Empowered women empower women

Cate Blanchett Cannes

"The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights."

Gloria Steinem

There is a strong business imperative for enabling the participation of women in the workforce. While 60% of bachelor, graduate diploma and postgraduate degrees are earned by women, there are more men called John than there are women in top roles in Australian businesses.

So what happens to all of that female talent?

The lion’s share of the responsibility for unlocking the potential of this talented workforce undoubtedly rests with workplace leaders.

But the impetus is on all of us to address the structural and stylistic barriers that make women’s advancement and participation so difficult.

This requires a complete audit of the impact and effects of discrimination within our own organisations, ensuring there is a clear business case for achieving gender parity, modelling the behaviours and values required to create an inclusive culture, and establishing a zero tolerance policy for discriminatory behaviours.

Practical measurements such as up-skilling managers, combined with a mindset which promotes workplace flexibility and manages pregnancy as an event in employees’ careers, can be hugely empowering to male and female employees alike.

How are you using your empowerment?

The benefits of female participation in the workplace extend beyond the business case: it’s deeply personal.

For those of us in workplaces which have instilled these practices and behaviours, we must also ask ourselves how we are using our empowerment to empower others around us?

For in the fight for gender equality, our goal will not be achieved if we work in silos. We must remember the experiences of one are not the experiences of all. White women, for example, do not experience the same barriers to workforce participation, as Indigenous women - the unemployment rate for indigenous is almost four times higher than non-indigenous. And culturally, while non-European and Indigenous backgrounds make up an estimated 24% of the Australian population, such backgrounds account for only 5 per cent of senior leaders.

The empowerment of one woman has the potential to unlock the potential of any number of women she is connected to - in work and in our community. Our ability to play a visible role in cultivating a transparent and safe culture empowers our fellow employees to speak up about bias and discrimination.

When we use our empowered voices - as Cate Blanchett, Kirsten Stewart, Ava DuVernay, Lea Seydoux & Khadja Nim did this week at Cannes - to speak up and exercise our own freedoms, we can also advocate for a world in which others can experience the same.  

When we empower others can we foster and grow a pipeline of empowered and engaged female talent in the workplace; at all levels of seniority.

So as we rise, let us ensure we leave no woman behind.

Prue Gilbert