Last Thursday, Deborah and I attended the International Women’s Day Lunch in Canberra, hosted by the Australian National Committee for UN Women. In a cavernous space in the National Convention Centre, around 1200 guests enjoyed presentations, discussion, and networking, with some food to go along with it all. Panellists Irene Santiago, Miriam Silva, and Air Chief Marshal Geoff Brown AO brought their experience and expertise to the table in an all-too-brief discussion compered by the inspirational and articulate Virginia Hausegger.
The audience heard their thoughts on the power of vocational education to help disadvantaged women and those affected by domestic violence, the underutilised value of women in peace negotiations, when the effect of war and civil unrest on women and children is especially pronounced, and the very current and contentious discussion around sexual harassment and abuse of women in the Australian Defence Forces.
While the large, captive, and generous audience was a credit to the organisers and to International Women’s Day as an institution, there was one element to the crowd that Deborah commented on almost as soon as we sat down. The overwhelming majority of those present were women.
Not surprised? Neither were we. Yet it remains something to point out and to be disappointed by. Certainly it is invaluable for women to be able to celebrate our achievements, relate to one another over issues commonly faced, and talk about ways to help women less fortunate than us. But it is perhaps even more valuable to include equal numbers of men in these kinds of forums, to increase their awareness of the problems that are faced largely by women but in reality hold us all back.
In particular, I noticed many all-women corporate tables at the event. It is definitely positive to see big business supporting the engagement of women with International Women’s Day, as these large companies without a doubt could benefit from adjusting their corporate culture to be more inclusive and supportive of women in the workplace. But without the involvement of men it is difficult to see how meaningful change can be achieved. Considering the growing body of research that indicates direct financial benefit to companies with increased representation of women at senior levels, the business community should make it a priority to face the issues highlighted by International Women’s Day, women and men together.
This contribution was written by Margot Paxman – one of The May Group’s Graduate Recruits