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Catherine Fox on Women Kind, quotas and advancing women in the workplace

Catherine Fox, Director of Diversity at Women & Leadership Australia (WLA), author, columnist and broadcaster, has spent more than 20 years finding out how we can get more women into the workplace. She is speaking at WLA’s forthcoming Australian Women’s Leadership Symposiums, delivering a fascinating session entitled Women Kind: Unlocking the power of women supporting women. We sat down to chat with her about what we can all be doing to advance gender equity in the workplace and her new book on the subject.

Tell us about the Women Kind Project and the book?

Women Kind, which I co-wrote with Kirstin Ferguson, came about after Kirstin set up a social media campaign called Celebrating Women, which ran during 2017. Over the full year, she profiled roughly two women every day; 750 women from thirty seven countries around the world in total. She did it to combat the trolling and abuse that women were facing on social media.

Of course, women love social media, but I think for many of us we’re finding it a very fraught and often dangerous place. So we had that campaign up and when it was finished it was clear it had been successful, and that we had made a very big impact. So the book was sort of looking at the impact of that; what it told us about how women find it completely rewarding and enriching to read about each other’s lives. How, in fact, that is something we’ve always done. We’ve always come together and self-selected in terms of networks and book clubs and wine groups and all kinds of workplace collections of women as well.

So I think that what we did with the book was to look at the incredible power of that, and while we were writing, or in fact at the beginning of it, the whole #METOO movement happened as well, which is a very different campaign. But it showed us that women were using social media to elevate their experience and that it was a process that many found very affirming and encouraging.

We also wanted to really send a blast of Mortein towards the queen bee stereotype. We were sick to death of hearing that women don’t support each other on the whole. That when you reach a certain level of seniority they stab each other in the back. And that was just not what we’d seen, so that’s where the book came from.

What have you observed about the women and the communities that are engaging with the book, the project, and you and Kirstin since the book has been published?

I think what I’ve found is women have had a real ‘aha’ moment reading the book. They’ve completely understood what we’re writing about because they’re already participating in all these kinds of networks. They absolutely rely on their women friends and their network and they get it. The other thing I think that’s really empowering about the book is instead of telling women to go off and crack the glass ceiling, put up with the recalcitrant man who doesn’t believe in sexism, rise to the top blah blah, we are telling them that if we all work together we can achieve longer term good.

We need to do all those things, of course, but in the meantime, this book lays out what you can do immediately, and are probably already doing in one way or another. What we are saying is do more of it. Elevate that woman next to you. Send out a LinkedIn post saying ‘look at what this wonderful woman is doing’. Amplify the efforts of women around you. Speak up for other women. Get them involved in a new project or a new team or whatever. This is a really achievable thing for them and I think the audience has found it incredibly inspiring and really practical.

What’s your view on quotas?  

I think a target is a very good idea and I think that they work quite effectively. We know that in certain countries around the world  they have been effective. However I think the business culture in many countries including Australia finds some of these too far.

I think Femeconomy has an interesting model and I think that I would want to see what organisations are fine with certain parameters. Being very clear about what you expect works really well.

It is similar to the model that Male Champions of Change is using. They have changed their processes, and member organisations now stipulate gender diversity requirements to their suppliers. Male change member organisations make up some of our largest employers in Australia, and they apply criteria to their suppliers, so they expect their supplier to have a good gender equality strategy. I’m all for that. I think anything that makes these things more transparent is very welcome.

In turns of actual proportions I’m a fan of the 40/40/20 idea which I think is a really practical solution. (The 40/40/20 model is a quota requirement that stipulates a minimum of 40% men, 40% women, and then has a 20% ‘buffer’ of sorts, so you can still make sure you have the best people in the best roles.)

Catherine Fox will be speaking at the Australian Women’s Leadership Symposiums in Australia’s capital cities during 2019.

The Symposiums represent an opportunity for women from all industries, and all levels, to network with their peers, hear from inspirational female leaders and participate in leadership development sessions with Women & Leadership Australia’s world class leadership facilitators. Femeconomy readers can use the code ANSY19 for a 25% discount on symposium attendance. Visit www.wla.edu.au/symposium for more information.

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Posted by Jade Collins - Femeconomy Founder

Mother, wife, daughter, determined dreamer. Lover of books. Background in Human Resources leadership in global organisations.