Tag: Gender equality

International Women’s Day – Through the Eyes of a Managing Director and New Mum

It’s the night before my deadline and my marketing manager has asked me for this article for the last 5 days! Checking my phone this morning I see a ultrasound of my now 10 month old son and am reminded of the stark difference in my life 12 months on.

Let’s not dwell on my age, but to say I’m in my 40s and have lived a long and fortunate life of holidays, sleep-ins and independence up until 12 months ago and to say that it’s been an adjustment is an understatement!

Within the workplace, not having children until now has been a double edged sword. On the one hand I was free to attend all those late night networking events, schmooze clients at functions without worrying about bedtimes and routines, free to be promoted because I didn’t have the “challenge of a family” and cheaper than my male counterparts because as one CEO explained to me, I “didn’t have a family to support!” On the other hand, when inevitably asked if I had children and responded “no” I would be looked at with pity, or told “maybe one day!” or just assuming I didn’t want children at all. Most people being none the wiser to the 10 years of IVF!

Having watched friends and colleagues come and go with having children, I was convinced of two things – one, I wasn’t going to be surprised at the changes that my son would bring to my life, I was all over it! And two, I wouldn’t really change that much – I would still hold onto me, my identify and would not talk about my son incessantly!

You will need to ask my friends and colleagues if I have fully succeeded in the second! (Editor’s note: half the time, yes, haha). But as for the first, I could not have been more wrong – I have been equally parts pleasantly surprised and side swiped by the changes he has bought to my life.

Given it’s International Women’s Day, I want to share what I have learnt 12 months on and what this day means to me now.

‘Having it all’ is a huge myth

You can’t have it all but you can have choices, and it is up to you to decide what that looks like for you, even if it changes day to day, week to week or even hour to hour! The reality is that if you have a child you have an extra new very important (very noisy, stinky and luckily very cute) factor in your life.

You’re no longer just balancing your work life and your personal life. You have someone that completely needs and depends on you. But you also have yourself to consider, making (sometimes just a little) time to do the things that are important to you outside of work and/or child. And in my case I still have a business to run, and the buck stops with me so taking a year of parental leave just wasn’t the right option for me. So what that looks like is sometimes finishing emails inside the playpen or ballpit. And delegating things out to my team and trusting that while it may not be perfect, they will do a good enough job and always the right thing by our clients. It’s taking turns with my partner to allow for ‘self care’ (and yes that phrase is a little vomit inducing but it is true). For my partner that means a good session of gardening. For me it’s dinner with friends. At some point we also plan to have a date night! It’s not easy to make these things happen but it’s so important.

So you can kind of have it all, but not all at once, and you need to make choices on what’s right for you.

Mums have your back

There is a secret undercover mothers support network that I never knew existed until I gave birth. You hear and read about mums being ‘judgy’ towards each other and competitive about whose baby is ‘advanced’ (ugh, has there ever been a more pretentious way to talk about a child?!) but I have to say that this has not been my experience.

One of my other mum friends checked in with me nearly every day when I first had my child. Another of my colleagues told me what I needed to know without sugar-coating it at all which can sometimes be a little confronting but I’d rather have someone tell me how it really is than find out absolutely everything the hard way.

There are now online networks of business women who are also mothers supporting each other, giving advice and even business referrals as we’ve built a strong level of trust bonding over hilarious epic fails with diapers and stories of sleep success. Side note: I’ve never been as obsessed with sleep as I am now. I track it, measure it, I think I even dream about sleep while I’m sleeping.

You certainly don’t need to be a mum to be an amazing woman

Stop making assumptions about women and their desire to have or not have children! Some, like me, secretly struggle for years and don’t need to reminded that they’ve been unsuccessful – I was made redundant the day after I was told I would never have children and couldn’t say anything because of the secrecy surrounding unsuccessful pregnancies.

I’ve also found that you don’t have to be a mum to support other mums. It’s ok to not want children and it doesn’t mean someone doesn’t care about your kids or should be left out of a conversation or looked at differently – my strongest supporter doesn’t have children and has had my back and understood me every day the last 12 months!

These days I would say there is no appropriate way to ask someone about their procreation plans or otherwise. If you’re close with someone it can sometimes be ok to ask a friend if they have a view on having kids or not, but making a joke out of it or pressuring someone can be extremely hurtful. Honestly, the best thing to do is wait to be told. And if no one offers you an insight, the message you might (read: should) take from that is that it’s none of your business.

Baby on board(room)

The boardroom has evolved, but not everywhere and not for everyone.  I am fortunate to have the flexibility to work when it works for me and my family. However, during December I needed to attend two key meetings with two different business leaders and had to bring my son. Both could not have been more supportive, at 8 months my son was in some very prominent boardrooms and I was greeted with genuine care and flexibility – as the male CEO stated “I want to have an important conversation with you and we can do that equally as well with your son sitting next to you!”

How refreshing!

But let’s be real – this won’t be possible for everyone – the receptionist can’t bring her child to work and some women will need to go back to work sooner than they want and don’t currently have the choices that I do in the workplace, but change will occur as more men and women see new possibilities and innovative ways to approach flexibility.

Some businesses are getting it very right, others are a million miles behind – my partner has an extremely progressive (by Australian standards!) workplace that has allowed her to use her paid primary carer support one day a week over a 12 month period instead of all in one block. This is invaluable as it allows me to work in the office one day a week, and her to spend one day a week with our son in these formative first 12 months.

Unfortunately, our HR division gets too many of the other phone calls – male leaders wanting advice on how to get rid of that pesky maternity leave or wanting to know why you can’t ask a woman in an interview when she plans to have kids (in case you’re wondering why this is unfortunate it’s important to note that it’s illegal).

Female leaders are creating their own ‘next step up’

When will the corporate world wake up and wonder why so many leading women are leaving to start their own business or work in small business? These women have realised that some of the top corporate jobs are actually $hit jobs. They’re not set up for success, the expectations of availability are obscene and therefore the likelihood of flexibility is dismal. Instead, many have taken their enviable experience and made it available to other business as a consultant, or joined a smaller firm on a part time basis. Indeed, my own business consists of a few people that fit this bill so I’ve directly benefitted from this movement! But this shouldn’t have to be the only option if you want career progression AND a life.

Leaders would be well placed to remember that their business is made of men and women, young and young-at-heart, mums and dads, families of all types and combinations, people going through personal or mental health challenges, parents tired from a sick child the night before, and employees without children but with other caring responsibilities. It sounds too simplistic but I believe leaders need to stop thinking of the ‘company’ and start thinking of the business as ‘family.’  I bet if your leader is considering the needs of a ‘family member’ they will be more empathic than a faceless company.

Balance for better

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BalanceForBetter. It’s about each of us, regardless what gender you are, asking ourselves how we can get closer to a more gender-balanced world. How we can celebrate women’s achievements. Raise awareness against bias – don’t be a silent bystander. Take action for equality.

Every year we have the opportunity to learn more and get better at this. At Businessary we’re passionately committed to living these values. Even if we’re doing it from a children’s ballpit.

-Annabel Rees, Businessary Managing Director and Lincoln’s mum (not usually in that order)

 

The real meaning of International Women’s Day – close enough is NOT good enough.

By Businessary Managing Director, Annabel Rees

I wasn’t planning on writing today, I actually was struggling to do much of anything this morning after waking up with a head cold. I’ve had a hectic week, the life of a small business owner is all about juggling cashflow, doing the work and growing the business! Throw into that a renovation that has been going on for two years and I’m not surprised I’m run down!

Equality isn’t a quiet achievement.

I don’t always speak out, I grew up in a family where the motto ‘be the quiet achiever’ was reinforced, and prefer to let my actions and results speak for themselves. But more and more over the last few years I’ve found the need to speak out against a wave of complacency that we have come ‘far enough’ with equality. Gender equality, marriage equality, religious, racial equality and more. Today is about gender equality, but the principals apply for equality generally.

I have been the only female in the boardroom, I have been the only female leader on a leadership team, and I am female business owner and leader. I am passionate about making the path for those younger than me easier than my experience.

We have come a long way – and it’s a win-win.

I have been watching with interest the lead up to International Women’s Day this year, especially what is different – the kick to kick at the MCG this year to mark the AFLW, my builder greeting me this morning to wish me ‘Happy International Women’s Day’ and a male ex colleague asking my advice on unconscious bias. All are great progress towards equality, and as someone reminded me this morning equality doesn’t mean sharing the ‘pie’ it means having two or three pies, quality is win win, not one wins and the other loses.

But we are far from done.

However, what has led me to write today is the wave of commentary that has accompanied today suggesting we are ‘done’ with equality and need to move on! I’m frustrated and I’m disappointed because I wish we were done already! In the last week alone I have experienced at least three examples of not quite done!

Last week I attended a new client opportunity with a male counterpart for a joint venture. On paper, I have significantly more knowledge and experience in delivering the opportunity however the potential client continued to refer to the male lead in the meeting! Even more frustrating was after the meeting, the potential client contacted my male counterpart and asked if he could deliver the project alone. That happens, clients connect with different people regardless of experience, I was ok with that. What was frustrating was the counterpart suggested that he could accept the offer and I ‘help him behind the scenes’, let him win the business and I would do the work without the credit?!

Those are a few examples that I’m still fuming about, but there are plenty more, and worse, examples every day.

Pay gap.

Another baffling and enfuriating example of an equality failure is the gender pay gap. Many on our team come from insurance and financial services backgrounds, which has consistently been listed as the industry with the worst pay gap over the past few years…and even in the news today we can see that little progress is being made.

What makes it worse is that we’ve experienced recent occurrences of men within this industry (prominent men in positions of leadership, no less – and not making off the record ‘locker room banter’) say that they ‘don’t believe there’s a gender issue and we should all stop pretending there is.’ Yeah…that really happened. We have it in writing. I sure hope those men don’t have daughters, mothers, wives, sisters or female friends, because if they do I bet those women are pretty disappointed in that attitude.

By the way, this is a pretty cool article on how to respond to a pay gap sceptic.

So why should we address pay gap and equality (hint: this is the silver lining).

Glad you asked…you see, it’s not only about doing the right thing. It’s also good business. This EY report indicates that no business will thrive in this disruptive climate without gender diversity (and, one could easily extrapolate based on their findings, diversity on the whole).

Actually, scratch that, we don’t have to extrapolate – these exact results found AGAIN (thanks to this article from The Australian) in McKinsey and Company’s research which clearly highlights the dividends of diversity: companies that are more gender diverse are 15% more likely to outperform others; for those that are ethnically diverse, it jumps to 35%.

The stats do tell us that while you may have gender diversity at entry levels of your organisation, the representation dies off significantly the closer you get to the top. But both Harvard Business Review and Forbes reported that businesses that had women on their boards and in leadership positions performed better and were more profitable than those that did not.

I remember years ago businesses were focusing on diversity because it was a buzzword and everyone was doing it, but occasionally you’d hear comments like ‘this would be easier if we had tangible evidence of improved business results rather than ad hoc feedback or gut feel.’
Wish. Granted.

But before you get too hopeful, we need to talk violence against women.

We’ve given you a sliver of a silver lining (say that three times fast) in the section above, but would be remiss if we didn’t address the huge, deadly elephant in the room. And it’s not a hidden threat, it’s exposed right from the top.

There were plenty of (arguably deserving) headlines during the recent election of Donald Trump in the USA, particularly around his treatment and comments on women. And while I wholeheartedly cannot understand why someone would a) make those comments or b) ELECT someone into the highest office of their land after making those comments, I do have to point out a bit of hypocrisy on the part of all of us Australians heckling the US citizens and their leader from the other side of the world. ‘Those in glass houses’ is another phrase I grew up with, and in this case it’s entirely right. We hurl stones while the same or worse is happening in our own backyard.

According to Our Watch, here are some of the shocking facts about violence against women, right here in Australia:

  • On average, at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia.
  • One in three Australian women has experienced physical violence, since the age of 15.
  • One in five Australian women has experienced sexual violence.
  • Of those women who experience violence, more than half have children in their care.
  • Violence against women is not limited to the home or intimate relationships. Every year in Australia, over 300,000 women experience violence – often sexual violence – from someone other than a partner.
  • Eight out of ten women aged 18 to 24 were harassed on the street in the past year.

Had enough? Me too. I don’t know about you, but surely this is what ‘gender fatigue’ means. We’re exhausted from being beaten up and when we see stats like this of womenkind being murdered EVERY WEEK, it’s not just devastating but overwhelming – how are we ever going to surpass these insurmountable obstacles, from pay parity to the basic human right of not being killed?

By the way, I know that’s not what gender fatigue means…my favourite definition of it is definitely from this Terri Psiakis article ‘So you suffer from gender fatigue? Get well soon’ which sums up the idea as: ‘apparently some blokes get a little weary of talking about the ways women aren’t treated equally in the workplace. Poor things – please excuse me while I go and vomit and/or repeatedly punch the nearest wall. If those terribly exhausted male CEOs were actually decent blokes they’d know that for every male experiencing gender fatigue there’s a bunch of professional women fatigued by the number of men suffering gender fatigue.’ 

I don’t know about you, but just quietly, we’re not done achieving equality.

I’m sick, I’m tired, and I’m still mad as hell. One thing I’m not though, is done. We’re not done. But I can’t make a difference on my own, and neither can you. It’s not about any one of us losing our voice or our power so that those previously oppressed can speak or lead. It’s not mutually exclusive! We can all win, and all have equal opportunities to pursue our dreams without discrimination, but male or female, black, white, foreign, indigenous, gay, straight or otherwise, we have to together bring each other up. #PressForProgress #BeBoldForChange

Interational Women's Day, be bold for change, Annabel Rees, Businessary