Gender parity in Australia: why #metoo is just the tip of the iceberg

2017 was a watershed year for many large issues facing modern day women - with arguably unparalleled world discussion taking place on issues such as sexual harassment and sexism in the workplace, and 2018’s International Women’s Day theme of #PressforProgress is making sure the conversation isn’t going away. As a millennial career woman, with two young children, I couldn’t be happier the dialogue is continuing – it’s frankly astonishing these issues haven’t been at the forefront sooner. And while I embrace and encourage the conversation sparked by campaigns such as #metoo, it really is just the tip of the iceberg.

There is one issue I feel that poses arguably the most significant obstacle to achieving gender parity, particularly in Australia, and yet it seems to be bubbling away under the surface, gaining far less attention in the mainstream media – being pregnancy and back to work transition after having children. This is not only a serious issue in the context of gender equality and sexual discrimination, but a much broader issue that has a very real and measurable impact on Australia’s economy.

I was fortunate in that the timing of having my first child lined up with my leap into the world of small business, however I know of many professional women that have been deeply fearful of the far-reaching impact a biological event such as pregnancy and childbirth would have on their career – whether that be in the lead up to deciding to start a family, or in the often treacherous maternity leave period. I have coached countless women who cited one of the major reasons for starting their own business as needing more control and flexibility over their careers – and that they had little to no faith of gaining that sort of flexibility through their employers. And then there is the all too common social pressure and judgement of women that either choose to, or are forced to, return to work quickly after having children, with New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern being one of the more memorable examples. Once again – while the conversation around these issues is critical to driving change around the world, often I wonder – how is this really news in 2018?

The sooner big business caters more to the real-life issues affecting just under 47% of the Australian workforce, the sooner women will have more equal representation in all segments of industry – not the least of which being on boards or in government. And whilst the proposal to introduce gender quotas made by the Australian Human Rights Commission was met with considerable resistance, the gap between our aspirations as a country and the reality is still significant, and more needs to be done to force the hands of our primarily male decision makers.

One of my wishes – as a woman that has experienced sexual discrimination and harassment first hand, and as the mother of a young daughter and a son – is that much of the issue simply comes down to generational bias, and that as younger men replace the Baby Boomers and Gen X men in authority, change will be readily accepted and encouraged, rather than simply paid lip service to. But in the meantime, let’s continue to #PressforProgress and make Australia the leader in this space we all know it can be.

Lanna Hill is a business coach, speaker & MC, media commentator and mum of two. She is the founder of One Small Step Business Coaching.  

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