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Women: top of the 'agender'

09 November 2012

I coined the term, ‘sleeping giantess’ to describe the power and potential of women’s markets, and it’s taken on a life of its own. I used the phrase first in a blog I was invited to post on the World Bank’s site during the recent IMF/World Bank Group Annual Meetings I attended in Tokyo, Japan. Now IMF/World Bank delegates and attendees use the catchphrase whenever they want to explain the power access to finance has for women, and the impact it has on communities and on a country’s economic growth. 

Awakening her makes good business sense and remains top of the ‘agender’ for those countries and financial institutions that understand and want to develop one of the few growth markets around in these lean times.

Westpac’s world-class reputation for accelerating access to finance for women and the impact it has on women and in communities and economies was consistently acknowledged in Tokyo. We are the global benchmark in the area and with our history of success provide clear reference points through the work we have done with the GBA for all those who ‘get’ the concept and who want to expand gender equality.

Imagine my distress then when one of our GBA officials took me aside to say she’d heard from someone that our women’s markets no longer existed and I was just a figurehead. 

This sort of inaccuracy does not make Larke Riemer’s heart sing. 

The goal has always been to embed the whole women’s market program in the Westpac business. I know we’ve been successful in that because everyone in the bank talks about women’s markets – colloquially known as Ruby – as part and parcel of the way they and the bank does business. It’s the bank itself running the agenda not a single team and I’m not just a ‘figurehead’.

White-anting, which is what I believe this throwaway remark was meant to achieve, is not a strategy I equate with strength and I find it peculiar that people behave in this sort of way. I don’t get what’s to be gained?

White-anting is disrespectful, damaging and unhelpful. The incident then got me thinking about the way our politicians behave, and because I was in Tokyo in a very different culture looking back in on my own home – I was away when the Peter Slipper debacle happened and the Prime Minister’s misogyny speech went viral – I was again struck by the lack of respect our leaders show one another. (Many people I know have had it up to the back eye balls with their bad behaviour and the media coverage of it at the expense of the whole story in an effort to sell papers.) 

I am the first to agree you have to question and discuss topics and debate ideas and offer opinions and people in power must be ‘kept real’ but not at the expense of basic courtesy, and respect for person. Blood sport it might be for some but what do these behaviours teach our children: that aggression is okay and showing respect for someone’s rights as a human being isn’t necessary.

Serious stuff, which I’m sure was thrown into even sharper relief by being in a new place and in a culture which doesn’t have the in-your-face style we have.

The longer I spent engulfed in the Zen of Tokyo the more considered and calm I felt. There were some times when I thought I was on another planet. Take the taxis. Can we please send someone over from Victoria to get some insights into how to run taxis you’d die to hail down. Tokyo taxis are clean, comfortable, dressed in white seat covers and manned or, in my case, womanned by truly obliging white-gloved drivers.

My driver was one of four women in a company of 400 taxi drivers. I love to chat and she had chosen the job because she liked the work and to chat. She also provided throughout our journey a running tally of how many minutes we had to go before we would reach our destination, something I found amazing.

There are things that do make Larke Riemer’s heart sing when she travels

Cleanliness, being tidy and ordered

Courtesy and generosity of spirit in people

Perfect weather = no humidity

Fantastic food from local street outlets to Michelin star restaurants, Japan it would appear has the market cornered

Organised and punctual.

Tokyo ticked every box for me. Of course, I understand that achieving the level of punctuality, organisation, etc, etc, costs Japan a great deal of money… but oh the joy for a traveler like me.

I loved my visit and the chance to really immerse myself in the people. From the first day I knew we were all going to get along just fine.

I was in my hotel room and found I’d forgotten the adaptor for my blow dryer and the in-room model just wasn’t up to the job. Frantically, I rang down to the front desk, and minutes later a young man arrived at my door with handfuls of electrical converters – one so large it needed a truck to get it into the room. Having finally located the right adaptor, I began jumping up and down and clapping my hands in excitement. My enthusiasm and I’m imagining my constant chatter must have been infectious because before we knew it my young electrical saviour and myself were hugging one another in joy over our success.

It was this sort of generous spontaneity that made the visit so memorable… and those taxis, of course. Japan has not seen the last of Larke Riemer.


IMF/World Bank Group Annual Meetings I attended in Tokyo - click here to view the blog.