How startups can push to #BalanceforBetter

- March 8, 2019 3 MIN READ

Each year International Women’s Day rolls around accompanied by a host of breakfast panels, lunches, and networking drinks where women celebrate the wins and discuss what is still left to be done (spoiler alert: still a lot).

This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter. “A balanced world is a better world”, internationalwomensday.com tells us, and then asks how us to think about how everyone can “help forge a more gender-balanced world”.

It’s quite the ask.

Michelle Gallaher, managing director of The Social Science, admitted that it’s “not unreasonable to feel despondent and overwhelmed” about the prospect of achieving gender balance; after all, the 2018 Global Gender Gap Index estimated that it will take 202 years to achieve pay parity in Australia.

To combat the despondency, Gallaher said she puts her effort into strategies that will make a difference – even if they’re not totally perfect.

We asked women around #startupaus what strategies they or their organisations have put in place to make a difference.

Call out bad behaviour

It may seem simple, but Gallaher said she has seen “enormous change” come from initiatives like the #panelpledge, where people refuse to speak at an event if the panel or line up of speakers is heavily biased against women.

“Calling out event organisers on this bias delivers very effective results, particularly when you can put forward the names of female speakers that you know can make a meaningful contribution to the dialogue,” she said.

Offer flexibility

For Cat Prestipino, chief marketing officer at Employment Hero, one of the best ways to push towards balance is for a business to offer flexible working conditions for everyone, wherever possible.

“The nature of work has changed in light of technology, the growing understanding that people are productive at different times of the day and as the rise of work-life flow, rather than work/life balance, gains traction,” she said.

“By removing the stigma around flexible working conditions by offering them to whole companies – when practically possible – we remove the stigma of childrearing from the workplace for both men and women, parents and non-parents.”

Alex Hattingh, chief people officer at Employment Hero, added that organisations should also look at how to encourage women to return to work after maternity leave.

Potential initiatives could include a return to work bonus, implementing a ramp up approach to returning to work, or setting up a mums or dads club for new parents to socialise with coworkers who are going through the same thing.

Beyond parenting, Natasha Davidson, group general counsel at Ansarada, said it is important to support how women move between their professional and personal lives.

“We come together as an organisation to practise yoga, share our stories, and reflect on how we as an organisation can do more to support our talented women,” she said.

“We are committed to amplifying their presence and contribution, as well as celebrating their personal and social identity too.”

Help women progress their careers

Hattingh said organisations can help women progress their careers by identifying talent earlier on, and setting up high-potential women with mentors and career programs that enable them to learn, up-skill and succeed.

Amy Walker, cofounder and head of growth at Cooperate, agreed, saying that working to put the right person in the right role is crucial.

“There’s no benefit gained by putting a woman into a role simply to up your gender quota; that kind of approach only ever backfires,” she said.

Like Hattingh, Walker believes organisations can systematically work to put women in positions to succeed in several ways. Firstly, by using assessment tools such as OKRs – objectives and key results  lists – to help determine performance and ability; and by having gender balance in their decision groups.

“While board seats and management roles can take time to reach a gender balance, ensuring the groups that outline the requirements for these kinds of roles and the hiring of key persons are equal, will help to bring balance,” she said.

“If you have a 50/50 decision group that is in agreement on a new hire then that will in itself bring balance. Every business is different and this means their gender balance needs are different too.”

Educate the next generation

And speaking of kids, Gallaher believes a push towards balance must start with action at home.

“I think the greatest wins can be achieved at home, particularly with primary school aged children. and helping them to recognise the bias against girls and women within their world of school, media and amongst friends and family,” she said.

Whatever it is you do, make sure you actually do something.

Joan Westenberg, director of communications at Flare, said what’s needed is simply less talk and more real action.

“Press releases mean nothing. Making an example of one or two successful women in your company means nothing. Sending a tweet means nothing. Change one policy this IWD that will make your workplace and culture more open to women. Promote women. Raise the salaries of the women on your payroll,” she said.

“Or sit down and be humble – don’t take recognition from companies who back their rhetoric while you offer empty promises.”