Over the past two weeks I’ve had a lot of time to consider what women want and how we’re going to get it. But it took one man to pose one question and, for me, to change the course of the conversation.
It’s just that I didn’t expect my epiphany to arrive at the annual OECD Forum in Paris. As the host of a feature session, by invitation from this elite organisation of the top 30 world economies, I was facilitating a 90-minute Q&A with six other international women and taking questions from the floor in a packed auditorium.
Our topic was, “Closing the gender gap: 25 by 2025”. It refers to the ambition of G20 Leaders to reduce the gap between male and female workplace participation by 25% by 2025. I had been Australia’s representative at the Women20 engagement group to the G20 in China the week before, and was taking the discussion further at the OECD. (see my previous articles here on Women’s Agenda).
Rising to his feet, among a couple of hundred people in the room, the man inquired: “If this is a discussion that impacts women as well as men, why isn’t there a man on the panel?”
Touché. Sharp intake of breath by we women on stage and I realised, there and then, that this is a conversation that MUST more actively involve men who are keen to make a difference.
Collaboration and cooperation is the key to progress, and women can’t do it in isolation.
Let’s have no more of women just talking amongst ourselves. We’ve been doing that for long enough. The good men among us are keen to be involved, so let’s involve them. I asked for a show of hands from the men in the room – which was roughly about 30% of the audience. They were there because they wanted to be.
Around the world, there are already significant examples of collaboration and cooperation. And, of failure, where the outcomes have not met expectations.
For example, my OECD panelist Ms Yoon-Sun Cho, from Korea, revealed the difference being made by the President of South Korea, Ms Park Geun-hye. Since her election in 2013, she implemented a special taskforce with private corporations and government institutions to promote the cause for better workplace balance for men and for women. Representing about 40 per cent of Korea’s GDP, the group meets every two months to measure progress. Ms Cho should know – she was the former Minister of Gender Equality and Family in Korea and worked closely with the President. She described the conversation among men involved in the program as being “very different”, due to the collaboration and encouragement generated by the President’s attitude and gentle approach.
In contrast, we see what’s being described as the failure of Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe’s “womenomics” program. Mr Abe’s target of putting women into 30 per cent of management positions by 2020 has been dramatically scaled back, with officials conceding that the ambition “was not shared by society as a whole”.
Measurement of success is key to proving progress. But more important is what we measure. Do we measure only the success rate of appointments of women to boards, and at senior executive levels? Women make up just 17 per cent of CEOs in Australia.
What about the broader workforce?
For example, in Australia, we need to effectively measure where the jobs are in the part-time economy and the sectors where women may be doing occasional and effective work.
As revealed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics yesterday (Thursday 16 June), full-time jobs are declining in Australia as the economy switches from mining to services, with an accompanying rise in part-time employment. The number of people with jobs rose 17,900 in May, all of them part-time.
Commonwealth Bank senior economist Michael Workman said, according to SBS News, that the new jobs are mainly in the services sectors like health, retail, tourism and education, and about 60 per cent of them were part-time or casual.
It is an economy, undergoing structural change and will require a shift in focus. Perhaps we need to pay teachers, doctors, nurses and carers more, because they might well be the most important foundation stones of a healthy and flourishing future economy.
Alongside that, women spend 2.5 more hours on unpaid care and domestic work than men, according to the UN. Affordable childcare, or the lack of it, is certainly a key part of that conversation.
Let’s also not forget rural and regional women – It is important to know where the opportunities are outside our cities.
If we want to reduce the gender gap in the workforce – between male and female participation – by 25 per cent by 2025, we have to ensure we know where women are working and where they can find work.
The truth is that women might not be seeking work in the Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) realm, or in ICT or in startups.
At the W20 Summit in China, my colleague from Germany revealed that one in three entrepreneurs launching new businesses in her country is female, but in spite of all the ambitions to get women/girls into the STEM stream – they are not taking up work in these sectors but, rather, are involved in the services, teaching, and care sectors.
If this is what women are choosing to do, it surely is important that we measure it and, further, encourage it.
We know it makes economic sense to increase the number of women involved in work. Their economic empowerment and independence gives them social empowerment as well, to the benefit of everybody.
It’s all very well for those of us lucky enough to gather at international summits to chant that we’re part of the “She Era” in the “She Economy”.
Let’s measure and value the true contribution of women to our economy.
But let’s also listen to what the man said.
If we don’t keep our men close and collaborative, it will be much harder to achieve the change we wish for without them.