If you ask my daughter ‘who runs the world’ she will proudly shout ‘girls’.

But the statistics paint a different story. Women only represent 17.1% of CEOs and 31.5% of key management positions in Australia.

With each generation, we make great strides in equality for women, but we still have a long way to go.

In sectors such as aged care, we have a front-line workforce made up predominantly women. But speak to any aged care worker and they will say their role is ‘undervalued’ and ‘unpaid’.

And increasingly older women in Australia are the new face of poverty, with their life as a primary carer for the family setting back their superannuation and employment options later in life.

This International Women’s Day, we bring you insights from inspirational leaders who are shaping the way for the woman of the future and ask them ‘what more can we do to create a gender equal world.’

Julie Collins is the Shadow Minister for Ageing and Seniors and the Shadow Minister for Women. She has been a member of parliament since 2007, and in 2011 was appointed Minister for the Status of Women in the Gillard government.

Patricia Sparrow is the CEO of Aged and Community Services Australia. She has enjoyed an extensive career in many facets of aged care, and is a passionate advocate for older people and quality aged care.

Dr Erica Frydenberg is a Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia for significant service to psychology as a researcher, educator and adviser. She began her career as a teacher, and later worked in mental health. She then became a school psychologist, working in that role for 20 years. Since 1990 she has been working at The University of Melbourne, where she is now an Associate Professor.

Janice Chia, Founder & MD, Ageing Asia. Janice is on a mission to drive innovation in the way future generations age, by engaging the business community to create better products and services that will enable healthy ageing, independent ageing and dignified ageing. Janice has accumulated her vast experience from visiting 400 concepts and models from over 15 countries.

Four women in leadership, all doing very different things across the generations of time, to create an impact and change in their own special way.

Julie Collins MP, Shadow Minister for Ageing and Seniors and Shadow Minister for Women

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Are we closer to living in a ‘gender equal’ world?

Unfortunately Australia has slipped back again in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. Australia is now ranked at 44 out of 153 countries when it comes to gaps between men and women in health, education, work and politics. Clearly we have much more work to do to achieve gender equality in Australia.

What changes to gender equality have you seen during your career? 

I’m proud that during my time in Parliament, Labor has made incredible progress towards gender equality. Our caucus of Parliamentarians is close to being 50% women and of course we had our first female Prime Minister. 

What are the benefits of gender equality?

This equality means we are better able to reflect the views of all Australians and drive the policy changes that will benefit women.

Sometimes it can be hard for women who don’t conform to gender stereotypes – they may be told they are too bossy, too loud, or too competitive. What advice do you have for these women, and is this something you have encountered?

I have always found mentorship to be a powerful tool in helping to navigate gender based discrimination. My advice to young women is to seek out mentors who can assist in breaking down barriers.

What more needs to change before we can live in a truly gender equal society?

We have much more to do to forge gender equality. This includes closing the gender pay gap, ending violence against women and ensuring financial security for all. This is particularly important for older women – sadly we know this group is the fastest growing cohort of homeless Australians and suffer elder abuse at higher rates than men.

Patricia Sparrow, CEO ACSA

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Are we closer to living in a ‘gender equal’ world?

I think in some ways we are living in a more gender-equal world, and in other ways we’re not. There have been strides, but I think if we look at some of the commentary recently around domestic violence and sexual harassment, we’re not. There’s been some gains but, in ways, there’s a long way to go.

What changes to gender equality have you seen during your career? 

I think there’s more general awareness and acceptance of women in the workplace and we’re seeing more women in senior roles. There’s still a smaller number, but we’re seeing more female CEOs and more senior female staff which is good.

But overall there are a lot of women working in aged care where the caring part of the profession is underpaid. That’s partly aged care and partly because it’s seen as women’s work.

What are the benefits of gender equality?

Gender equality makes a better society overall, and, as a result of that, a better workplace. I think really all we want is equality. It still has to be based on merit, but we want that equality, and not to be discriminated against.

Sometimes it can be hard for women who don’t conform to gender stereotypes – they may be told they are too bossy, too loud, or too competitive. What advice do you have for these women, and is this something you have encountered?

I’ve sometimes heard myself called a ‘difficult woman’ and told that I’m too bossy. Yes, that happened to me, and it sometimes still does. You just have to ignore them and be yourself. We should always take constructive criticism on board about our performance, but we shouldn’t allow anyone to tell us that you have to change because of who you are. I don’t think males get told they’re too loud or strong or bossy.

What more needs to change before we can live in a truly gender equal society?

We are still talking about attitudinal and behavioural change, and it’s not just about men. I was having a great conversation recently where people were saying sometimes females (also have to change). I remember when I was a working mum, the stay-at-home mums sometimes thought that wasn’t very good and I’d get cranky with the stay-at-home mums.

I think it’s about attitudes more generally and accepting people for who they are and valuing them for who they are.

Erica Frydenberg, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne

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Are we closer to living in a ‘gender equal’ world?

It is a changed world from when I began my career, so equality has to be legislated for today. Single person and single parent households have become much more the norm and protections need to be in place for job security and job continuity.

For me, gender equality means equality of opportunity in education and career choices. In my world, we have reached gender equity in those regards. If we look globally, it is not the case. There is a lot to do for women outside our homes and neighbourhoods.

What changes to gender equality have you seen during your career? 

I attended an all-girls school and with female leaders as role models I always felt that anything was possible. It was up to my abilities and motivation.

In 1967, when I was married overseas and wanted to keep my maiden name (Strauss) it was fine for a short time, but as we travelled more and passports and hotel reservations were required, it became uncomfortable and complicated. This would not happen today. It is a common occurrence to keep your maiden name and travel with a partner holding a different name.

As a school teacher, I was told my skirt was too short and as a Department of Education psychologist in 1970, when my first child was born, I had to resign, but I returned to work as soon as I wished.

With a continuous active work life for over five decades, I did not feel impacted by inequality. There were plenty of opportunities for employment, so while I did not have employment for a very short time – a matter of weeks – I was able to work. 

Sometimes it can be hard for women who don’t conform to gender stereotypes – they may be told they are too bossy, too loud, or too competitive. What advice do you have for these women, and is this something you have encountered?

I have worked for both male and female bosses. Sometimes the relationships were easy and at other times less so. It was not so much about the gender of the boss, but their relationships with me or their employees. If I had to generalise, it is the insecure boss who posed the most problem for me.

What more needs to change before we can live in a truly gender equal society?

We must raise boys and girls to appreciate both themselves and each other, in other words, to appreciate all living things and the unique or contrasted qualities regardless of gender – difference is okay.

 

Janice Chia, Founder  & MD, Ageing Asia Singapore.

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Are we closer to living in a ‘gender equal’ world?

Definitely we are getting closer with each generation. Today, we no longer think along the lines of “I can’t do this because of my gender”. As individuals, gender does not prevent us from pursuing our aspirations. However, as a society, there are occasions that gender bias is imposed upon us.

What changes to gender equality have you seen during your career? 

I have never been made to feel that my gender limits me in my career and life aspirations.

People are not judged by their gender, they are judged by their impact, contributions and passion.

Sometimes it can be hard for women who don’t conform to gender stereotypes – they may be told they are too bossy, too loud, or too competitive. What advice do you have for these women, and is this something you have encountered?

Be yourself, be confident and follow your dreams. I call it being assertive and knowing what I want.

What more needs to change before we can live in a truly gender equal society?

The media can help to drive a positive change and to enable a truly gender equal society. The imagery of how gender is portrayed impacts how society views gender.

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