When men talk gender diversity and the lies that are told to women | Women's Agenda

When men talk gender diversity and the lies that are told to women

I’m not going to thank men for attending women’s conferences and events. It should never be perceived as a chore to get out and learn from women in business or leadership, or to simply listen to a woman with something interesting to say.

But I am going to acknowledge the event organisers who are increasingly moving to include men in their gender diversity conferences and event programs – especially those that can ‘find’ male speakers who can speak openly and frankly about their experiences, who don’t flinch when discussing the business case for diversity and who put themselves forward as part of the problem – including regarding the lies that are too often told to women.

I have two examples to share here.

The first is Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was interviewed live on stage at the Women in the World conference last week in New York, along with Hillary Clinton, US Ambassador to the UN Nikky Haley, and an impressive line up of activists, authors, comedians, leaders and professionals.

Trudeau shared why he created a gender-neutral cabinet upon being elected in 2015 (remember that “Because it’s 2015” moment?), why his recent federal budget included a chapter on gender equality (I’ll get to that shortly), and why he aims to meet with as many female business leaders, entrepreneurs and women as possible.

It’s not because it’s the right thing to do, he said, but rather because it’s the economically smart thing to do. In politics and in business.

“Having a gender balanced cabinet has been something that has led to a level of depth of conversation and approach to solving problems that, quite frankly, leads you to a much better place and a much better way of sharing with citizens that we are allaying their fears, and that we understand,” he said.

He noted the real shift will come when companies stop saying ‘we really should appoint more women to our board because of the public pressure’, to realising they need to appoint more women to better reach their target markets and to improve their decision-making capabilities.

The second example comes from one of the best events I attended last year (and had the pleasure of participating in as a panellist), Breakthrough 2016, presented by the Victorian Women’s Trust.

One keynote session featured Dr Richard Denniss, chief economist at the Australia Institute, who offered a sharp, thirty minute summary on what’s holding women back when it comes to money.

He spoke about the three big lies we’re constantly sold on economic security. 

The first big lie is that gender inequality somehow reflects choices: that women are making the wrong choices and therefore we get bad outcomes. It’s all women’s fault, especially those of us who choose to work in caring industries that are paid poorly.

He brought up a David Koch article on women’s superannuation, where the journalist concludes that taking control of your super by following his five steps is a simple but powerful way for women to promote gender equality. Denniss offered some “stinging” and hard truths, sharing his four tips on how to actually close the super gap:

“Step one, don’t go into the caring profession. Don’t. You will never ever match men’s super if you choose low paid work. Two. Don’t take time out of the labour market to care for children, if you understand the genius of compounding interest you’ll know the more you put away when you’re young the more you’ll have later on. Three. Don’t take time out of the workforce when you’re older to care for your parents or your partners parents.

“Four. This is the summary one. Be a man! We invented superannuation, it’s the last vestige of the male breadwinner, harvester male model. It works well for well paid people like me who don’t take lots of time out of the workforce.”

The second lie women are up against is the idea that more evidence is needed before making major decisions and policy decisions that can help close the gender gap. “When you’re powerful you don’t need evidence. Evidence is what you tell the powerless people to go and collect,” Denniss said.

The third lie is that Australia can’t afford to tackle gender inequality. “We sit here today in one of the richest countries in the world, in one of the richest cities, at the richest point in world history. Australia can afford to do anything it wants. What it can’t afford to do is everything that it wants. And that’s what politics is about, deciding what’s important and what’s not.”

Denniss highlighted the $560 billion the Government spent last year on goods, services and tax concessions, noting that just 1% of that figure would be $5.6 billion. “You reckon we can’t afford $100 million for domestic violence crisis centres?” he said.

“We are one of the richest countries in the world, but making us feel poor, making women’s groups feel that there is some shortage of money is central to the political strategy of the people who are winning.”

Denniss said the first step to tackling the three big lies that women are told, is to think big on the problem and get united on how to solve it. “Division is death in politics,” he said.

“Tackling gender inequality isn’t a women’s problem, it’s an Australian opportunity,” he said. “Great leaders build a new country that’s big enough to fit their ambitions in.”

Justin Trudeau said his federal budget included a “chapter five” for the first time that offers a gender based analysis on everything within it. “It means that any initiative we put forward looks at whether it’s positive or negative for women,” he said.

It’s a significant change, one that aims to pursue the opportunity in gender equality – rather than seeing inequality as too hard, or too inconvenient, to deal with.

Breakthrough has just posted Denniss’ video and have kindly shared it with Women’s Agenda below. You can watch Trudeau’s interview here.

Dr. Richard Denniss: Money. Power. Freedom. | Breakthrough 2016 from Victorian Women’s Trust on Vimeo.

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