#IWD2023: What it means to advocate for gender equity
Melbourne Business School’s leaders, academics and students discuss challenges and steps towards embracing equity for women in the workplace.
How can leaders and individuals be effective advocates for gender equity within their organisations? What are the hurdles towards creating an equitable environment for women? And how can men be effective allies for women in business?
Ahead of International Women’s Day 2023, the Melbourne Business School community gathered to discuss how far gender equity has come in the workplace and the long road still ahead. To catch excerpts of their conversations, watch the video or read the transcript below.
Dr Jill Klein, Professor of Marketing: One thing that we know about why gender equity is so important in organisations is the research that shows that companies perform better. The more women that they have, then the closer they get to gender parity.
Dr Jody Evans, Associate Professor of Marketing: The notion of the theme this year for International Women's Day being gender equity is where we get to why we are not at equality. Because equity, that's about fairness, that's about meeting people's needs where they're at and really acknowledging some of the systemic issues that make equality hard and make equity a really important agenda for every organisation.
Prof Klein: You might be convinced that it's unfair, but you don't walk around every day thinking, ‘Wow, I'm benefitting from a system that favours me over other people.’ You’re just not thinking about that for yourself. And so, you know, when you start talking about changing things, people who have had things going well for them, they don't necessarily want to change. We don't necessarily want to change when things are going well.
Assoc Prof Evans: For most organisations, the challenge is moving from the intent and the rhetoric to real action and not just at the edges. And that requires major rethinking of organisational systems and structures.
Prof Klein: So I think one thing that that is good for us to keep in mind is we have come a long way. There's still a long way to go, but I'm old enough to have seen what it was like before, and, you know, my generation coming into academia, but also in the corporate world, was we had to be like men.
We had to be like men to get in. And we wouldn't have thought for a second about asking for things to be any different for us, because that would have fed right into the stereotypes and the prejudice of the times.
Dr Nora Koslowski, Chief Learning Innovation Officer: I have certainly experienced this as a millennial woman in my career so far. I've experienced that sometimes as a woman, you're encouraged to be more assertive, you're encouraged to be less female, be more male. And I think one uncomfortable truth that we're starting to see is that, that is actually not the way to solve for it.
The way to solve for equity is not for women to become more like men. The way to solve for it is — and again this is another uncomfortable truth — is by being brave.
Dr Ian Harper, Dean and Professor of Economics: So what's the task for the leader? It's safe. Right? There are no wrong answers. No one's, you know, and what's more, if that did happen and somebody [said it]. Well, ‘Hang on a second. No, no. Back up. I want to hear what the person has to say.’ And that can happen, I think, at any level of the organisation where people can say, ‘Well, when we haven't heard from, you know, X or Y, male or female’ for that matter.
Dr Koslowski: Gender equity is an issue we have to solve for together. And that means we have to listen to different voices, uncomfortable as they may be. So, it's about how can we actually have a real conversation and engage with each other's points of view rather than shaming or writing off. That's the first step: Just actually make it possible to have the conversation.
Isabella Gimenez-Jones, President, Women in Management Club: I believe that the way men can start helping or supporting women is, first of all, understanding what kind of support the women around you need because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to anything.
And the person around the women around you, they may want your feedback. They may want you to advocate for their project. They may we don't know what the help that they need.
So, first of all, get to know the people around you and understand what they need specifically.
May Wong, President, Student Representative Council: The first step really is to genuinely learn about women and the struggles that we face. And you genuinely want to advocate. And I feel like even by not taking concrete actions, but because of your commitment, when you genuinely want to help, it shows.
Prof Harper: I think that allies are people or nations who are deliberately seeking to help each other to achieve common goals. They don't have to think the same about every issue, but they are committed to one another's welfare and to joint objectives.
So, I think about male allyship as males helping women to address the issues that are raised by gender equity. And the opposite also, that men as an ally, I want to learn from my female colleagues, to come back to the earlier illustration about safety, and this is not something that most men think about, right? But the notion that some of my senior female colleagues indicate that is sort of shocking. Now I need to learn that so that I can support.
And similarly, there are things about a male perspective, all aspects of us doing things where I feel as though I'm not going there because I might offend someone. I need a female woman colleague to say, ‘No, no, no, that's okay. Just, you know, steer here or deal with this or make sure you do.’
That type of thing is where allies are helping each other to deal with a problem that as society wide, as organisational wide, we are moving from the place that we've been to another place and we need to do that together. Otherwise, all we do is end up still being apart.
Assoc Prof Evans: It is important on International Women's Day to still be optimistic. What International Women's Day does for me is it helps remind me of people who've advocated for me. I use International Women's Day of ‘Who do I want to say thank you to?’
And it's a mixture. It's a mixture of people. It's not all women, but it's people who have advocated for me at times when I possibly wouldn't have done that for myself.
And I'm really grateful for the times that they have lifted me up when I hadn't done that for myself.
Prof Klein: Yeah, I think that's definitely true. And it's something that we continue to work on. But the idea of gratitude for people who have helped us along the way and to use International Women's Day as a reminder to thank those people, I'm going to go back and send a few emails after this.