With the announcement of Tony Abbott's cabinet last week, Rosa Parks came to mind. She was the African-American woman who refused to give up her seat to a white person on 1 December 1955. Her defiance served to rally black leaders from all around America to lead change in what became known as the ‘bus boycott’. It lasted until 20 December 1956 when a federal ruling that segregation on buses was unconstitutional. From that day forward, the rights of African-America people changed forever.
There is a lesson here. Rosa decided upon this tactic after attending a race-relations course on using non-violent civil disobedience as a means of getting change. Perhaps it’s time women in Australia found their own version of the ‘bus boycott’ to move our federal politics out of the 1950’s!
While Tony Abbott talks about ‘stopping the boats’, women across Australia need to start talking about ‘stopping the excuses’.
"Australia is open for business" says Tony Abbott ... so long as you are white and male
It's pretty ordinary that in 2013 male leaders of Australia think it’s acceptable to broadcast to the nation – and the world – that there is only one woman (and no Asians or other non-Anglo-Saxons) in Australian politics worthy of joining them on the front bench. What the visual line-up conveys, is that they can find only white males who they believe are equipped to make decisions about running the nation – a nation that comprises 50/50 males and females and dozens of non-Anglo-Saxon nationalities.
This highly visible signal of white male domination sends negatively reinforcing messages to girls and boys in our society, confirming long-held – although incorrect – assumptions about gender roles and the ethnicity of our rulers. Assumptions like: a man’s career is more important and higher investment dollars in all-boy schools pays off; while a woman’s place is in the home and she should not set her sights on being afforded opportunity; and that top jobs are better performed by white men.
Australia' females are 25th and 42nd on world rankings
Australia’s ranking amongst 132 countries for female participation in the workforce as measure by the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, has slipped annually since the inaugural report in 2006 from 15th to 25th place in 2012.
Our position relative to women in other countries is even worse when you look at the separate measure for ‘political empowerment’: Australia’s rank then sinks to a lowly 42nd place!
How can women of Australia hold their heads high in the world when the reason for this is that men in power in Australia will not share positions of status and decision-making with women? Alibi’s like ‘women haven’t got the experience’, ‘they have young children at home’ and ‘they can’t handle the pressure’ are tired, overused and simply not true.
When Norway legislated 40% females on Government boards and found that within a few years they had overshot their target with 44% on boards and the world didn’t stop, nor did the share markets collapse. But what did happen is that men had to let go and hand over to share the running of the nation with women.
Is it time for a 'bus boycott'?Is it time for Australian women to find their own ‘bus boycott’? Is it time for Australian women to stop waiting for ‘men to fix it’. Women have choice to act and lead change rather than retreat, so why wouldn't they exercise it? If not 2103, then when?
Is it reasonable to ask women in positions of power to step up and lead from the front? It is tough to do and may run the risk of upsetting male peers in the top team, but women who hold a position called ‘leader’ are required to step forward for others to follow. There are women leaders at all levels – middle and lower levels too – who have following. These women could also step forward to demand their own seat on the bus.
Women have to stop accepting excuses and refuse to let another year go by without having opportunity to take their rightful place at the top.
The next generation are watching. Many of our children will opt-out of Australian culture (like people opt out of jobs) for overseas locations where equality and opportunity exist. We will be left with only those who support the existing regime and there will continue to be no change.
Proof that mixed teams produce better resultsThe economic and social costs are enormous. An August 2012 Credit Suisse Research Institute report – Gender Diversity and Corporate Performance, shows that company performance improved with female participation on boards.
“Our headline result is that, over the past six years, companies with at least some female board representation outperformed those with no women on the board in terms of share price performance1.”
Australian politics has in recent years been so badly affected with infighting and drama – that this was Tony Abbott's chance to show his strength as a leader – by advancing his party’s culture, allowing times to move ahead, and appointing a strong team of mixed gender. He has not, which leaves you questioning his ability to lead us into a better future … one that accepts the 21st century moral and ethical code for equality and diversity.
1. Credit Suisse Research Institute report August 2012 – Gender Diversity and Corporate Performance Page 12, paragraph one.
Author: Pamela Young