Let’s Talk… Gender Equality


Last year, the Weinstein scandal shone a light on the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in Hollywood, with members of the Boys Club brought to task in its wake. More recently, the producers of ‘All the Money in the World’ drew heavy criticism after Mark Wahlberg earned 1500 times more than his co-star Michelle Williams for reshoots. Women had dominated the US box office, having fronted the year’s three top grossing films, so many were appalled by this stunning example of pay disparity. Although a reckoning might be under way in Tinseltown, it remains to be seen whether there will be lasting cultural change.

Of course, gender inequality isn’t just the stuff of Hollywood, it’s also exists in the business community. In Australia, women earn 22% less than their male counterparts in full-time employment. Further, they remain underrepresented in STEM fields as well as leadership positions despite evidence that gender equality is smart business. Against this backdrop, for this week’s “Let’s Talk…” feature, Dynamic Business posed the following question to 27 thought leaders:

“What can the business community do to fast-track gender equality?”

 As one commentator warned, unless the business community commits to tangible goals now, true gender equality won’t be achieved for more than a century. Read on for further insights from this week’s lineup…

Danielle Fletcher, Founder, Kimberlin Education & Portfolio CEO, Heads Over Heels: “We all like to learn from examples of how other people are doing great things in their businesses and their careers. The one simple thing the business community could do to fast-track gender equality is to profile more female achievements. Showcasing the achievements of women at any stage in their career provides others with inspiration and role models to learn from and look up to. Easy things like having a 50:50 ratio of male to female speakers at events and conferences, should not be hard to achieve in today’s world.”

Jill Macmurchy, APAC Technical Manager, New Relic: “Getting more women into the pool of available employees is key to fast tracking gender equality in the business community. To widen our pool of women in tech, it is vital to create a culture that is inclusive by showing appreciation, rewarding good work and giving equal pay and benefits regardless of gender. This requires a radical change in thinking for many companies. Businesses must challenge stereotypes and bring awareness to unconscious biases.

“Organisations should also create policies and allow for flexible schedules to engage women and men who have families, as well as women who have taken time off to have families. This mentality and course of action must start at the top.”

Nicola Hazell, Director, SheStarts: “We are sitting on the edge of a huge opportunity to transform the world’s economy through increased female participation in leadership and the workforce more broadly. But for this shift to occur, we need intentional action to turn talk into results. Across the economy (and as we’ve seen in startup land), there are some key areas we can have an impact:
  • Invest in women – in their ideas, their skills and their capacity to lead in new and innovative ways
  • Share the stories of emerging leader – making it possible for other women to see themselves in roles that for so long have been consistently filled and defined by men
  • Also, Share the stories of men taking on caring responsibilities – removing the cultural stigma around men playing the role of primary or shared caregiver in families will also make it easier for women to thrive at work, changing the narrative around family and work
  • Design for diversity – it’s not enough to invite women to the table; you need to ensure the table provides an inclusive and empowering platform where women can contribute equally, can thrive and can lead
  • And the no-brainer… Provide equal pay and equal opportunity to close the gender pay gap.”

Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin, CEO, BlueChilli: “I think one big answer to promoting gender equality in organisations is to make your organisation more attractive to women. Gender equality is a combination of a selection problem and a pipeline problem.  With the pipeline problem, there is often a structural process in place that has not been designed around inclusivity.

“How would you know if your recruitment process is working against gender equality? Easy.

“Look at the way you are presenting job ads. Do you have the words ‘killer’, ‘guru’, ‘expert’ and a ten-bullet-point list of ‘minimum requirements’ for a role? Are you promoting your organisation using ‘perks’ like beer o’clock and ping pong tables or loud nights out? That is a firewall for gender parity. Not only that, you are shutting out diversity almost completely.

“Instead, showcase an environment where all identities can thrive. Perhaps your organisation, like BlueChilli, has flexible working environments or a generous leave policy. We are currently working on improving our maternity policy and our internal programme to ensure all BlueChillians have access to long-term growth opportunities, whatever their life choices may be. If you have the same approach to workplace culture, leverage that in your job ads and watch the quality of candidates flow in – from all kinds of unexpected places!”

Jessica May, CEO, Enabled Employment & Portfolio CEO, Heads Over Heels: “The gender equality movement is quite strong, but even so the glass ceiling is still unbroken. It’s frustratingly so, when there are so many capable women, apart from awareness raising, encouraging representation on boards and having opportunities at senior management level, I think the most pressing need is to ensure pay equity by legislating that men and women receive the same pay for the same job such as they’ve just passed in Iceland.”

Julie Demsey, General Manager, SBE Australia:The wheels are certainly in motion when it comes to organisations committing to equal pay for men and women, as well as gender and other bias training.

“I also view mandatory parental leave for both parents as an important step. When men take a break from the workforce to spend time with their newborn, everyone bonds early on and shares the responsibilities for caring for the child. This goes a long way in removing the stigma from the workplace that only females take time off. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Alexandra Schischov, Founder, Stylizen & SBE Australia E3 program alumnae: “I believe the only way we can fast-track gender equality as a business community is to start with culture. And any change to an organisation’s culture must start at the top, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman at the helm, the job starts – and ends – with you.

“A change in culture can only happen if there is an attitudinal shift to the way women are viewed in the workplace. It’s not news that men are generally viewed as more assertive and women as more collaborative, however these differences in ‘style’ are often looked at from a negative position towards women.

“If we could accept that there are always going to be some differences in the way women and men lead their teams or organisations, and not look at those differences as deficiencies with respect to women, then we are one step closer to bridging the gender equality gap.”

Lorraine Gnanadickam, Founder & CEO, FoodSt & SBE Australia E3 program alumnae: “I think gender equality will only be fast-tracked when role expectations shift for men at the same time. What I mean is that although there is all the focus and work being put into women equality, which is great, there has been zero to minimal shift in the expectations that senior leaders have on men.

“The problem is that until businesses view men as equal partners in raising children, women can’t have equality. I think if men leave work at three to pick up children or work from home flexibly that it is seen as a lot worse than a woman doing this. Also, culturally it has a negative impact on the way that other men view that man. This has to change! For us to be seen as equal we have to have men as equal to us.”

Esha Oberoi, Founder & CEO, Afea Care Services: “As a founding CEO and mother of two, I have experienced the challenges of dual responsibilities and faced my share of ignorant or outdated comments from within the business community.

“While we have come a long way, I believe we still have so much further to go as a society when it comes to gender equality. There are some critical things businesses can be doing to not just embrace, but pioneer this change:

  1. Promoting or allowing for remote working, giving women greater flexibility to work from home if needed, to better manage work alongside other commitments
  2. Having a woman participate in the recruitment process to be a role model and be a point of inspiration for other aspiring women
  3. Setting a goal for a 50/50 gender split on major leadership teams and committees
  4. Creating an internal policy that manages comments that can be seen as encouraging gender inequality, such as ‘men are more successful in this’ or ‘men are more tuned financially’. What may be seen to some as a harmless generalisation could end up discouraging the next woman leader!”

Lucy Wilkinson, General Manager, Kablamo: “Gender parity is crucial for any well-rounded business… but an imbalance exists across almost every business sector – an imbalance which seems most pronounced in the tech industry. Working in this field, despite more and more female tech graduates entering the market, the ratio of men to women I encounter at industry events and in working with clients is still shockingly skewed.

“At Kablamo, we’ve set solid objectives to hire more women across our business. The biggest hurdle lies in the fact that highly skilled women are in such high demand, it’s a challenge to find and attract this talent. Recruitment consultants struggle to provide us with our target of female candidates, and we’ve had to continually re-enforce our guidelines with them.

“Internally, we are investing time and effort in our direct recruitment process, aiming to interview at least 50% female candidates wherever possible, while still ensuring we hire the right candidate for the role, our culture and our clients. As our number of female employees continues to grow, it’s clear this commitment of time, effort, and a measured approach is starting to pay off.”

Anna Thomas, COO, Stockdale & Leggo: “One thing that most business leaders understand, regardless of industry, are targets. As such, I wholeheartedly advocate for CEOs to set a target for their business to achieve a 50/50 gender split in leadership roles within their organisation. I have set a goal of achieving a 50/50 gender split for franchisees of Stockdale & Leggo by 2020. Currently we are at 20/65 so there’s clearly room for improvement; however, the first step is to acknowledge the issue and then be proactive about solving it from within your own sphere of influence. Fortunately, CEOs are in a prime position to affect change and I believe that setting a target which is then shared and promoted throughout the organisation also holds hiring managers accountable to achieving – in turn, this increases the likelihood of the gender imbalance being corrected sooner rather than later.”

Natalie Goldman, CEO, FlexCareers: “There’s more and more research that shows that having a gender-diverse and equally-balanced organisation, at all levels, leads to increased profitability, productivity and innovation.

“The #MeToo Movement (and now #TimesUp) is fast becoming mainstream – and that’s a great thing. Organisations haven’t been able to legally discriminate against women for 20 to 30 years, and the societal paradigm shift is proving that this problem can no longer be swept under the rug.

It is apparent that in 2018 to take a step forward towards gender equality we need to start thinking about change. Organisations must take these allegations seriously even if the perpetrator is a strong asset to the company.

“Equal Pay is also crucial for gender equality – why? Because even in this century, Australia has still not implemented equal pay across the board. Statistics show that only around 18% of the working population on average (depending upon industry) receive equal pay.

“A man and a woman shouldn’t be paid differently for doing the same work, and if we take gender out of the equation and only focus on the work, we can stop seeing work based on gender and start seeing work from a non-bias perspective.

“As head of FlexCareers – an organisation that strives on promoting flexible working patterns for all genders, I think there are some crucial points to consider for a push toward gender equality.”

“Here are my top five tips on fast-tracking gender equality in the workforce…

  1. Assess where you are today – if you can’t measure it you can’t change it. If you don’t have a diverse team then then set clear and measurable targets for you to shift the dynamic in your team.
  2. Think of the benefits to both men and women – working flexibly supports all generations in your business for different reasons.
  3. Think about the diversity in the work community – The most commonly thought of groups are working parents, however millennials would also like to create a better work-life balance.
  4. Provide Mentoring – guidance and support in the form of mentoring will ensure women to get into more senior roles and also to stay in your business.
  5. Explaining the importance – gender equality is imperative to business growth and is crucial to having a healthy work environment.”

Lori Tyrrell, Head of Talent, People & Capability, HealthEngine: “As a professional woman who has held leadership roles in both the tech, and minerals and resources sectors traditionally male-dominated industries — achieving gender equality is something that I am incredibly passionate about.

“In light of the recent #TimesUp movement, which has taken Hollywood by storm, it has never been more important for leaders across all industries, to stand up, take action against gender-based discrimination, and use their influence to effect change from the top down.

“There are a number of things employers can do to make their workplace more inclusive, like introducing flexible working hours so parents can work in a way that best suits their schedule, to simply asking staff, both men and women, what they want to see more of so that all needs are accommodated.

“I can proudly say that HealthEngine is one of the more diverse teams that I have been part of. In our efforts to attract talent, we have done things like ensure our job ads are appealing to both men and women; crafting our careers site with gender diverse images and making sure our employer brand is inclusive. As a result, we have attracted a high number of women and now almost half our workforce are women, including 35% in leadership positions.

“We also operate a flat business structure, meaning our employees work alongside colleagues from different backgrounds, across all different levels of experience. Aside from being a great way to build company culture, this structure helps build expertise, with employees having exposure to different experiences, and gives women access to otherwise inaccessible career sponsors and career paths.

“With women earning on average just 78% of men’s full-time earnings, raising the profile of this issue has not yet led us out of the woods. That said, I am confident that Australia is starting to make progress steps moving toward eliminating gender-based discrimination.

Suzy Watson, Co-founder, Intersective: “The business community needs to commit to some tangible goals regarding fast-tracking gender equality – on current trends, true gender equality is more than a century away. There are business communities and countries that have achieved a lot by introducing mandatory quotas for senior roles and the majority of the time where those mandatory quotas exist, they are met. There are some fantastic companies that have committed and achieved 50% senior leadership roles for women. This should be more common than businesses who don’t have gender quotas, but consistently have women in the lower paying service roles only.

“Gender Equality is one aspect of having a strong diverse team and gender equality is the stepping stone to creating a more inclusive, innovative, productive workplace more generally. Intersective has a 50% gender mix through all ranks of the business as part of our broader diversity strategy.”

Nicole Ashe, General Manager, People & Culture, Prospa: “At Prospa, we take a top down and bottom up approach to diversity and equality, and it’s working. The team has a 40/60 split of female to male employees, which is significantly more balanced than the fintech industry average, which is 76% male in Australia.

“In any sector, but particularly in STEM, engineering and finance, it’s vital to have women in leadership roles so there is a clear career path to aspire to and follow. A focus on recruiting, retaining and developing female talent in your organisation isn’t only the right thing to do, it’s smart business.

“Prospa has also implemented schemes like onsite child care at peak times, parental benefits, as well as mentoring and development programs to help retain female staff. There are exciting new non-traditional pathways to leadership in companies like Prospa, and this means that we can lead the way when it comes to fast tracking gender equality.

“Finally, we have established targets to aim for and measure ourselves against. Quantifiable metrics will generally ensure that gender diversity stays top of mind for leaders in your organisation.”

Hannah Moreno, Founder & Director, Third Hemisphere: “Incredibly, two of the most predictable and long-term activities that a person will ever undertake during their lives – working and raising a family – are still not completely compatible for 50% of the population. In fact, it’s been said that one of the worst career moves a woman can make is to have children.

“The hurdles that working women must overcome once they become a mother are well-documented. The “motherhood penalty” refers to the systematic disadvantages women face in terms of pay, perceived competence, and benefits relative to childless women. In financial terms, this penalty manifests as a 5% per hour lower wages (per child) compared with childless women in similar jobs, according to one set of research. Another study found the gap to be around 11% overall when looking at salaried employees. Incredibly, men actually experience a “fatherhood premium” of 21% compared to their “childless counterparts”, while fathers with more than one child earned 9% more than fathers with just one child.

“As with any issue of inequality, the first step to addressing it is to recognise that it exists in the first place and seek to understand where the issue stems from. Workplaces must take stock of the experience of working mothers in their staff, by actively seeking out their feedback on pay, work conditions, flexibility, and parental leave policies. They must then commit to addressing any identified issues through tangible actions that minimise disadvantages around pay and benefits, and internal communications campaigns that counteract the negative (often subconscious) perceptions that can further disadvantage working mothers.”

Alison Lee, Head of Marketing and Partnerships, Heads Over Heels: Providing more opportunities for women to have a voice and a platform is vital in promoting gender equality. “You can’t be what you can’t see”, so these platforms are integral in supporting the success of female entrepreneurs while also inspiring the next generation of female business leaders. Some practical ways include ensuring there is female representation on panels at conferences, speakers at events, ensuring we provide more media exposure to female business leaders, or even something simple such as thinking of a connection you could introduce a female entrepreneur to that might help accelerate their business.”

Ruth Hatherley, Founder & CEO, Moneycatcha: “I believe inequality is still pervasive and entrenched in general society – a result of attitudes inherited from previous influences, and we as individuals not being aware, accountable or supported enough to challenge those learnings to create new thinking.

“I personally feel a major problem for women and men in the workforce is the changing life circumstances of having children and how that dramatically impacts their life. This affects both them and their families as well as the workplace. So even when we enter equally into the workforce, the circumstances currently change considerably more for female workers and their employers once they start a family. This can also be considered applicable for a male if he chooses to be the primary carer of the children.

“It’s time for businesses to engage in reflective and compassionate thinking on how to keep employment opportunities equal for working parents of all gender.”

Anthony Sochan, Co-founder, Think & Grow: “The first thing businesses need to do is acknowledge that gender equality is actually a problem and understand that women and men have a right to equal opportunities and participation at work. Any business that doesn’t have a mechanism or goal in place needs to readdress their commitment to gender-diversity. Setting a goal and making a commitment to hitting that goal is the first step in setting up your company to deliver positive change.

“Creating a business culture that prioritises and celebrates diversity is also key. Companies should regularly review their diversity practices and always be transparent in communication to encourage and create a more inclusive culture in the workplace.  We also recommend that companies think about gender equality as only one piece of diversity and begin to think about things such as disabilities, cultural diversity, world experience, education etc. We strongly recommend checking out http://projectinclude.org to help you get started.”

Sue Steel, Executive Vice President, People & Culture, Nearmap: My four tips to fast track gender equality are as follows…

  1. Implement a gender equality strategy: To do this, you first need to understand what you are trying to achieve and set goals. At Nearmap we set a goal to ensure our global gender profile includes at least 30% females, and we have held true to this global promise, now reaching 33%.
  2. Lead by example and communicate the benefits: Don’t preach what you don’t practice. Lead by example, be the champion and advocate the move for gender equality, communicating the benefits to employees and beyond. We’re proud to have a very sustainable gender equality across all levels at Nearmap, having doubled the number of women in the executive team over the last year.
  3. Align your business with like-minded organisations: Work alongside businesses that also advocate gender equality — from the recruitment firms you partner with to help you find talent to universities, that offer the relevant subjects to study. This will help to reduce barriers for candidates and your staff, through offering benefits such as gender equal pay, flexible work practices, and mentoring and sponsorship.
  4. Encourage greater female participation in the industry: Challenge stereotypes and encourage education and equal opportunity through providing Scholarship and Internship opportunities. We believe this will contribute to inspiring women to break down barriers and inevitably fast track gender equality going forward.

Megan Hyde, head of operations, Nod: “If we want to see real change there are three key steps the business community can take to fast track gender equality: set goals, be aware of unconscious bias and improve mentoring.

“At Nod, our founders set the goal of building an inclusive, diverse and equal workforce and we have been growing the business with this goal in mind. Like all business goals, as a startup it’s vitally important to regularly track your performance and we firmly believe creating inclusive culture is critical for success.

“It’s also important for the community to be aware of unconscious bias and responses, especially when giving feedback, to help correct attitudes and encourage more opportunities for women in the workforce. An example is that women are often perceived to have heightened emotional responses, which can be considered as an undesirable trait in a manager. We need to try removing this type of negative bias and make decisions on the behaviours and performance of each employee, regardless of gender.

“It’s important to make sure all employees have access to mentoring. We are seeing a rise in female-oriented networking and support groups as women reach out for mentors in their industry and helping encourage this further is vital for the business community. That’s not to say that a male manager can’t be a great mentor to a female employee, but opportunities to access either gender is important.”

Rafael Moyano, CEO, The Adecco Group Australia: “Business leaders should first recognise the existence of gender biases in the workplace and only then aim to implement meaningful initiatives with the view of bridging the gender gap, both in remuneration and career opportunities.

“To begin, leaders should commit to undertaking open and honest reviews of pay rates and policies across the business that may be influenced by gender biases.

“Enforcing policies and providing benefits which favour gender equality is vital. Things such as access to child care services, reviewing maternity and paternity leave policies, and career transition options are important considerations as they open up opportunities for women.

Lastly, participate in social dialogue – business decision-makers should look to organisations that are leading the charge in gender equality and engage with them to ensure their business follows best practice when it comes to championing for diversity in the workplace.”

Dion Oxley, CEO, Quizling & Portfolio CEO, Heads Over Heels: “In order to make real change in the area of gender equality, everyone must learn from the ever-growing group of women who have succeeded. These diverse, intelligent and persistent women have proven the research – women-led businesses are often less risky, and more profitable than those of their male counterparts. Australian women are having enormous wins with businesses not just in fashion and HR, but in health, education, finance, engineering and more besides. If you want a strong portfolio, and you want to fast forward gender equality, make sure you’ve invested in women.”

Renece Brewster, CEO, Visual Domain and Portfolio CEO, Heads Over Heels: “To fast-track gender-equality, we need to be creating an equal environment for everyone – women and men alike. Equal pay, equal opportunities and equal flexibility. Backing this up by developing policies that support this are really important in fostering this kind of space.”

Brenton Charnley, CEO & Co-Founder Insurtech Australia: “Gender equality isn’t just about a ratio or a metric which reflects one point in time. While these can be helpful data points, they are retrospective. They do not represent the real-time changes needed by each of us to achieve gender equality. We can all ‘fast-track’ gender equality by taking responsibility for our gender equal decisions.

“There is a very accurate quote: ‘big business decisions are made by many people, making many small decisions in many rooms.’ Every day, we have an opportunity to make better and more considered gender equal and gender-neutral decisions. In every meeting, email and initiative, we can be cognisant of addressing inequality. Don’t just wait for the next Board meeting to take action. It will be too late.

“We can also fast-track gender equality by promoting flexibility around how our people work. The more flexible we are around work, the more equal opportunity we provide. This makes it easier to get the right person in the right role, at the right time and importantly, for the right remuneration.”

Valeria Ignatieva, Founder, DCC Jobs & Portfolio CEO, Heads Over Heels: “We’ve just released some 2017 highlights from DCC Endorsed Employers. Some common themes:

  • Provide equal amounts of paid parental leave to both primary and secondary carers. For example, DCC Endorsed Employers Zendesk (120+ staff in Australia) offer 16 weeks’ paid leave and Commoncode (30+ staff in Melbourne) offer 8 paid weeks to either carers.
  • Become a Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) Pay Equity Ambassador. DCC Endorsed Employer Laing O’Rourke is leading the construction industry by example, with 26 weeks’ paid parental leave for primary carers and their MD, Cathal O’Rourke a recently appointed Pay Equity Ambassador.
  • Pay superannuation on both the paid and unpaid portions of the parental leave. With the super gap for women widening to over 50%, this is a critical initiative with the following DCC Endorsed Employers supporting this: BHP, Thales, CommBank, NAB, BOQ, MYOB, City of Melbourne, Aurecon, Cbus, Holcim, Avanade Australia, AustralianSuper and Schneider Electric.”

Liz Rowell, Founder, Red Ark & Pipeline CEO, Heads Over Heels: “Hard as it is for business owners to navigate, workplace flexibility is the key to improving Gender Equality, and I mean that for men as well as women. Being able to work flexibly means women are not penalised for not working a 60-hour week, and they’re more positive about returning to work post baby because they and their partner can co-parent more efficiently. And frankly even the childless would really enjoy some time out to do other things than just work. So, a happier, healthier, more productive society overall.”


About “Let’s Talk…”

“Let’s Talk…” is an exciting weekly initiative that provides entrepreneurs and industry experts with a forum to share rapid-fire views on a range of issues that matter to start-ups and SMEs. Every Wednesday, we pose a themed question to a line-up of knowledgeable industry figures, with a view to picking their brains for valuable insights to share with you, our readers.