This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is #EmbraceEquity. An acknowledgement that after decades of talking about equality, we haven’t seen enough change. We haven’t seen enough improvement. We still haven’t got the balance right.
I know I’m not the only one that’s still in debate with male friends and family members about why gender equality is still a thing. If they don’t personally see microaggressions in the workplace, don’t witness sexual harassment, or only see females who are successful in their careers, then it mustn’t exist anymore. So, why are we still banging on about it??
The reality is, focusing on equality is no longer enough. It’s played a big role over the last 50 years in getting us to this point, but after decades of stalling and lack of progress, we need a more focused lens.
This more focused lens is the shift from Equality – giving everyone the same opportunities to succeed – to Equity – giving people specifically what they need to succeed. Equity is appreciating that everyone’s different, starts from different places, and has different needs in order to reach an outcome.
Equity means getting specific and having real conversations about what is or isn’t working in the workplace, and navigating through uncomfortable dynamics to get at the heart of how to create change.
Equity means being open and transparent about where you are now and where you want to be in 3, 6 or 12 months.
Equity means action instead of just targets that meet a status quo.
Equity means leading with empathy.
What I love most about the theme this year is the power it’s giving us to talk more openly about equity. It’s given us a renewed focus on our ability to tackle these concepts head on, and given many of us the vernacular and tools to be able to continue to educate people around us, and push us further.
In Australia, the gender pay gap is around 22%, and women comprise only 41% management positions, 22% CEO positions and 20% board positions.
Women are still experiencing microaggressions in the workplace, sexual harassment, intimidation and are overlooked for promotions. Women still carry the majority of the load in the household too, which escalated during covid and led to significant levels of stress and burnout. And sadly, one of the outcomes of this has been women leaders leaving their companies at higher rates than men in the past 12 months, and at the highest rate in years.
So, it’s pretty safe to say that we need this new, focused lens for how we are talking about, and actioning change.
This can be tricky territory, and it’s not always easy to navigate. And I’m comfortable admitting that even with 20 years experience as a HR professional, I have personally grappled with this concept at times. Fairness is one of my core values, and one of the top traits that comes out in all of the various strengths and personality assessments I’ve undertaken over the years. It’s been an anchor for the strategies I create, the work I deliver, and the conversations I navigate – be fair, treat people equally, how does this affect everyone, how does this foster inclusion? So the idea of not treating people the same in order to give others a leg up has occasionally had my internals battling it out. Even though I absolutely know this needs to happen, and even though I subconsciously do this in both my professional and personal life.
I have kids – they obviously aren’t the same, they have different strengths and needs, and I’m always supporting each kid to give them what they specifically need in a way where they don’t feel any favouritism. In my workplace, we’ve created a performance and coaching framework that essentially provides everyone with equal opportunity to access tools, systems, support and guidance in the same way, but there’s flex across different learning and talent initiatives to get the right outcomes for individuals that need different support.
But the fairness is in the outcome – not in how we reach it.
Is there more I can do? Absolutely. Is there a need to keep the conversations going? You bet. Do we need to still figure out how to work this into policy and process? 100%. And that’s my commitment this year.