Panel Discussion: Australia’s Disruptive Strategy for Accelerating Gender Equality

When Elizabeth Broderick started Male Champions of Change it was with one simple mission: to have more decent, powerful Australian men step up beside Australian women to build a gender equal world. On March 13, AWNY, Liz and a selection of champions came together to discuss this strategy and how it’s disrupting the way we approach gender equality.

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Each year in March, the United Nations hosts the Commission for the Status for Women. The event attracts thousands of women (and men) from all over the world to New York City to talk about different initiatives targeting women’s rights. This year, Elizabeth Broderick and her organization were invited to present to the United Nations on their approach to workplace diversity as a globally scalable program.

Luckily for AWNY, we were able to capitalize on their visit and hosted our own event to highlight their program and the ways it has transformed the workforce in a number of Australian industries, including the police and armed forces, mining, technology and sport.

Tim Reed, CEO of Australian financial technology company MYOB, and Brett James, a Commander in the Australian Federal Police (AFP), were the two Male Champion representatives on the panel. The men shared their experiences working with Liz and the changes they have seen in their own organizations. At MYOB, Tim and his leadership team have started a number of new programs aimed at getting more females into their developer roles, one of their most well paid yet male-dominated departments. This has included return-to-work programs and traineeships.

Brett worked with Liz on an enlightening report into the state of gender relations within the AFP. He told eventgoers the report forced the AFP to acknowledge some things about their culture that weren’t pretty. He said many officers had been living in their own bubbles and that the report has helped to reveal the problems for everyone, so that the reparations and changes can begin. While he acknowledged there is a long way to go – he estimates 15 years – to see a complete transformation, Brett was buoyed by the changes he had already witnessed in the last 18 months.

Rio Tinto managing director Joanne Farrell said one in three Australian women are impacted by domestic violence, and it spills into every facet of victims’ lives. The company decided they had no other option than to view domestic violence as a workplace problem. If they wanted to create a safe and inclusive working environment then they had to address this problem head-on. In partnership with the White Ribbon organization, Rio Tinto has implemented a number of programs including paid leave for victims, temporary and emergency housing, and other forms of support.

We were generously hosted at the New York offices of Australian law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, which proved to be serendipitous as panellist Kate Jenkins, Australia’s current Sex Discrimination Commissioner, was a partner at the firm for the better part of 20 years in Australia. In telling her story, Kate drew a comparison between the cultural change Australians underwent in the 1980s and 90s with new safety regulations on seat belts, drink driving and smoking and what we are trying to achieve with gender equality. Unlike these reforms, which were backed up with major campaigns and cultural initiatives, Kate said that gender discrimination in Australia was a case of “set and forget”. Her hope is that through Male Champions of Change we will start to see the changes the laws were meant to bring about.

Jane Connors is the United Nation’s Victims’ Rights Advocate on sexual exploitation and abuse, having previously served as the Director of International Advocacy for Amnesty International. Jane spoke about gender equality within the various United Nations agencies and the work the organization does on the ground during deployments as well as within its own ranks, including in hiring practices and leadership equality. She emphasized that the current Secretary General is committed to change and that it is important that the values are reflected at the top levels of leadership.

For more information about the Male Champions of Change program, visit their website.


Author: Julia O'Brien

Julia is originally from a small town in Victoria and has lived in New York since 2014. She spends her free time exploring the city and other parts of the States, with a razor sharp focus on trying food, wine and cocktails. And some coffee too.

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