Feminism isn’t a dirty word, although these days you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Feminism, for all its complexities, is at its core a simple desire for gender based equality. Easy. While the answer as to how equality is achieved, and why inequality exists in the first place, is complex, the very core of being feminist is not. We would assume, based on this definition that most all people in our great nation would therefore identify as feminist. And to a more specific target, that people in the strata sector would.
But alas (in my opinion) not so much. There are those who believe equality has been achieved and are quick to declare feminism unnecessary. Although we know the pay gap has in fact widened and women continue to be highly outnumbered on boards and in executive roles. There are those who feel uncomfortable identifying with concepts of feminism – linking the idea to ‘man hating’ and, more recently perhaps, arm-pit-hair-colouring (although, high five to those who want to do this!). And in the realm of strata management there seems to be a fear that having open and honest dialogue about gender equality in such a sector specific forum will bring negativity and criticism.
Gender inequality in Australia is real and it would be both remiss and naïve of us to think that strata exists outside of this national trend. That’s not to say the bias is conscious or that we aren’t seeing improvement. But it is real. The most important step, the one thing we can all do to facilitate positive and rapid change is to acknowledge. There is no suggestion of placing blame. There is no finger pointing at the ‘evil, men-lead corporate machine’. There is no inherent belief among the women who support WiS that the problem is with the opposite sex. But there are questions we need to ask, and answer honestly. Such as, why aren’t there more women in senior management and executive roles within our sector?
Lack of confidence was identified by a core group of people (that did include men) at a recent WiS workshop. This is reflected in studies on inequality throughout various professions. The focus then, we assume is on asking why that lack of confidence exists while at the same time providing the tools, resources and support to the many talented women in our sector to be confident. If we can work together as a sector to actively, meaningfully and consciously instill confidence in the women we work with, we all benefit. Women on boards makes good business sense.
Supporting women is not about removing support from, or placing blame on, men. The goal is to have the men on board with the women. It’s an acknowledgement that women have fought harder, and for now, continue to have to have to fight for the same privileges afforded their male counterparts. Supporting women is about giving them the tools to have that fight, the confidence to put their hands up and say ‘I want that job’ and the platform on which to stand. All in the hope, that one day, the fight won’t exist.
Natalie Fitzgerald is a managing partner at Strata Sense and a member of the Women in Strata steering committee.