Influencing Change – Advancing Gender Equality
22 March 2024

Associate Principal Teagan Collins kicks off our Thought Leadership series this year with a compelling perspective on Gender Equity.

Over the past few weeks, I have been reflecting on the joy and celebration International Women’s Day brings. With the theme Invest in Women and accelerate progress, we amplified and uplifted women’s voices along with their depth of character and contribution to fields far and wide. Despite positive examples of courage and achievement I couldn’t help but lose heart with the timing of the Workplace Gender Equality Act’s pay discrepancies and the tragic stories of many women continuing to lose their lives at the hand of gender-based violence.  

It is days like these that remind us how far true gender equality is from our reach. Whilst there have been many positive outcomes and significant pockets of progress, such as the progression in women’s leadership, the gender pay gap is still prominent and there still seems at times an insurmountable mountain to climb to achieve true gender equality. It is influenced by discrimination and systematic organizational biases in hiring practices as well as pay decisions, domination of the female workforce in industries that attract lower wages, a disproportionate share of females completing unpaid caring and domestic duties, lack of flexibility in the workplace particularly pertaining to senior roles and workplace exits and re-entries impacting progression and opportunity. In 2023, a study highlighted there are more CEO’s named John than those who are women. At the time of research, there were four male CEO’s named John, Robert, William, or James, to every one female. Perhaps you can sense my frustration, despite a firm belief and knowing, change will come.   

As an optimist, I am often not prepared to admit that the system is flawed. Compounding this is my circumstance – one that is incredibly positive. Every day I live and work in an environment that supports girls and women, despite age, gender, ethnicity, or culture. However, I recognize that this is a privileged situation and forms a specific bias, influenced by workplace norms, settings, and trends within the education system more broadly. These working conditions should not be exceptional, they should be the status quo.  

I am often asked and reflect on – can we influence systemic change? I along with many others have a desire to embrace what we can do to ultimately empower all women and girls. For many years, significant research into the structural and engrained behaviors pertaining to issues of gender and inequality has occurred and continues to be explored. By no means is this new ground. There are, however, common themes and emerging solutions that can be embraced by all – regardless of size or scale.  

This is what we can embrace, when we feel as though systemic change is too hard to influence or too far from our reach.  

  1. Building a societal understanding and culture of speaking up and upstanding against harassment, biases, and discrimination. This is crucial for ongoing development, particularly in many parts of the world where violence against women is so deeply engrained that it almost becomes invisible.  
  2. Embracing a deep knowing that diversity is ‘good for business’. Making diversity a priority and actively pursuing it must be the resolve of all leaders.  
  3. Investing in keeping women in the workplace through policies and practices that improve carers leave and redesign parental leave, rather than waiting for top-down reform.  

These key areas continue to permeate discussions and issues of gender. Individuals, groups, businesses, sporting clubs and community groups can all act, make decisions and influence a speak up culture, diversity, and policy change.  

Despite the challenges and systemic issues, I remain hopeful. I see strength in the next generation and in our current graduates moving out into the workforce and society at large – strength in their conviction, strength in their knowing, strength in their inclusion and diversity and a thirst for equity and equality. Most recently, evidence of systemic shifts lies alongside the Matildas and Chanelle Contos. The Matildas’ triumph attracted global audiences, sponsorship, media attention and a ground swell far beyond the imaginable. Chantel Contos advocated for the rights of Australian schoolgirls, snowballing into real and tangible organisational shifts in the delivery of consent education. Finally, I see many women and allies holding a positive narrative pertaining to change. So yes, my optimism remains buoyant as I see many women advocating for self and for those who cannot, despite the work that remains. Our resolve must be, above all else, to empower the women around you.