Dr Carol Schwartz AM has urged business graduates to ‘challenge, poke and prod’ at the status quo in order to push for gender equality.
Dr Schwartz made the comments after being named an Honorary Doctorate recipient at Monash University last week, and delivering the commencement address to business graduates.
“While my generation has been working to shift the dial, there is still so much to be done,” she said.
“You as the next generation of business leaders can make a choice. You can either allow the status quo to exist, or you can challenge, question, poke and prod this status quo knowing that gender equality will make your businesses, or the business you work for and the society you live in, more productive, more innovative and far more interesting.
“Remember gender equality is not a zero sum game. If women get a slice of the cake there will be no less cake for men. More gender equality means more cake for all.
Dr Schwartz urged the graduates to consider what they are passionate about and how they will fight for it.
“Be authentic, courageous, passionate and focused on what it is you want to achieve and it is likely to happen.”
Dr Schwartz has numerous accolades, referencing her extensive career across business, property, community and the arts organisations. She been a director across many boards, including currently with the Reserve Bank of Australia and Stocklands.
She’s also passionate advocate for women’s representation in business, and established the Trawalla Foundation with her husband and four children which invests in social enterprises and opportunities.
Dr Schwartz spoke about how her grandparents and father arrived in Australia after escaping persecution overseas, as well as the entrepreneurial life of her grandma who saw an opening to sell women’s lingerie and sleepwear in Melbourne, and within a short time had opened three stores. Carol’s father later turned the business into 500 stores across Australia, and became the first to employ women as store managers in the 1960s.
“That was the family I grew up in. Where school holidays were spent working in the stores and the conversations with and about my grandmother were ever present,” she said.
Female leaders were everywhere in the family business, and Dr Schwartz worked her way up to being given opportunities to join boards after working extensively in property development and completing her MBA.
But she was surprised — and then frustrated — to have to be continually asking where the women were, including all the women she’d initially studied arts law with after leaving school.
“Why was I seeing all the men I’d been at university with making their way into partnerships and up the corporate ladder, and yet very few of the young women?
Dr Schwartz shared how she started to ask a simple question in every public forum she spoke in: where are the women?
She also started to insist that a minimum number of women were included in things she was invited to participate in.
“I can not believe that 25 years later we are still having the same conversations, discussions and debates, about the lack of gender diversity and inclusiveness on boards, in senior management roles, at conferences, at business lunches and dinners.
“This is a challenge for your generation. How are you going to ensure that inclusiveness and diversity are at the forefront of your organisational culture, to make sure that your businesses will be the highest performing possible.”
Dr Schwartz added that some initiatives she believes are starting to help shift the dial include the panel pledge to get more gender diversity at conferences and events, and addressing unconscious bias in organisations, particularly on CVs and in interviews.