Janelle Weissman, 9 March, 2017
This month, we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). For UN Women National Committee Australia, our IWD theme is ‘Empower a woman, empower a nation.’ This theme puts a spotlight on women’s leadership, political participation and economic empowerment. This is all the more important in 2017, as we reflect on the year that has come and gone, the progress made, and all the work still to be done.
Still today, women continue to be locked out of decision-making tables – whether they be board rooms, or the halls of parliaments worldwide. We need only look on the world stage: why is it that extraordinary women continue to be excluded from the top job – from the US President to the UN Secretary-General? Progress has been slow: In the past twenty years, the number of women represented in parliaments has doubled. But that has brought us to a mere 23% of parliamentarians being women. In Pacific Island Countries and Territories, that number dwindles to just 6.3%. The gender pay gap and workforce participation gaps persist, despite the fact that we know if we closed these gaps that the benefits to the economy would be in the trillions.
The statistics are stark. What stands in strong juxtaposition to the numbers, is the business case to shift the dial. The bottom line is that gender equality is good for business, government and society. Companies greatly benefit from increasing leadership opportunities for women: it is estimated that companies with three or more women in senior management score higher in all dimensions of organisational effectiveness. More diverse teams have higher profitability and greater client satisfaction than non-diverse teams, and firms with higher levels of gender diversity outperform the market. Women’s participation in national parliaments tends to bring issues from the elimination of violence against women to education and health to the forefront, whereas they may not otherwise get the airtime they deserve: when integrated into policy, they benefit the whole population.
Unlocking pathways to leadership is essential. This includes everything from sponsorship to gender diverse recruitment panels; flexible work policies to making visible the women in organisations who are in leadership roles. While it may sound trite, the notion “you cannot be what you cannot see,” definitely plays a role in what career paths and promotions women may pursue. We need to raise the profile of women leaders, celebrate women’s contributions to business, government and society, and ensure more seats around decision-making tables to accelerate change.
One simple thing each of us can do to elevate the profile of women leaders is accept the Governor-General’s challenge to nominate women for the Australian Honours. It’s one action anyone can take now and it’s a timely reminder, on International Women’s Day, to celebrate women’s accomplishments.
QUT Business School supports International Women’s Day and is proud to be the Queensland Education Partner of the UN Women National Committee (NC) Australia. To find out more, visit their website.