Diverse voices: not only better for women but better for all
Recently I attended a boardroom lunch – not an uncommon occurrence in corporate life. As I entered the room I joked about attendees missing the memo on diversity. My comment was greeted by the blank faces of 29 men. I was the only woman in the room.
The need and benefits of diversity on boards is well recognised, not just the male/female ratio but also diversity of age, opinion, cultural background, experience and sexual orientation. The latest Gender Diversity Report released by the Australian Institute of Company Directors reveals as at the end of January 2020, the percentage of women on ASX200 boards is now 30.7 percent. A small improvement from the year before. The challenge will be to maintain and increase the momentum. Getting the ‘voices’ to the table is just one milestone and is the responsibility of all board members; now we need to get these voices heard.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) convenes annually in Davos. Davos attracts an impressive group of world leaders from business, politics and NGOs. This year was no different. The recognised voices of these leaders is important but what resonated with me was the voices of the ‘young global shapers’. New diverse voices taking their seat on the global stage. Many have overcome incredible adversity, holding their own, standing up for their beliefs and representing the 3.5 billion strong voices of today’s youth, calling out politicians and business leaders for inaction and presenting ideas and plans to tackle the world’s most pressing problems.
Conversation at Davos is often criticised as being euro-centric. This year, a considered effort was made to include more diverse voices in the panels.
Voices from the developing world on how we transition to a decarbonised world. Standing up for the millions of people who live in poverty without access to reliable energy sources. For many of these people the impacts of climate change are felt on a daily basis through drought and flood. At the same time, many don’t have access to a single light globe.
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘each for equal’, an equal world is an enabled world. Although gender equality is vitally important, the conversations at Davos reminded me of the need to challenge ourselves and broaden our perception of who we consider and include as we tackle the world’s problems. We need new voices at the table, a diverse and broad church to challenge the decisions made by our privileged world.
Diversity in all its forms makes for better decisions, different angles of the same issue are highlighted. It is not only better for women but better for all.
Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland at 34 is the youngest head of government in the world. She is the leader of a five party coalition, each one led by a female (four are under 35). Sanna’s gender and age is not as big a deal in Finland as in other parts of the world. She hopes, in the future, it won’t attract attention and it will be entirely appropriate that multiple generations and genders will all be represented in parliament.
In Sanna’s world, gender progress is not gender parity. We have made progress but we can’t afford to rest. Real progress requires focus in four areas: legislation, particularly in the area of equality in social welfare, childcare and retirement income, organisational culture (challenging unconscious bias) and societal shifts in the way we look at gender stereotypes.
Returning to the board room lunch. I could have just smiled and sat down. But I didn’t. I reminded the 29 men that their disregard for gender balance was not okay. Despite the sometimes uncomfortable nature of the discussion, we still need to call out gender inequity and inequality in all its forms.
On International Women’s Day, each one of us needs to use their voice for equality.