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Embrace equity and diversity: 8 lessons from Annabel Crabb

By Mollie Tracey

Embracing equity in the workplace formed the basis of discussions at CCIWA’s International Women’s Day (IWD) lunch.

Headlined by ABC journalist and broadcaster Annabel Crabb and a panel discussion with Argenica Therapeutics CEO Dr Liz Dallimore and North Street Music CEO Bourby Webster, the sold-out event drew a crowd of about 530 people to celebrate women in business for IWD.

Crabb, who is also one of Australia’s most respected and recognised media identities, shared eight lessons she has learnt about equity and diversity, and how everyone can incorporate these into their lives.

CCIWA International Women's Day 2023 event was headlined by ABC journalist and broadcaster Annabel Crabb.
Annabel Crabb (from left) facilitated a panel discussion with North Street Music CEO Bourby Webster and Argenica Therapeutics CEO Dr Liz Dallimore.

1. The argument for diversity has changed

“In the old days the argument for diversity was an equity argument – 'you should have women on the board because it's the right thing to do, the moral thing to do'. But I think what's happened is that we have now got better at doing the research that makes diversity a solid business case as well,” she said.

Several research papers and reports have come to support Crabb’s argument, including a 2021 report she referenced by Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre that found by increasing women’s representation on boards of Australian ASX-listed companies led to 4.9% increase in company market value.

2. So much of the gender debate is about ignorance

Crabb shared an anecdote about a time when she interviewed female politicians about often being the only woman at the board room table. Each woman told a similar story of when they had said something to the group but no one acknowledges them, then a few minutes later a man said the same thing and everyone agreed with him. She also interviewed men and said they were “gobsmacked” that women experienced this, suggesting they were just ignorant and not acting with malice.

3. Learning is important and a fact of life, but unlearning is important too

Taking inspiration from younger female leaders who have flipped the discourse of sexual harassment and sexual assault, such as Grace Tame, Crabb said they have unlearned behaviours that were learned by the women before them.

“It's incredible that young women say 'actually the shame belongs to you, not to me' and that is right, it does. I'm incredibly excited to see how good these young women are at unlearning that behaviour that has caused huge suffering for many women over many years.”

4. Change can come when you least expect it

Pre-COVID, the idea of flexible work for many organisations was considered too hard or wouldn’t work because of how organisations were structured or didn’t suit their culture. Although, experiencing a pandemic seemed to have changed workplaces’ ability to adapt to flexible work.

“This virus managed to accomplish in the space of a fortnight that decades of reasonable debate couldn't.”

5. Failure isn't the end

“The failures of one woman make help the women after her.”

6. Progress is reversible

“Things can go backwards really fast, just look at the reproductive rights in the United States.”

Bourby Webster (from left), Dr Liz Dallimore, CCIWA CEO Chris Rodwell, Nan Dorothy Bagshaw who performed the Welcome to Country, Annabel Crabb and CCIWA president Nicki Ivory.

7. Being authentic at work is not just about you

While authenticity is a trait that has come to be valued in leaders, Crabb said there’s benefit in everyone being authentic at work and how you interact with people.

“When you're your authentic self at work, you empower other people to be the same. It not only makes life easier for you but also sends out this beacon of acceptability to other people to be what they're like as well. Knowing how your brain works is an important part of that too – know what it's good at doing and what it's not good at doing.”

8. Ask men who's looking after their children

Many working women have probably encountered questions about who is looking after their children while they are at work. Crabb said for a long time she considered it to be an irrelevant question to ask a woman, but in the interim she’s changed her tune.

“It is sensible to ask people how they juggle busy jobs and family responsibilities – not just kids but caring for other family members, animals – everything that draws down on our energy as individuals in our workplaces. Now I don't feel sad when I see women asked about that, I feel sad when I see men not asked about it. There have been heaps for really sad men who have found that FIFO lifestyle [of federal politicians] incredibly hard and wounding but it's even worse because no one asks them about it. So always ask.”

After sharing wisdom of her lessons learnt across a 25-year journalism career, Crabb had two key takeaways for guests:
  • “In my view feminism is about breaking down barriers, not about erecting new ones. Get rid of the club house that women aren't allowed into, don't build a new clubhouse.”
  • All the noise from the news cycle, social media and even people around us can be overwhelming, but usually the loudest voices are the smallest. So, on that she said: “Don’t get overwhelmed by the extremes. [Keep] in mind you choose who you care about in this life and whose opinion you care about. Don't fall into the trap of assuming a loud minority is the decisive final say on an issue.”

For information on CCIWA’s landmark study: Making Paid Work Pay for Families with Children see here.

Annabel Crabb shared eight lessons she's learnt about embracing diversity and equity at CCIWA's International Women's Day 2023 event.

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