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New CEOs and Young Vagabonds

16 March 2015

We recently took delivery of some important research. Commissioned by us, the research is on what young girls and boys, 14 to 18 years olds at high school and not working fulltime, think about gender equality and the gender divide in the workplace.

You know what’s really startling about it?

It’s importance.

I’m serious. This is not some academic piece about ‘women on boards’ or ‘middle management pipelines and executive glass ceilings’, but a conversation with our children and what they’re thinking when it comes to gender and the workplace.

In my role as Director Women’s Markets, research has always played a part in how we do things for women. It has helped inform how we support women to achieve, and the importance education plays in creating opportunities for women. What excites me about our Youth Gender Equality research is that by identifying what young adults think about gender and inequality we’re in a position to intervene early.

According to the Westpac Youth Gender equality research, almost nine out of 10 teens agree that gender equality is important and they recognise that equality in the workplace brings economic benefits. The majority of teens also said they seek advice and guidance from their parents about career.

Boys and girls tend to take different subjects divided along the old gender lines: humanities for girls, technology for boys, and similar trends exist when they talk about the careers they would like to pursue in the future.

This is where our Equilibrium program for women, introduced by Westpac’s new CEO Brian Hartzer in October 2014, is innovative (below Brian Hartzer with Equilibrium women). We have asked women from all walks of life to consider a career change and join us at Westpac. It will invigorate them and us by bringing their skills, fresh thoughts and innovative ideas into our world.

Brian Euilbrium

Following on from this initiative I want to tell you all about what we are doing in Victorian, and soon, NSW public schools.

Young Vagabond, begun by Ashleigh Grogan and Haylee Collins through a crowd funding initiative, is a new business that aims through various traditional and online media - and now a school’s workshop program - to further the empowerment and equality of women around the world.

We are thrilled to be partnering with Young Vagabond in the launch of its Westpac School Series: a series of school workshops using interactive and creative facilitations to empower young people to think critically about how constructs of gender affect their lives.

The workshops encourage participants to challenge existing ideas perpetuated through the media and other social systems and to gain confidence in developing improved understandings of what gender identity means to them.

Workshop With Students 2

The first of the pilots (students and presenters above), I can tell you, have finished, and the workshops have been a smash success. Run by young people for young people, teachers, parents and students alike are enthusiastic about the content’s benefits and how easily it slots into the curriculum.

I’m excited about the program because I can see we’re part of stamping out unconscious bias at its roots. We’re educating our young adults - and the parents of tomorrow - to recast themselves in the image they want. We are, in the words of our 100 Women of Influence winner, Human Rights Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, creating the society of equals we want and deserve.

As the oldest company in Australia and one which wants to position itself globally as the best, Westpac is always asking how can we change, how can we educate and ensure equality?

These sorts of initiatives are what support us to make it happen. Westpac’s former CEO Gail Kelly was a great advocate and doer around equality. The numbers of women we now have in middle management demonstrate that commitment.

Our new CEO, Brian Hartzer, is no less committed. He is adamant we will have “gender equity, the first company in Australia to have it” by 2017. I have buckets of optimism around that commitment. After all, this is a man with four daughters growing up in an age of empowerment.

Brian, I know, believes equity is a business and economic issue. The recent release of the Federal Government’s Intergenerational report has provided him with further fuel, as he recently noted: “the single biggest lever for economic growth would be to increase female participation in the workforce.”

When it comes to young women, we want to support them to explore their options more fully, which is why we are backing Young Vagabond in their bid to open up horizons and pull their own levers.

For information on Young Vagabond and how to get the workshops in your school, please email programs@youngvagabond.com.au

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