On International Women’s Day choose your challenge

Each year on 8 March we mark International Women’s Day. A day to reflect on progress, call for change and celebrate acts of courage and determination by women. This year the theme is, choose to challenge.

When I thought about that theme, I couldn’t help but reflect on the life of service to that cause of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  She was an exceptional voice for women, rising to the heights of Supreme Court Judge, a lifetime appointment in the highest court in the land in US, she was leading the fight for equal rights in the courts right up  until the moment of her passing in 2020.

Over the last twelve months I have watched her films, read her books and I am in awe of her quiet and relentless focus on making change for the benefit of us all.  She was fearless and she never gave up.

Among her writings are many wise pearls of wisdom I could draw on for today’s theme, but one that particularly resonates for me is the following statement:

“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made … it shouldn’t be that women are the exception”. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

In my role I am indeed privileged to have the top seat at the table within KPMG Australia, an influential voice in our global firm, and most recently as a newly appointed Board member of the Business Council of Australia, in our business community at large.  My personal “choose to challenge” commitments are two-fold:

First, to use the privilege of these positions to follow Justice Ginsberg’s dream, and do all I can to create opportunities for all women to advance through their organisations by constantly looking for ways to make change and challenging the status quo.

Second, to continue to work with the wonderful team in KPMG’s Economics & Tax Centre who are helping me to pursue policy change to eliminate barriers to female workforce participation.  We will continue to challenge the status quo – the inequities and disincentives that persist in our income tax, CCS, and our superannuation system.  And we will challenge the current approach to paid parental leave and offer alternatives that better encourage equal sharing of caring responsibilities by both parents.  Equal sharing of caring promises both financial and non-financial benefits to us as individuals and as a society.

When I look around me, I see many examples of men and women who inspire me with the choices they have made to challenge. Here are a few who stand out to me and I hope might inspire each of you to set your own challenge:

This year, for the first time, women were awarded the top honours in all four of the Australian of the Year categories.

The top honour went to 26-year-old Tasmanian sexual assault survivor, Grace Tame. Grace rose to prominence when her #LetherSpeak campaign which, in 2019, undertook a legal case to publicly self-identify as a rape survivor to the Supreme Court of Tasmania, and won.

In Grace’s words, “Communication breeds understanding, and understanding is the foundation of progress.  Lived experience informs structural and social change.  When we share we heal. When we challenge, we change.”

Kamala Harris, the first black, Asian woman as Vice President of the USA said in her acceptance speech after the 2020 election, “…I may be the first woman to hold this office. But I won’t be the last”.  She challenges all women to follow her.

In the last few weeks we have seen brave women speaking out about sexual harassment and assault in our parliament, which sits at the heart of our democracy. Their voice needs to be heard and responded to with real and meaningful change.

I am greatly encouraged by the young head prefect at a prestigious Sydney boys’ school who challenged his peers to think again about ‘consent and respect’. I can only imagine the courage it takes as a teenage boy to challenge his peers on their day to day behaviour. He is a wonderful example to us all.

We have come a long way on our journey to gender equality, but the job is not yet done.

The COVID-19 pandemic challenged every aspect of our lives. It rattled many aspects of the status quo.  As we come together to re-frame our future, we must keep challenging.

The growing voices of women and men around the country calling into question structures, systems and cultures that discriminate will accelerate our gender equality journey.

How will you use your voice to challenge this IWD?

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