Non-discrimination and equality, including gender equality, are some of the many principles that unite Europe and Australia. This shared commitment is demonstrated in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index for 2017 in which Australia and EU member states occupy 16 of the top 35 global rankings.
Despite improvements in some areas, the report shows that the overall global gender gap – across the thematic dimensions of economic participation, education, health, and political empowerment – increased in 2017 and currently stands at 32%.
While progress is being made to close the health and education gender differential, the gaps between women and men in the areas of economic participation and political empowerment remain wide and appear to be worsening.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2018, the EU-Australia Leadership Forum (EUALF) spoke to a range of individuals who participated in the project’s inaugural Forum in Sydney last year.
EUALF alumna, Keeya-Lee Ayre, observes that the past year has been a very interesting one for gender relations, and cites the birth of the #metoo movement and greater visibility and discussion on issues such as gender parity as positive developments. Keeya-Lee, who currently leads marketing activities for a global programme working to accelerate the delivery and impact of digital humanitarian assistance, explains:
“I am personally grateful to see these conversations coming to the forefront of public discourse. I think most women had internalised misogyny around these issues, having seen how other women who had spoken out had been treated in the past. I am grateful now that this looks to be changing, and that maybe my future children can enter the world with more optimism and bravery than I had.”
Fellow EUALF alumnus Thom Dixon, who works in research engagement and impact at Macquarie University, agrees that the growing dialogue on gender parity is positive, but cautions against a ‘fix the women’ approach that fails to ‘fix the system’:
“I try to remain hopeful but the entire structure of society needs to evolve in order to balance the way women and men are valued. Too often, small surface-level wins cover over structural imbalances that remain stagnant and, in some cases, display a reverse in gender equity. Gender equity is not a zero-sum game, yet too often it is viewed this way and this skews our ability to enable change.”
Dr Orlaigh Quinn, who leads the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation in Ireland and is an alumna of the EUALF, says that one of the crucial factors which acts as an obstacle for women is, quite simply, opportunity:
“Women are not being selected for the roles that could help to accelerate their careers. Economic participation by women also appears to be particularly affected by caring responsibilities in the home, primarily for children. We need to support the step out and the step in – with good maternity benefits and supports in work that allow parents to take the time they need and to share family responsibilities. We have to value the fact that we need women to work and to contribute. We need to make things normal that up to now have not been.”
EUALF alumna Dr Lauren Palmer (pictured above) manages interdisciplinary research and policy projects that consider the economic, social, cultural and environmental perspectives of significant scientific and technological change. She emphasises that culture and behaviours won’t change without a greater awareness and understanding of the importance of diversity, our actions towards gender parity and actively listening to the ideas and suggestions of women and minorities. In this respect, Lauren believes that initiatives like the EU-Australia Leadership Forum have an important role to play:
“I was so pleased to see that the Emerging Leaders’ Forum had strong representation of women from all disciplines. Having this diversity in the room enabled different viewpoints to be shared and created a platform for robust discussions leading to innovative outcomes.”
This view was echoed by EUALF Team Leader and National Executive Director of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, Melissa Conley Tyler:
“The evidence is overwhelming that increased diversity leads to better results. Whenever we’re engaging in international dialogue we have to ensure we make space for diverse voices to contribute.”
Dr Orlaigh Quinn adds:
“We need to use this type of forum to inspire, influence and ignite women in leadership – who will in turn reach their hands out and encourage and inspire future female leaders.”
The topic of ‘Women in Leadership’ will be included as a key roundtable discussion topic at the next Leadership Forum which is taking place later this year.
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