If women are to make further progress in Queensland to close the gender gap, we have to work to ensure the conversation is inclusive as we openly and honestly look at bias. Because the reality is that without men championing the cause, the push for equality will never be successful. Brisbane, some will tell you, remains very much “an old boy’s club” with an individual’s career trajectory determined to a large extent by what school they went to. If we are to really drive change and close the gender gap, we need to push past old school tie networks and draw the conversation more towards merit. “I hear people, mainly men, say that we have made good progress in closing the gender gap, but this flies in the face of the facts,” Elizabeth Jameson, Founder and Managing Director at Board Matters said. “We need champions of change – both men and women – because this is an issue which creates problems for both men and women. This is not a problem for women alone.”
If there were any doubts that the gender gap continues to be alive and well, one need look no further than the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, which measured the progress 144 countries had made towards gender parity across four areas: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. Australia is ranked 35th on the 2017 list, an improvement from 2016’s ranking of 46th but still lagging well behind our 2006 ranking of 15th. In terms of closing the gender gap, the report shows Australia has fallen behind Rwanda (4), Namibia (13), South Africa (19), Latvia (20), Mozambique (29) and The Philippines (10). Looking at individual geographic areas, East Asia and the Pacific are expected to take some 161 years (at current trends and pace) to close the gender gap. North America is the only region expected to take longer, at 168 years.
Robin Francis, President of the Brisbane Women’s Club and leadership consultant with policy and change management company Ithaca Group, said Queensland was a strong example of women in key leadership roles in the government and not-for-profit sectors, but not in the business sector. “If you look at the Queensland Government, we are winning at closing the gender gap hands down compared with other states,” Robin said. “Almost 48 per cent of the Queensland Cabinet are women. “We have a female Premier, Deputy Premier and treasurer, a female Attorney General and a Chief Justice who is a woman. We recently had a female head of the Queensland Court of Appeal and a female head of the Department of Public Prosecutions. “We currently have, and have had, more women in senior professional roles in law and government than we see in the major capitals of Sydney and Melbourne.”
Despite this level of political power women are wielding, there continues to be a level of systematic unconscious bias which permeates much of the Brisbane business sector. Unconscious biases are those we are not aware we hold but which affect are decision-making. “The Queensland Government was able to increase female representation on government boards in Queensland in just 18 months from 37 per cent to 42 per cent because of its commitment to equal representation,” Robin said. “This was successful because the State Government set a target to work towards. “I am optimistic that the winds of change are in the air. And that includes making sure men are a key part of the conversation and ensuring senior women are taking an interest in the careers of younger women and mentoring them, introducing them to key leaders and helping them get to a point where they can compete equally.”
“Gender parity is fundamental to whether and how economies and societies thrive,” the report stated. “Ensuring the full development and appropriate deployment of half the world’s talent pool has a vast bearing on growth, competitiveness and future-readiness of economies and businesses. With International Women’s Month drawing to a close, four Brisbane businesswomen are speaking out about their experiences with gender inequality and the #PressforProgress campaign: Georgia Henry, CEO of Organisation Culture Consultancy HENRY REED and a Director of Brisbane Women’s Club; Cathie Reid, co-founder of Icon Group; Robin Francis, President of the Brisbane Women’s Club; and Elizabeth Jameson, Founder and Managing Director at Board Matters.