In 2019, we celebrate International Women’s Day with the theme #BalanceforBetter. Like previous years, we celebrate this day for all that we have achieved and debate and discuss all we are yet to achieve.
The theme this year resonates with me strongly, because more than any other word, balance best describes what women are asking for.
I believe we are at the starting gates on the issue of balance. We all know why we need balance — for diversity, equality, connection, financial success in the board room, in government, media, sport, to name a few; however, it seems that we continue to have false starts.
• One of our main political parties is now known as the Liberal Party Boys club of white, pale, stale men
• Australia ranks 48th in the world in terms of female political empowerment
• Women earn 15.3 per cent less than men
• Women aged between 60 and 64 years old will retire on half the superannuation that men will; in fact, many will retire into poverty
• Women in Australia work an extra 56 days to earn the same money as men for the same job
• Women spend twice as many hours each day performing unpaid care work
• One woman a week is killed in Australia due to domestic violence
• One in two women have reported experiencing workplace discrimination
It seems that what we are yet to achieve far outweighs what we have already.
However, the world is waking up from its rather long slumber and it is demanding balance. When we don’t see it, we notice it, we call it out — today the voice of the people who see the lack of balance is much louder than ever before. A perfect example of this are the sister rallies in the USA, opposing Trump and demanding equality and an end to violence against women.
Balance for business
We understand balance to be equal or 50/50; however, our businesses are a long way off from this.
Balance is certainly not the one woman on your board or the one woman within your leadership team, where it is often impossible for them to have their voice or opinion heard.
Recent surveys by McKinsey and PwC show that businesses that have a good mix of ethnicity are 35 per cent more likely to outperform their competitors and 86 per cent of female Millennials consider a prospective employer’s policy on diversity, equality and inclusion.
The conversation about diversity in Australia is very much gender-based and diversity or balance is not just about more women; balance is about more people and people come in different packages — ethnicity, sexuality and ability.
Despite the fact that one in four Australians are a migrant, the diversity gap and the cultural glass ceiling is very real here in Australia. Between 2004 and 2015, placement of women with ethnic backgrounds in executive roles in Australia increased by only 0.9 of a percentage point. Our multicultural and diverse communities are not being represented in corporate Australia and this has an impact at a local, national and global level.
My journey to becoming one of a handful of female leaders from a culturally and linguistically diverse background has been challenging. People see my colour before they see me as a woman, and I have always wanted and been capable of more than what opportunities have allowed me to be. I have had to work twice as hard to get half as far.
We need to look at the issue of lack of balance in business with a different lens, and if you can do that, the next step would be to ask the question: How do we shift the current paradigm?
It starts with our governments, our communities, our business leaders and us. We need to:
• Become hyper-aware of the levels of balance in our business
• Commit to business strategies that will have a positive impact within a certain time frame
• Make sure our talent pipeline is balanced
• Connect with those in our organisation who are from diverse backgrounds, their journey, their challenges and the fact that they have had to break through a double-glazed glass ceiling and share their stories to gain understanding and connection
• Engage our people and our customers in this vision and direction — it is just as important to them as it is to us
And please don’t outsource or make it HR’s responsibility to achieve balance — ensuring your organisation reflects our communities is a business strategy and therefore is a leader’s role.
“You can’t be what you can’t see!”
It was 2013, I was at a breakfast with the Victorian Telstra Finalists and we were all seated around a large round table, each one of us eyeing the other, making mental notes on who we thought would win.
Part of the morning was dedicated to getting to know each other, share who we were, what we did, a little about our businesses and the roles we had.
This breakfast was a turning point for me, because as I listened to all these amazing women, I realised something about myself that horrified me.
I did business like a man, and the reason really was quite simple. All my role models and mentors had been men. I was perhaps one of the first wave of strong female leaders with an opinion who had aspirations.
Without a doubt, balance is the better option; however, if we can’t see it then we can’t be it.
There are many women in organisations around the country, who like me only have male role models and, if we are really serious about balance in business, then we as leaders need to ensure that we have strong female leaders. Every time a man stands up for a woman, they make that crack in the glass ceiling just a little wider.
If we better the balance, we will better the world, and in its absolute simplicity, we would make huge gains towards balance if leaders made it a priority and part of their business strategy.
This is not an issue for our children to fix; it is up to us to ensure that the next generation inherits a better, more balanced world.
Sadhana Smiles is chief executive officer of Harcourts Victoria, the state division of one of Australia’s leading and well respected real estate brands.
She is also a popular speaker and presenter, and is regularly asked to speak at some of the industry’s most prestigious events, including ARPM, AREC, AREL, RELC, the REINSW Women’s Conference and the Harcourts Conference.
Sadhana is also a regular contributor to a number of national real estate journals and publications.