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The Right Place At The Right Time

07 March 2011

I've been at some fantastic launches recently that directly affect not only us as women, but our whole world and everyone in it. They've been about much larger, collective spheres of influence and the most recent was the National launch at the State Library of NSW of the Melbourne based 100% Project.

I was asked to speak at the event by board chair Frances Feenstra, director at People Measures, and a now disappointed fan of the Dutch soccer team. (Not their World Cup this year.)

Tipping the balance

On stage in the Metcalfe Auditorium provided to the Project free by the Library was the Federal Minister for the Status of Women, the Hon Tanya Plibersek, and the most amazing set of scales I've seen in a long time.

On one side of the scales were two pairs of men's business shoes and, on the other, one pair of black stilettos. Tanya's final launch act was to place a pair of red stilettos on the scales to balance the numbers. It made for a highly satisfying visual.

I don't know how many times I've heard the arguments for why women don't need to be promoted, apparently, 'women make different choices', 'women are less ambitious than men', etc, etc. What I know from experience, and what a 2008 survey cited in an EOWA paper of more than 1500 men and women found, is that: 'women want promotion and advancement - just like men; women generally want to move into a job involving more responsibility, not less - just like men; however, both women and men do not believe that women are treated equally to men in their workplace, and both believe that men in their workplace progress more quickly than women.'

To change this we need men onboard. Give it some thought: the difficulties experienced by women to get to the highest levels of corporate leadership affects the choices open to men.

Own your own behaviour

I know many men who would agree with this: that 'they don't spend enough time at home', and who feel their jobs cause them to 'miss out on some of the most rewarding aspects of being a parent'. Raising such issues in the workplace, however, is still not on. Men, the research says, 'often feel pressurised to remain silent, or risk being type cast as a non-team player'. How many guys do you know who just happen to have an out-of-office meeting at the same time as their daughter's school athletics carnival is on? Honestly, staying silent doesn't help any one's cause.

The 100% Project believes that it's organisations that need to change, NOT the women and that both women and men need to be part of the dialogue driving the change.

I've heard people say, \"It's all good: we have a female Governor-General, a female Prime Minister, state female political leaders. We've done it.\" I say, we haven't and it's real easy to lose your spot when you take your eye off the ball. The corporate world is lagging way behind and building a groundswell of support and generating awareness and debate is, as Frances pointed out, an important part of ensuring the issues stay high on the agenda.

Right place

I was in Canberra the day Julia Gillard secured the numbers. At breakfast for the web-based environmental project 1 million women with founder Natalie Isaacs, Sam Mostyn, Penny Wong, the Greens Christine Milne and others, we were speaking about climate action with a 300-strong group of women passionate about reducing our carbon footprint. That morning was already a powerful experience and when Penny and Christine shared with us that they would have to leave the room for the vote, we all knew we were witnessing history. The groundswell of debate that followed culminated in many women SMSing and emailing Julia to put Climate Change back at the top of the agenda because, for these women and many like them, it remains an issue they are deeply passionate about and that has taken a bit of a backseat.

I know how important it is to women through our own Learn, Lead and Succeed program. When we made the decision at Women's Markets to put together the program we spoke to a number of women about what they would like to see included. Top of the list were sustainability and climate change. It's like Super for me. The two share the same attitude and goals: what can we do now to make sure we have a better future. It's a pity so many women are not thinking about their Super the same way. Although with moves such as this we're hoping to get it back on the agenda: Westpac has become Australia's first corporation to pay super on unpaid parental leave to all permanent employees. Under our new initiative, we're paying up to 39 weeks in employee superannuation contributions on top of our existing parental leave entitlements of 13 weeks' superannuation contributions and 13 weeks' full pay (if you were entitled to 12 weeks paid parental leave, you'll be entitled to up to 40 weeks of superannuation contributions). It's part of a solution to a genuine problem faced by families.

Breakfast time

My final brush with power and influence came at a National Breast Cancer Foundation event where I met NBCF CEO Sue Murray (our ruby of the month for August), NBCF patron Sarah Murdoch, the Governor-General Quentin Bryce among others. Sarah, I have to say, is even more beautiful live and so passionate about the foundation and its work, it's inspiring. NBCF is preparing to announce some fantastic news in October but before that they want to prime everyone to start thinking about and planning pink ribbon breakfasts, which happen all through pink ribbon month, October. Anyone can have a breakfast to raise funds for breast cancer research - women, men and children - because it is a disease that affects us all.

For Ruby members, send us the details of your event and we can upload them for you on the site as a way of getting your message out, getting more attendees, donations, or just to celebrate your commitment. After the event, send us some photos and we can upload those for you and your guests to share the memories and for others to see just how it can be done.

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