What’s your 50 per cent?

11 March 2019

With International Women’s Day last week, our Acting CEO Steve Quilter explains why the day exists and what we can all do to make a change for the better.

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

IWD was first celebrated in 1911, with more than one million women (and men) attending IWD rallies to campaign for women’s right to work, to vote, to be trained, to hold public office and to end discrimination.

Today, more than 100 years later, the issues are similar, just more contemporary.

According to a 2019 survey by The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership and Kings College London, which surveyed 18,000 men and women across 27 countries (including Australia), the top three important issues facing women are:

  1. Domestic Abuse.
  2. Sexual Violence.
  3. Equal pay.

The survey then asked which actions were most important in helping to achieve equality between men and women.

  1. Employers paying women the same as men for the same work. (Aus 33% picked this out);
  2. Tougher laws to end violence and harassment against women (Aus 26%); and
  3. Educating boys and girls about the importance of gender equality in schools (Aus 28%).

Achieving pay parity

When you think about it, the third issue (unequal pay) is the easiest to address and I’m proud to say that at Stanwell we have identified the issue and taken steps to resolve it. 

Our focus on unequal pay was not a one off either – the pay of men and women in equal roles is monitored annually and will be adjusted if there is found to be a discrepancy that can’t be explained by any other reasonable measure. I’m proud to say that in the first year, we adjusted 17 salaries of women across our workforce. I’m even prouder of the fact that in the review this year, only one adjustment was required.  We are also doing a lot to support Stanwell women who want to take time out to raise or start a family

The issues of domestic abuse and sexual violence are not so straightforward to fix or change.  We’ve heard here before the shocking statistic that one female dies each week in Australia as a result of or at the hands of her current or former partner.

It begins with each of us

I personally think that the third action – educating boys and girls about gender equality in schools – is the action more likely to succeed than tougher penalties for violence perpetrators.   People don’t stop committing crimes because they are worried about the penalty – they commit them because they think they’ll get away with it.

Educating people is about changing attitudes.

And we don’t have to leave it to schools – we can be the ones who educate our kids.

In my family of two boys (8 and 12) and one girl (10), the boys know that hitting their sister is unacceptable, and the reasons why it’s not OK.  And the reverse is true – it’s not OK for my daughter to be physical against her brothers either. There are tough penalties, but unfortunately that doesn’t always stop it from happening. Kids will be kids. But I won’t give up. This is important to me, and on the rare times that it does happen, I take the opportunity to explain why it must not. And then apply the tough penalties!

Together, we can also be mindful about perpetrating gender stereotypes. I’m not talking about what toys kids play with, or not wearing pink or blue, but rather what roles each gender has around the house.  At my house, we have a job roster that rotates. It’s not divided into girl’s and boy’s jobs.  Whoever washes the car still gets the same amount of cash! (You should have heard my eight-year-old complain when he realised the money was actually connected to doing the work. He found out the hard way that no work, equals no pay).

We can also be careful of the language that we choose to use, around our kids, our families and workmates.  I’ll admit to having previously been in the anti P.C. “world gone crazy” camp at a previous stage in my life.  But when you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes you quickly realise the power of words, both positive and negative.

I’ve taken a personal pledge to avoid the use of the word “guys” when addressing or referring to a group of people.  I don’t really care if some people think it’s a generic or universal term– I will do my best not to use it. 

It’s easy to be dismissive and say “they’re only words”, but the truth is we don’t always know what is going on in other people’s worlds.  We don’t know their past experiences, how they’ve been treated, the struggles they’ve endured and overcome. So why add to their pain, insecurity, burden or struggle by using language that perpetrates gender, racial or any other sort of discrimination?

“Stick to your knitting”

Many years ago, I recall sitting with a graduate engineer and a senior technical expert (a visitor to our organisation) onsite one day, ready to launch into a discussion on coal pulverisers. Just before we started, the visiting technical expert leant over and said to our female graduate, “it’s alright, you can just stick to your knitting”.  I don’t recall if he took the extra step of patronising further by adding an affectionate “love” to the end of that statement, but I do recall being stunned and shocked.  I did take it up with him after and I vaguely recollect an apology being made.   Imagine how that felt for our colleague at the completion of her engineering degree, which she achieved with first class honours. Luckily it didn’t stop her and she now works as a senior engineer, for a major electricity company, leading a team of other engineers.

That was over ten years ago and whilst we have hopefully moved past that point, ‘hope’ is not a strategy or a plan. To really make change, it takes a concerted action.

Even though it is International Women’s day today, it doesn’t mean that we have to leave all the change effort to women.  In the safety language of ZIP, ask yourself, male or female, “what’s my 50 per cent?”. What am I going to do to change those top three issues facing women in Australia today?