It’s time to change tactics on gender equity and start pressuring powerful men to bust through stereotypes, says Stop Fixing Women author Catherine Fox.
Fox was explaining what she meant by the title of her new book to a mostly female crowd of about 110 at the CCI-Boffins Books Breakfast Club event.
“We have been drawing our attention around the supply side of the equation and not looking at demand—looking at symptoms and not cause—and we keep telling woman, ‘you are the problem, sort it out and if it doesn’t work it is your fault’,” she says.
“The point of the book is that what we have done in workplaces trying to address continuing problems around the gender gap—that still exists on a whole lot of levels—clearly hasn’t worked.
“It hasn’t just irritated me, it is also helping send us backwards because what we’ve done by telling women you’re not ambitious enough, you don’t put you hand up, you lack an appetite for risk, leadership doesn’t sit easily on you, we’re embedding a lot of those stereotypes that are a problem in the first place.
“I’m not suggesting that we don’t sit around and have these conversations and networks . . . I think they are essential, although I hope one day they are not as crucial.”
Fox, a leading commentator on women and workforce, says if women rely on the conversations and networks to deliver change they were “whistling in the wind”.
“This is about power—the people who have the power to change organisations—are largely men and certainly in WA, overwhelming men,” she says.
“We need to have men in power and men throughout organisations working on this as well. It is not a woman’s problem; it is an Australian opportunity and we have to get everyone involved.”
Fox says setting quotas for women in executive positions and on boards was a good thing because “nothing else has worked”, including “sheep-dipping women through a few programs” so all the structural biases disappear.
“Merit won’t be compromised; it will be increased. And let’s stop using that stupid word because it’s highly-subjective, let’s talk about qualifications, skills and experience. If you widen your catchment you will increase the level of talented people you will get into your jobs, so I would say it’s the reverse.”
Executive Director of CEOs for Gender Equity Tania Cecconi says WA lags on every national indicator when it comes to pay parity and equality of women.
CEOs for Gender Equity—of which CCI Chief Executive Officer Deidre Willmott is a member—was launched in 2014 to influence gender inequality from the top.
“The great thing about these CEOs is they know it starts with them, it starts at the top and it is their job to turn the dial for women in WA,” Cecconi says.