Why are we still tiptoeing?
Let’s stomp right in there, crunch those egg shells, and call it out for what it is … absolutely unacceptable and a gob-smacking embarrassment for Australians that inequitable treatment and misogynistic comments are still prevalent at the highest levels in our country.
I’m a proud and practicing feminist [in the true sense of the word – advocate for equal gender rights, treatment and choices] … but if it makes you feel more comfortable, call me an egalitarian, a women’s libber, a sisterhood supporter … I really don’t care how you label it. For me, it’s just simply about equal choices and equal opportunities for both women and men to reach their full potential.
It’s a no brainer. Like ‘love is love’ - equality is equality. And yet – we’re not there yet.
For many years, I have been a passionate advocate and support for women to lean into decision making tables and step up into lead roles, through my facilitation of Lean In Circles and establishment of the ElevateHER – Leadership Community. Not with the intent to push out or exclude men from lead roles; it’s all about promoting inclusion – both genders. Addressing the gender imbalance in leadership.
Being a feminist doesn’t make me a man-hater. I love men [one significantly deeper than others]. Like my colleagues, I admire good men, caring men, supportive men … those men who make wonderful equal partners, who strive to be role-models and mentors to others – males and females alike. Honourable, authentic, genuine, engaging men who know that they lose nothing by lifting women up; instead they gain immense depth in relationships and success in workplaces by encouraging women to reach their full potential.
Equal partners, equal colleagues, supportive organisations. Why is this still so hard for some to put in to practice?
Now, it's fair to say I’ve been around several blocks over five decades, but I've never been a protest marcher. My earliest memory of rising up to question gender inequality, was when my only flexible options for Junior subject choices was cooking or sewing classes. Yes, I knew at 13 years of age, that I was never going to spend my spare time being stuck in a kitchen or in front of a sewing machine. I was NOT going to be like my 1950s model, home-maker mother.
My dad was a builder and I was far more interested in drawing house plans, dreaming up interior designs, and creating colourful wallpaper patterns. Yes, it was the late 70s. Beige, boring or anything to do with baking, did not feature in my plans. So, at 13, I marched up to the Principals Office, requested to be allowed to do Technical Drawing [a ‘boys only’ subject – because only boys make good architects and designers, right?], and stated my case about such gender bias.
Of course, it made no difference at the time and I still had to bake an ‘assessment’ cake; I recall mine was the flattest tea cake in the class [more on that story in my upcoming book]. Maybe my questioning had some small impact, as the subject line choices became more flexible a few years later.
My point is … this was decades ago.
Why are we still having International Women’s Day themes entitled: #PressForProgress?
I knew way back then that whatever different jiggly bits I had from the neck down, made absolutely no difference to how I used my brain and what I wanted to do with my life. I knew back then that career and life choices were mine to make. But, what I didn’t factor in, was the push back, guilt shaming, stone-walling, and fearful self-protectionism behaviours [from men and women] that I’d have to push through or step around for decades … AND what’s worse? - I never imagined that we would still be having to push through that same stuff 40 years later!
Why? Australia is up there at the top when it comes to numbers and levels of highly educated women graduating from our universities; BUT we’re ranked 50th in the world for female representation in lead roles.
In our current ruling party – the Liberals; women make up just 22 percent in Federal Parliament. That’s a long way from 50/50 equality, and there’s no real strategy to improve on that any time soon. Since 2015, 13 Liberal MPs have retired from their representative seats, and male candidates have been chosen to replace all but two of them.
Bringing it closer to home … here’s 3 very recent OMG examples I learned of just this week:
1. In a coaching discussion, I was made aware of some entrenched boys-club behaviour from executive levels in a prominent state government department. One example was when male top dog takes leave, he gives a male staffer from 3 levels below the relief acting role [on more than one occasion], despite there being several females who sit either at similar levels in other sections, or one level down; who have expressed interest in being given this opportunity.
2. A group of middle management females with leadership aspirations, across several government departments, have started meeting together to support each other’s progression journey. Discussing program proposals, I was told not to call it ‘leadership development for women’ as it would likely NOT be supported by the decision makers at head shed [predominately male]. ‘Diversity training for Middle Managers’ was more likely to be supported, as long as a compelling case was made outlining the specific need for it [facts backed by data], and overall benefits.
3. A high achieving professional woman working for a large, profitable international company, applied for minimal leave to attend our ElevateHER Retreat [focused on helping women step up, stand out, and speak up], but her time off to travel either side of the weekend event was not granted. Her immediate boss is male, as is the entire Board of Directors.
Why are we still accepting of these responses? Who’s in denial here? Do we really have to keep showcasing examples like above, to prove that this bias is still happening?
With International Women’s Day this month, it’s no wonder that some question: what are we actually celebrating? Perhaps the focus could be less on celebrating, and more about collaborating, challenging the status quo together, and supporting each other to push for greater progress.
There’s never been a better time than now to rise up together and say: not good enough.
Women may have been speaking up for decades about inequality and biases, but now, like never before - they are being listened to - globally, with a renewed wave of activism spreading around the world; campaigns like #metoo, #timesup, and Lean In founder - Sheryl Sandberg’s recent launch of the #MentorHer Campaign. Social Media use at it's best.
Sure, one lone voice complaining about bias or harassment in her workplace may be easily discounted as ‘over-reacting’ by those with vested interested in keeping the status quo. BUT, it’s hard to ignore or question the legitimacy of hundreds and thousands of women coming together to state: not good enough. Not just on International Women’s Day but continuously. Collectively.
Surely, we don’t have to keep proving that this is still happening. Surely, there is enough research, reporting and reliable data to show that gender bias is not a figment of a few feminists imagination. It’s real.
So, it’s time for real action. An uprising from both men and women to flush out inappropriate behaviours carried out within communities, groups, organisations and even by their peers. Conscious or unconscious bias … it’s still wrong and unacceptable in this day and age. Inaction simply condones the status quo.
Let’s make 2018 the year we stop tiptoeing around organisational politics and challenging conversation eggshells. Let’s link arms, put on our heels, stomp about, step up, stand out, and speak up for equal choices, equal opportunities, and 50/50 gender balance in leadership roles.
Let’s press together for real progress.
Written by Jilinda Lee - MMgt, CMgr FIML, CAHRI
Change Champion, Leadership Coach, OD Strategist, Writer, Speaker … Founder and Managing Director of Vital Leaders, Founder of ElevateHER - Leadership Community,Facilitator of ElevateHER - Lean In Chapter, and passionate inspirer of dynamic, game-changing leaders.