Gender equality for our young women

“As I walked through the gates this morning I was reminded once again of the promise we make the young women in our society that they will be able to live in a world where equality is a lived reality, where they can access leadership opportunities and decision making roles, where they have independent economic security and where they live a life that is free from violence and harassment.”

This was the thought provoking reminder delivered by guest speaker Julie McKay to a sold-out audience of corporates and community members including students at the St Margaret’s Anglican Girls School’s Professional Women’s Network breakfast on Wednesday 23 August.

PwC Diversity and Inclusion Officer and gender adviser to Chief of the Defence Force, Ms McKay said to affect real change we need to fundamentally move away from programs and initiatives focused on women and start to really challenge the way that society is structured.

“95% of the effort and resource spend is going into things that are not proven to work; initiatives and efforts that are actually about fixing women and trying to make women fit into the mould that we’re comfortable with,” said Ms McKay.

Using the Swedish Military as an example, Julie explained how the organisation redeployed their focus on training women to behavioural training for men; a program which resulted in significant changes to the makeup of the military, to who was being put forward for promotion, to the aspiration of women in that organisation to reach leadership roles and to the families and communities surrounding that organisation who noted change.

Julie shared four levers she believes will drive long-term, sustainably different outcomes in the context of gender equality in the workforce including leadership accountability, the restructure of work, banning merit and calling out casual sexism.

“We have an enormous opportunity. We’ve got leadership commitment; we’ve got an incredible base of women and men in this country who believe in gender equality as a fundamental principle of human rights. We have an inordinate amount of research that tells us that communities and economies are stronger if we can realise the benefits of true gender equality. We will all sleep easier at night if we know we live in a society that doesn’t tolerate violence and harassment; where women have independent financial security and where leadership opportunities are built and rewarded on the basis of something other than a system of merit,” said Ms McKay.

She challenged the audience to think about what they can do as individuals to make a difference – to ensure our young women, not generations from now but in the next ten years, will see a transformative shift in how we actually step towards gender equality in our society.

“We need to recommit ourselves to the promise that our young women won’t face the barriers that women in Australia and around the world continue to face today.”

Listen to audio of Julie's presentation below.