Opinion piece by Jerril Rechter, VicHealth CEO
When the #MeToo movement roared into the public sphere last year I was relieved that women were finally being heard. I was also concerned that nothing would actually change – that sleazebags like Harvey Weinstein and his ilk would continue to thrive in a ‘man’s world.’
Yet thanks to wellspring of courage and a fair bit of white-hot rage from women around the world and here at home I feel hopeful that the tide is starting to turn. Women are well and truly fed up with the casual sexism, the inappropriate jokes, being ignored in meetings and the creepy flirtation bordering on harassment.
It’s no longer ok for businesses and industries to carry on with the status quo – women are demanding equality and a safe workplace and community – and it’s about time.
In the wake of #MeToo we’ve seen unhealthy masculine culture exposed and whole industries left reeling in the wake of horrific allegations of sexism, harassment and abuse. There are certainly some industries where this culture is worse than others – as a former dancer I’m unsurprised the entertainment industry has been outed as one of them – yet looking at the research there really isn’t any pocket of our society that’s immune to gender inequality.
According to new VicHealth research Victorian men are twice as likely as women to hold low levels of support for gender equality. Women are also 60-80 percent less likely than men to feel safe in their neighbourhoods.
It’s clear that gender inequality is impacting our health and it’s going to take all of us to make positive change.
As a female CEO – and might I add there are still far too few of us – I’m often asked for some practical tips about how we can #pressforprogress. Here are some things I try to keep in mind to keep pushing the agenda:
It’s no ‘man’s world’
Our language matters. As long as we keep talking about it being ‘a man’s world’, it will be a man’s world! Let’s change the conversation as a first step towards reframing our thinking.
It’s great huge organisations like Qantas are starting to re-think the language they use in the workplace from a gender perspective.
Women can and are achieving great things in this so-called ‘man’s world’ so let’s talk the talk.
When faced with a problem or opportunity, ask yourself – as I have learned to do - “how would a man approach this?” Men tend not to admit “I can’t do this” – rather, they say yes first and find a solution later! They ask for what they want rather than being diplomatic all the time. Lean in, as Sheryl Sandberg would say – you don’t have to know it all. And don’t be so tough on yourself. You don’t have to give 150% all the time to be worthy of your position.
Give a helping hand
Give women coming up behind you a leg up. Be a referee, provide work opportunities that challenge and extend them, encourage them to seek promotions and pay rises and praise their good work to others. Other women are not a threat: they make us be and look like better leaders! Also, I surround myself with and support men who treat women with respect and who get and aren’t threatened by gender equality.
Be a mentor
Become a mentor to a younger woman. It can be a formal workplace arrangement or something as simple as having a regular coffee and download with a woman seeking career advice from someone she trusts outside her organisation. It could be your daughter’s friend or even a former employee.
For my part, mentoring is about always being there for the other person, no matter what the circumstances. It is not that important to come from the same industry to be a good mentor. However, you must have a connection. You’ve got to be interested in them, you’ve got to want to support them, and you’ve got to be able to champion them.
Speak out for those who can’t
Look out for other women– particularly those less privileged than you. Encourage and support them to participate in the community and try to remember to keep an eye out for those among us who aren’t being heard because of their sexuality, the colour of their skin or because of their disability. It’s critical as leaders we use our platform to champion the rights of others who don’t have the same opportunities as we do.
It’s clear we have to bring the community along with us on the journey towards gender equality. But we also need to remember that true leaders are always out in front, showing the way, prepared to take a stand and have their voices heard. It’s not always a comfortable place to be, but as women leaders, we have a unique opportunity to #pressforprogress.
Jerril Rechter, CEO VicHealth