February. Women continued to celebrate NWD on the last Sunday of February until 1913.
At a conference in Europe in 1910 the idea of an International Women’s Day was tabled and in 1911 International Women’s Day (IWD) was honoured for in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women's rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination.
In 1913 following discussions, IWD was transferred to 8 March and this day has remained the global date for IWD ever since.
Since its birth in the socialist movement, IWD has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration across developed and developing countries alike.
Certainly the liberation of the 1960s and 1970s saw some great gains - a bit like me in my thirties - but then in what would be my forties (and, I think, equates on the IWD historical timeline to the 1990s and early naughties) there were some hiccups for women’s rights which still show when ultra-conservatism rears its head.
A lot of younger women often say to me ‘the battles have been won for women’, but I know that stereotypes and the complex way we live and think means that this is not the case.
I agree there are more women in the boardroom, greater equality in legislative rights, and an increased critical mass of women's visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life.
The problem is women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts; women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally, women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.
The tone and nature of IWD has, for the past few years, moved from being a reminder about the negatives to a celebration of the positives but that doesn’t mean we forget the lessons we learn, which is why I’d equate this period of IWD’s history to my experiences in my fifties.
In fact we’ve just released some research for IWD around gender equality and it shows some promising signs that men and women are beginning to come together on some of the issues. However, many women are still anxious that taking time out to have children will significantly affect their careers and they’re sceptical of employer and male colleague commitment to flexible work practices.
(We also found that some of our research subjects knew what IWD was but not why it existed, which is why I have given the short précis above.)
As our CEO, Gail Kelly, points out, there is a level of recognition and support around flexibility, but it needs to be driven further.
The issues are no longer just about gender – they are community issues and that’s why this IWD we’re asking all Australians to start a conversation about what can be done today to “inspire change” for tomorrow.
The concern about maternity leave and career is also interesting. Certainly, the average age of first time mothers is rising. You’re now most likely to be 28 when you have your first baby and older mothers, those over 35, are increasing. Many of the young women I know are keen to have established themselves and their financial independence, and that of course takes time, before they settle to have children. Others are making the choice not to have children and those sorts of choices are indicative of how far we have come in the developed world. (In huge areas of the world this is not the case: there is no choice.)
One other thing I noted when I read our research was the increase in awareness of sexual harassment. Although, I wonder how many people think of sexual discrimination as harassment. Certainly when I look back at the data we collected in 2013 when we launched our Pay Pig app (the application for children to learn to save and budget), there was some startling news in the research around parents paying higher dollars for mowing the lawns as compared with doing the dishes. The jobs themselves were also often being designated by gender.
When you read things like this it really makes you think: how much do we role model behaviours from a very early age and how hard is it to shift old attitudes?
My own daughters are making choices that sometimes I struggle with - which I know is because I grew up in a different time. However, those choices have now left me with two surrogate grand children: Fletcher and Beverly, our two new Cavalier spaniels.
They are gorgeous, full of life and health… which is why when I did my wrap up of the decades of my life I purposefully left talking about being in my sixties to last.
I wake up in the mornings ready to bound down the hall for my shower only to have my knees scream at me – there will be no bounding today. I am not worried about getting older or being in my sixties but what no one can tell you is what it’s like to get old. One thing I have learned, careful preparation earlier in life to remain healthy, as well as cultivating positive habits around well-being is very important. And that’s the big take-out from me to you: stay vigilant, look after your health and maintain your well-being. It all counts.
PS: I am calling on all our Ruby women to join our CEO Gail Kelly and Westpac staff to Inspire Change by pledging to start a conversation around women's equality. Drop me an email with how you'd start a conversation or write one here in the comments box and thank you.