50|50 Future Leaders event encourages gender equality

Last night at the Swissotel in Sydney, Leaders in Heels hosted the event: 50|50 Future Leaders.

Over 175 guests witnessed some of the nation’s top leaders discuss gender equality in the workplace.

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The panel consisted of:

  • Elizabeth Broderick (Chair) – Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission
  • Gordon Cairns – Chairman, Origin Energy
  • Kate Burleigh – Managing Director, Intel Australia/ New Zealand
  • Andrew Stevens – Non-executive Director, IBM Australia and New Zealand
  • Cassandra Kelly- Co-founder and Joint CEO, Pottinger
  • Diana Ryall AM – Founder and Managing Director, Xplore for Success

Men featured in the discussions, probably because that’s where the inspiration for the event came from. Kasia Gospos, Founder of Leaders in Heels and event organiser said:

“I was inspired to create this event because I had been to so many events about gender equality which were attended solely by women. If we truly want change to occur, we need to engage men in the discussion.”

Elizabeth Broderick echoed Kasia’s sentiment stating:

“We are where we are today because of women’s activism, but it’s not enough now – we need men stepping up beside women to see where we can achieve gender balance.”

The whole event aimed to have 50|50 gender participation and managed to achieve a 24% men / 76% women split in the audience, which in itself is commendable.

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The discussion covered issues for working mothers, the pay gap and organisational accountability. The need for men to be champions of change was a clear mandate for future change.

Elizabeth Broderick opened discussions by describing ‘gender asbestos’, a term she often uses to describe the unseen discrimination that is more common nowadays than the overt sexual discrimination of the past. “It’s built into the walls, floors and ceilings of so many organisations that you hardly notice it, but it’s there.”

Women in labour

In July this year, the Human Rights Commission released its report: Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review Report. It found that ‘One in two (49%) mothers reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace at some point during pregnancy, parental leave or on return to work.

‘One in five (18%) mothers indicated that they were made redundant/restructured/dismissed or that their contract was not renewed …’

As the findings of this report were discussed, Andrew Stevens acknowledged that the ‘family years’ usually result in a steep decline in female representation in the workplace but highlighted that only 1 in 10 of those who experienced discrimination during this time made a formal complaint. Often making a complaint led to firing, redundancy or restructuring – and even being encouraged to terminate the pregnancy.

He implored everyone to ask of themselves: What level of discrimination are you comfortable with?

“Is a 49% discrimination rate okay? 20%? 5%? I’m not happy with it, are you?”

Diana Ryall pointed out that discrimination can begin long before a pregnancy is announced: “Once the engagement ring goes on, people will ask ‘So, when are you going to have babies?

Breaking down old beliefs

Some of the issues around returning to work were discussed and it was clear that at least two ‘old-fashioned’ beliefs needed to be broken down in order to find solutions for today’s workplaces.

The first, Kate Burleigh articulated: “Let’s not perpetuate idea that only women make good carers.” Allowing for men to be included as carers in flexible working arrangements is a good start to breaking down this belief. Elizabeth Broderick pointed out that Telstra recently mainstreamed flexibility by introducing company-wide flexible working options for everyone.

Secondly, Andrew Stevens pointed out that we must alleviate the myth that we can’t pay someone unless we see them. “A big change is the ability to control your own schedule by working wherever and whenever you can. Input measurement of hours in the office no longer equals output measurement.”

The gap under the carpet

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) announced data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in August 2014. It shows that the average man working full-time earns 18.2% or $283.20 more than the average full-time working woman.

This figure has risen from previous years.

It was clear that Cassandra Kelly was not standing for this. Infuriated by a recent interaction with a female senior executive who stated that the pay gap was ‘Not for women like us’, Cassandra pleaded for everyone to not think like this.

In fact, it’s the opposite – the higher up you go in seniority, the great the pay gap can become.

Gordon Cairns cautioned that looking at just the averages may not reflect what’s really going on. He suggested the need to look at every case in context and conduct the analysis in a sophisticated way in order to do this issue justice.

Diana Ryall pointed out that organisations are generally not open about their pay gaps and that employers have a responsibility to disclose this information and do something about it.

What we measure, we improve

Kate Burleigh put Intel under the spotlight stating that although the company was 46 years old and had been working on equality for a long time, there was still only 25% representation of women in senior leadership roles. She admitted that the more senior you go, the worse the figures get. “This is the reality in the IT sector and it’s appalling.”

However, there is a way forward in making organisations accountable and creating real and lasting change.

“As recent as the last six months, the industry has decided to publicly print and share statistics and data around this. When you have a target or data, there’s something to rally around. Now we are starting to see some effective processes being put in place as the industry aims for 50/50 equal representation.” She said.

Leading by example

In response to a question about what pressures we need to put on the advertising industry to improve gender perceptions, Gordon Cairns – who has recently worked with this industry – highlighted the imperative for any change agents to ‘get their house in order first’.

“McKinsey has worked with advertising agencies on what the proven path is. They are sharing statistics with one another and progress is being made.”

He also mentioned that at Origin Energy, they believe in a supplier multiplier where diversity is required right down the supply chain. “Unless you have a diversity program in place, you won’t be called upon to pitch your business, let alone partner with Origin.”

Kate Burleigh outlined a policy at Intel where the recruitment of any middle management roles have at least one female in the candidature. HR departments are held accountable to this requirement.

It is this sort of action that will pave the way for equal gender representation in leadership roles.

What can you do?

The entire panel of speakers were enthusiastic to share their recommended actions not only the audience, but all Leaders in Heels community members.

Read more about the actions you can take today to build a 50|50 future.

Thank you to everyone who attended the event. We welcome your feedback and suggestions for future events.


Sally Miles, Gordon Cairns (Chairman,Origin Energy), Kasia Gospos

Sally Miles, Gordon Cairns (Chairman,Origin Energy), Kasia Gospos

Rebecca Sounders (Delicatessen), Kasia Gospos (Leaders in Heels)

Rebecca Sounders (Delicatessen), Kasia Gospos (Leaders in Heels)

Paul Turner, Devika Mohotti, Kasia Gospos, Justine Mills

Paul Turner, Devika Mohotti, Kasia Gospos, Justine Mills

Ozlem Bedlam, Kasia Gospos

Ozlem Bedlam, Kasia Gospos

Laura Diakow, Jingwei Pruefer, Arienne Goerlach

Laura Diakow, Jingwei Pruefer, Arienne Goerlach

Kasia Gospos, Andrew Stevens (Former IBM MD)

Kasia Gospos, Andrew Stevens (Former IBM MD)

Diana Ryall (Xplore for Success), Kasia Gospos

Diana Ryall (Xplore for Success), Kasia Gospos

Erica Enriquez, Sian Edwards, Justine Mills, Paul Turner (CIMA), Kasia Gospos, Yolanda Floro

Erica Enriquez, Sian Edwards, Justine Mills, Paul Turner (CIMA), Kasia Gospos, Yolanda Floro

See more photos from the event at Zahrina Photography Facebook album.

Sally Miles Sally is the Women’s Editor at Leaders in Heels. She is a Sydney-based mum to two children, wife to one husband, renovator to half a house and squeezes in full-time work as a publisher amid the chaos.