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Building cultures of equality in our workplaces

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Jennie Hickey |  06 March 2017


The theme for this year's International Women's Day is 'Be Bold For Change'. This involves an aspiration for action, assertiveness and urgency. Because the changes required are considerable, in number and in scope.

International Women's Day photo shows people in a circle with hands joined in solidarityIn the cover story of the SMH Business Day last weekend, Nassim Khadem talked with seven female board directors. These women spoke of the slowness and smallness of change that has occurred over recent decades regarding female equality in the workplace.

Statistics still reflect a 16 per cent gender pay gap. While there has been some movement of gender diversity on boards (25.3 per cent as at 31 January 2017), the ABS statistics as at August 2015 reveal that only 17 per cent of CEOs in Australian companies were women.

The attitudes that underpin such dire statistics run deep. In 2007 Shelley Correll, a professor of sociology at Cornell University in New York, studied hiring discrimination on the basis of parental status in 2007. Given the slowness of change in gender equity conditions, the study remains relevant a decade later.

In Correll's experiment, four resumes of identical condition were presented to nearly 200 participants to review and place in order of preference for interview. Of the four resumes presented, two were female and two were male; one of each gender was single and one was a family person.

The study found that the final rankings placed the male parent as the most appealing of the four, because he was seen to be more committed to paid work. Mothers were seen to be the least competent and committed to paid work.

If this is a cultural mindset of people who are in positions of hiring, what can be done to mitigate it?

The women in Khadem's article highlighted the need for companies to have a culture where bias, discrimination and poor behaviour are not tolerated and are named for what they are. They also spoke of a need for systems to be in place to provide protection for people they called whistleblowers.


"As we have seen vividly in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse, cultures of secrecy with a lack of processes for accountability can be disastrous."


We all play a role in shaping the cultures in which we live and work and we must continue to reflect on the contribution that we make individually and collectively. The more transparent our processes and procedures are, the more chance there is to promote a positive and healthy culture that is free of bias.

As we have seen vividly in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse, cultures of secrecy with a lack of processes for accountability can be disastrous. Yet calling out discriminatory behaviour requires courage and there must be systems of protection for those bold enough to speak up.

The International Women's Day website offers a range of concrete actions to mitigate against bias and inequality, to campaign against violence, forge women's advancement, celebrate women's achievement or champion women's education.

We are co-creators in an ever-renewing world and are therefore called to be agents of change, even though this change can be slow. To paraphrase Elie Wiesel, writer, professor, political activist, Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor, who died in July 2016, the opposite of love is not hate, it is apathy.

Let us be inspired this International Women's Day to overcome our apathy and be bold for change.


Jennie HickeyJennie Hickey is the Delegate for Education for the Australian Province of the Society of Jesus.


Jennie Hickey


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Submitted comments

Fantastic piece of writing! Thought provoking . . . Especially in today's culture of Post Truth.

Marie O'Riordan 09 March 2017

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