The theme of last night’s Executive Women launch for the new year was ‘the best year of your career’, with the focus being on making 2015 a year in which women can achieve their career goals without being held back by workplace inequality.
The event was hosted by Macquarie Bank and featured guest speakers Senator Michaelia Cash and media executive Deborah Thomas. The guests spoke about what needs to happen in 2015 to make sure women are enabled and empowered to make the career decisions they want.
Executive Women’s executive director Tara Cheeseman opened the night by telling the audience that 2015 should be the year that sidelining women should no longer be an option for corporate Australia.
“We have nothing to gain from continuing to sideline, snub and disadvantage women. I believe Australia’s economic, cultural and cohesive success lies in gender harmony,” she said.
Deborah Thomas, the non-executive director of Bauer Media, spoke about gender equality at a personal level, giving advice to women about taking control of their careers and ensuring they do everything in their power to ensure they achieve each of their career goals.
“I always say that a lot of my career has been about luck. But then I think of a quote I heard once, and I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who said this, ‘I find the harder I work, the more luck I have’,” Thomas said.
She explained that growing up in the 1960s and having a mother who worked throughout her whole childhood – something that was very unusual at the time – helped her understand the importance of gender equality at work.
“This taught me just how important it is to be financially independent, because financial independence allows you to be free and choose the life you want to choose,” she said.
She said that while society has progressed since the times when women were expected to leave work as soon as they got married, more needed to be done in Australia to ensure women are as independent and enabled as possible.
She explained that an important turning point in her career was when she left her position editing the Australian Women’s Weekly and had to figure out a new path. She said she learned the importance of networking, of diversifying your skills, and of understanding that careers are not necessarily linear, straightforward or steady.
But the most important thing Thomas said she’d learned about making the most of your career was this:
“The one thing I tell all the young women I work with is not to be in too much of a hurry. There is a wonderful journey to be had. Life is for living and we have to enjoy every step of the journey,” she said.
While Thomas explained how women should approach their own careers on a personal level in 2015, Senator Cash spoke about the bigger picture: the policy decisions that Australia needs to make to better enable women in the workplace.
“There are still structural, cultural and institutional barriers for women in place in Australia, particularly in the workplace, that we need to ensure we remove so that the statement ‘men and women in Australia are equal’ becomes our reality,” she said.
Senator Cash explained that from her experience speaking to women across Australia in her capacity as Minister assisting the Prime Minister for women, she knows that what Australian women need most to be better engaged in the workforce is affordable childcare and flexible work.
“The one thing you have constantly said to me is that unless we change the childcare system in Australia, a lot of what you want to do, you just won’t be able to do,” she said.
She also spoke about what businesses need to do to ensure all of their female employees are able to thrive in 2015. She said corporate Australia needs to acknowledge and remove unconscious bias in workplaces and actively ensure that women are being considered for every role that becomes available in a company.
Senator Cash then finished by saying that one of the most important things to remember when driving change towards gender equality in the workplace is to support other women along the way.
“In 2015, as you are having the best year of your life, and I really hope it is, just remember, don’t kick the rungs out behind you. Find a bigger ladder with bigger rungs and make sure you are literally pulling up those women behind you and with you.”