Would the REAL future leaders please stand up?

By Anmol Saini, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program and UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship recipient

4702 UN WOMEN SCHOLARSHIP AMNOL SAINIThere is a distinct buzz in the air in the lead up to International Women’s Day (IWD) each year. Stories and statistics about women and gender equality surround us in the news, magazines and social media – the good, the bad and the ugly. Numerous events are held during the week of 8 March in every corner of the country and around the world. So what exactly is all this hype about?

IWD is a “global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women in the past, present and future.” (UN Women Australia)

Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend the IWD Panel Discussion hosted by the University of Sydney Business School and the IWD Breakfast in Sydney hosted by the Australian National Committee for UN Women.

These events included an inspirational lineup of panelists, featuring Senior Executives from the Institute for Cultural Diversity, Australian Association of Women Judges, ASX, Women and Work Research Group, TAFE SA, Aurizon and UN Women in Samoa.

The panelists and various other speakers led thought provoking discussions on gender equality in its many facets – social, political, domestic, academic, cultural, corporate and economic.

Both events had a consistent underlying theme – a call to action – 20 years on from the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (the most progressive global commitment ever made towards advancing gender equality), it is evident that there is still much work to be done.

Although 127 countries, including Australia, now have legislation against domestic violence, NSW Premier, the Honorable Mike Baird, highlighted that approximately 40% of the NSW Police Force’s time is spent addressing domestic violence issues – 40%!

If our statistics are so poor in Australia, an educated, forward thinking and developed nation, what is going on in regions where social and academic education is simply not available to the average person?

Our Dean, Professor Greg Whitwell, raised a few major concerns around university demographics, including the fact that although over 50% of the University of Sydney’s undergraduate students are female, recent statistics show that female graduates, on average, currently start on lower salaries than their male counterparts – in fact, this pay gap only widens as women move up the corporate ladder.

If we are only engaging 50% of the resources available to us, then we are only working at 50% of our capability as a global community.

Professor Marian Baird, Director of the Women and Work Research Group at the Business School, discussed a survey conducted of senior men and women in leadership roles which highlighted cultural barriers to be the biggest barriers to women in leadership. As an example, on the topic of flexible working arrangements, the research suggested that cultural change improves when male and female leaders role model flexible working – having the appropriate corporate policies and programs in place is simply not enough.

Clearly, while some progress has been made, that progress has been too slow. The Executive Director of UN Women National Committee Australia, Julie McKay, reminded us that “it is the role of individuals to champion gender equality…it is up to us to create change.”

Let’s make sure that conversations around women’s rights are not restricted to a single day each year. As future leaders, we are well placed to take action – drive conversations, raise awareness and take initiatives within our workplaces, our businesses, our classrooms, and in our homes.

We as a global community will not be fully functional until we master the art of engaging the whole population in every facet of life.

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