I attended a “Women in Leadership” panel at the Powerhouse Museum sponsored by Chief Executive Women for International Women’s Day (IWD) this past week. The panel featured Kathryn Fink, Allegra Spender MP, Jillian Broadbent with Janice Petersen as the host. I was super excited to be able to celebrate IWD and hear from a group of esteemed women. Unfortunately I found the panel quite bland. The answers seemed generic, rehearsed, and frankly nominal in the face of the topic. No specifics were given or discussed. And it didn’t leave me feeling particularly inspired. It did however make me think more deeply about IWD and what it means for me at this stage of my career, what advice I would give and what I’ve learnt, and how we actually talk about equity and equality. So, I’m sharing some tactical thoughts on the “how” rather than talking about “what”:
Know the difference between equity and equality. I think this is a pretty basic concept but just wanted to reiterate this as a building block for everything referenced.
Let’s start with pronouns. Whether that’s pronouns listed at the bottom of our email signatures, a sticker reiterating our pronouns on our laptops (I got this one at a conference and think it’s brilliant), or starting an introduction with your pronouns, being more inclusive overall helps everyone (a higher tide raises all boats). Also as a POC, that leaves less ambiguity with names and at least some sense of recognition (i.e. I won’t be called a male because someone is not familiar with the name Vinita)
Inclusive language for groups. “Team”, “y’all”, “all” – some examples of inclusive language when addressing others. Especially in our conversations now about AI, let’s do a text analysis of our emails to actually figure out how we can better change our language over time.
Gender pay gap statistics. This was mentioned at the panel, and essentially has to continue to make progress. On a national scale, Australia has a 13% gender pay gap, the US has a 18% pay gap (roughly,). Audits of wages on a yearly basis comparing similar positions between males and females is necessary. Women have roles that pay less (due to inequity) and thus we have to statistically take that into consideration as well.
Let’s teach our womxn about finance. I highly recommend the SmartPurse class as well as some of Rora’s negotiation classes. They specifically talk about how women have to handle money differently over the course of their lives due to children, menopause, emotional labor, etc. As an example, did you know that (in Australia) the company stops contributing to your Super (equivalent of 401k in the States) when you’re on maternity leave? Of course, we have a larger amount of maternity leave (policies now being passed to mandate a minimum of 20 weeks; many employers offer 1 year), but the longer time you’re away not working full-time, the more you’re losing out on your retirement – from a purely financial perspective. There’s other small things like being able to claim your (potentially fancy designer) bag that you use to carry your laptop to work as part of work expenses. Vivianne Castillo has also talked a bit about the difference between financial health and financial wellness (how you see money) that also helps shift mindsets.
Understanding to my financial health is an act of self-care for my present and future selfAs heard on one of Vivianne Castillo’s HmntyCntrd lectures
Stop asking us to do more free labor. Whether its emotional, mental, or physical, I am tired of corporate organisations asking more women to plan ERGs (employee resources groups, i.e. women’s network). Either carve out the time (aka reduce formal role responsibilities) for womxn to carry out the work (since it has equal value), or hire dedicated employees for culture work. This is a prime example of invisible labor and institutional betrayal due to moral injury.
Once you’re free, you’re expected to educate your oppressorAs heard on one of Vivianne Castillo’s HmntyCntrd lectures
Fair play at home. Role modelling for children more equitable behaviours in the home is one of the foundational building blocks of their emotional mindset towards shared responsibilities. If they see their parent(s) treating each other and themselves with respect, kindness, and consideration, they’re more likely to treat others that way. I recently read a book called Fair Play that outlined how a singular household task is broken down into three parts: conceive, plan and execute. Whenever a task is assigned, it has to include each of these three parts. However, women always take on the conceive part of the task, which leads to larger emotional and mental load. This book also breaks down household tasks into cards that can be assigned. Eye opener: (in a hetero relationship) when the man holds 21 cards or more, the household responsibilities feel fair. The first time I read that I was astonished that the bar was so low, but I suppose we have to start somewhere for equity.
Up talk. Stop saying sorry. I learned about uptalk a couple years ago and since then I’ve been reading a lot about research studies that show communication differences and power imbalance correlations. I realise I’ve been conditioned to apologise quite a bit and I venture to think (and from what I’ve read), many womxn do. Let’s change that. Let’s have the confidence of a middle-aged mediocre white man.
Imposter syndrome. I read this wonderful New Yorker article recently that talked about why people feel imposter syndrome. TLDR: due to the systemic issues in society, those that are not in power are made to feel lower so that they may continue at that station in life. 🤯
Don’t expect us to behave. I really struggle with people who expect womxn to fit in and behave while challenging the status quo. I will ruffle some feathers (you’re free to call me a larrikin), but that’s part of learning. We need to be anti-sexist, rather than just be “not sexist”. We may potentially have to get the pendulum to swing the other way to then come back to the middle. It’s not about getting to the table, but it’s about building the table.
There’s a balance between fighting the system and healing from the trauma. There is a concept of workforce fragility (also from Vivianne Castillo) that talks about how a person can’t just keep evangelising a cause the whole time – it’s exhausting, it’s traumatic after our own lived experiences. So sometimes, it’s ok to take a break and find a healing (vs coping) space.
Trust in others. As an ally, you can’t ever expect to be an expert in someone’s identity, but you can be an advocate. Also know where you stand on your matrix of oppression – it’s not a bad thing to understand where your privilege comes from.
Part of building these movements means finding a community that supports you. Here’s some I’ve come across:
Women Talk Design
Ladies that UX
Girls in Tech Australia