International Women’s Day 2016

I was fortunate to be selected to be profiled at the Swinburne International Women’s’ Day event this year. I was one of 20 staff and students being celebrated. I felt humbled, and to be honest, a little like I perhaps wasn’t worthy of being celebrated. Had I done enough? Was I really that special? (queue, imposter syndrome…)

The Swinburne Event occurred the day prior to the actual IWD on 8 March and it was held in the Hawthorn Town Hall. It was a gorgeous location where the old hall had been expertly lit for the occasion, highlighting some of the granfullsizerenderd feature of the hall. The event commenced with the exhibition of 20 photographs and ‘bios’ for the profiled women. This was followed by the formal event and a panel of five speakers, each of them reflecting on their career and roles in relation to what had contributed to their success. What they all held in common was the influence of family. Each of the four women presenting suggested that they hadn’t actually perceived being a women was ever a barrier in their careers. They were highly motivated and goal-orientated. Often this is a similar reflection held by other successful women – the Australian Foreign Minister among them.

Attending this event, I had an issue that was vexing me. When I asked a panel at at the launch of a Geelong women in manufacturing event last week – how do we get more women into leadership roles?, the answers were…mentoring. This stuck me as unsatisfactory because is is a micro action, often led at an individual level. While I think mentoring is excellent, I don’t believe that it will address this systemic problem of a lack of female participation and representation at senior levels. I just don’t believe that the problem is a result of a lack of talent. It is an institutional problem that can’t be solved by mentoring alone.

Professor Robert Wood provided an engaging presentation which provided insights to his early family life and the influence of his mother, through to his work on unconscious (gender) bias. Robert provided me with a more satisfactory answer to my concern of getting women into leadership roles. He is a firm believer of quotas. To paraphrase Robert, he said, “there is absolutely no evidence that gender quotas result in sub-standard appointments. Rather, it is a lack of creative strategy”. The quota policy needs to be strongly supported by senior leadership. I say strongly as I often hear the arguments why quotas should not be implemented. A senior leader needs to weather these arguments and hold firm to this kind of policy. Strategic policies such as quotas will have a much bigger and immediate impact on leveling the ‘playing field’ (to use a common sporting parlance) for women’s participation in senior management roles. Individual and institutional wide mentoring programmes complement this policy, working at a grassroots level. Robert provided me with the answer I was looking for and more importantly, he had the scientific evidence to back up the statement on the success of quotas. Hurrah for his work on unconscious bias! I think quotas along with ‘male champions for change’ can have a huge impact on rectifying our unequal representation in organisations.

I was greatly moved by the singing of Maroochy Barambah, who is the songwoman and Law-woman of the Turrbal People. As she sang her first song, the young children from a local Aboriginal school, sitting at the back, stood, respectfully. The remainder of the audience, perhaps not noticing this act or protocol befitting a senior elder, remained seated. This left me feeling slightly uncomfortable that perhaps I was neglecting an act of respect, but given my lack of knowledge on Aboriginal culture, I remained seated and simply enjoyed Maroochy’s singing. Her contribution to the event made it truly special.

At the conclusion of the presentations, I wandered out to the exhibition and forced myself to view my own profile and photograph. I realised that every

swinburne_profiles

The Women of Swinburne photographic exhibition

one has a story, including myself. These stories are powerful and often it is events or influences outside the workplace that have a big role in how we perform in our careers. I was absolutely humbled to have been selected to participate in the Swinburne event, and be recognised as one of the women of Swinburne. It was a fantastic event celebrating women and I will be certain to attend it in the future. It is going to be a great week.

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