IWD women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world

By Naomi Neilson|22 March 2021
Fay Calderone

It is crucial that women are supported and heard in order to achieve a future with gender equality, writes Fay Calderone.

On 10 March 2021, Hall & Wilcox celebrated International Women’s Day by presenting a webinar with a panel of inspiring and powerful women in leadership. The topic of focus was achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.

The webinar provided great insight into the individual experiences of each of the panellists in the workplace and offered practical solutions on how businesses and employers specifically, can foster a working environment that treats women equally and fairly.

How do we make it easier for women to stay in the workforce?

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  1. Close the pay gap

The gender pay gap is (unfortunately still) a barrier experienced by women in the workforce and directly affects their ability to stay at work especially during difficult times, like the pandemic.

Marina Go observed many women she has spoken to had chosen to stay at home and the response confirmed this assertion – a woman’s choice to stay at home is often not due to traditional reasons but the fact that their husband/partner earns more. Employers need to focus on the salary gap early and ensure that they are paying women equally and offering them the same promotional opportunities. This would make it easier for women to stay in their careers and easier for men to make a decision. 

We need to hear more successful stories of men who take parental leave and return successfully to their career. Accenture is a leading example of this, as in 2020, more male employees had taken parental leave than women with many men writing about their success.

Unlike behavioural change, which can take a long time, remedying pay disparity in like-for-like roles is something we can quickly and objectively administer observed James Morvell, chair of the Hall & Wilcox D&I committee.

  1. Women need to be HEARD

Melissa Dean, managing director of Accenture acknowledged that it is hard to find females who are willing to advocate and speak out about thought leadership they have – employers must make sure all voices are heard, especially the quiet ones.

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  1. Education is key

Gayann Walker, a barrister at Dawson Chambers, voiced her concerns on the prevalence of unconscious bias and sexual harassment within the legal industry.

A victim of unconscious bias herself, she argued that training on topics such as sexual harassment and diversity should be compulsory for all lawyers in order to set minimum standards of behaviour. Such training should be a priority in the field of law – given the statistics that women consist of 52.59 per cent of the legal workforce.[1] 

Interestingly, the Women Barristers’ Association made submissions to the Victorian Legal Services Commission in their review of CPD requirements proposing that training for sexual harassment should be compulsory. In its reply, the VLSC stated it is unlikely that such training, one-off in nature, will be effective if it is not embedded within a wider change program.[2] Although a wider change program is central for effecting change, flagging such behaviour as inappropriate to all lawyers by introducing compulsory training is a step in the right direction – a step that would display a strong stance that this behaviour is no longer tolerated.

  1. Be a role model

It is important to exemplify the right behaviour so observers will mirror your actions to other people.

Angela Priestley, publisher and owner of Women’s Agenda, provided a helpful example of role modelling and its effects in practice. When Angela became pregnant, she was worried about how her boss would react. When she mustered up the courage to tell her boss (Ms Go at the time), she simply hugged her and said it was fantastic. This conditioned Angela to have the same reaction to her staff. 

Role modelling of positive behaviours has an effect in perpetuity and well beyond the circumstances of any one individual. 

  1. Implement quotas

Ms Go highlighted the importance of quotas to achieve equal representation of women in leadership and board positions. 

Quotas ensure diversity is met throughout the organisation, especially at board level. Businesses need diverse boards in order to challenge each other to produce the greatest outcomes for the company. The benefits of diverse boards have been documented in studies time and time again.

  1. Leaders must choose to challenge

Organisations and specifically leaders within them have the ability to change the reality of women. At the current glacial pace an equal future for women will take another 100 years.

The theme for IWD is choose to challenge and Fay Calderone, partner in the employment did so in her opening address stating with a call to action:

This year’s theme is an opportunity for us all to consider and reflect why and how we choose to challenge the status quo. A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.  

I choose to challenge because gendered violence and sexual harassment remains prolific.

I choose to challenge because every woman in every workplace, walking on every street and in every home deserves to be safe.

I choose to challenge because I am one of the only 18 per cent women in leadership roles.

I choose to challenge because I refuse to wait 100 years for gender equality.

Fay Calderone is a partner with Hall & Wilcox who specialises in employment and workplace relations, discrimination and equal opportunity, industrial relations and work health and safety.

IWD women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world
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