Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world

5 March 2021

This International Women’s Day, we are looking at how we can work towards gender equality through developing women’s leadership capacity and representation, in line with the UN Women theme of ‘Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world’.

At YWCA Canberra, we strive for a future where all people can access and enjoy the same rewards, resources and opportunities, regardless of gender.

Sadly, the COVID-19 crisis has impacted our ability to achieve this goal. It has disproportionately affected women across our entire community, whether that’s in workforce participation, their long-term financial security, or the higher levels of unpaid labour they’ve taken on. These have all affected women’s leadership capacity and opportunities, and many experts believe that the pandemic has pushed women’s equality back by at least several years.

However, the pandemic did not create these issues. It merely highlighted the systemic inequalities that have existed largely unrecognised in our society for far too long, bringing them from the shadows into the public sphere. In this time of increased awareness, we have an opportunity to push for gender equality as we create our new, post-COVID normal.

So what can we do to increase women’s leadership and achieve a gender-equal future?

  1. Representation matters! Women must be represented in leadership positions so that gender equality is treated seriously and women’s views are heard. The day of the all-male board should be in the past. To achieve this, we need to remove barriers to women’s leadership, including both conscious and unconscious bias, and change our society’s overly-masculine concept of what leadership is. We also need to pull other women up with us! That doesn’t mean treating women favourably, but encouraging women to embrace their full potential, create more visible role models, and engage in networks and mentoring.
  2. Workplace sexual harassment needs to stop, to facilitate women’s greater participation in the labour market and in male-dominated industries and professions. We call on the Australian Government to implement the recommendations of the Respect@Work Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report (2020). These include robust data collection and reporting frameworks, legislative amendments, and workplace and school-based education and training.
  3. More organisations need to put in place measures to actively track and improve gender equality, such as through the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s Employer of Choice for Gender Equality citation program, to enable women to take up leadership positions.
  4. We need to advocate for professional pay for early childhood educators. The single biggest step we can take to close the wage gap nationally and attain a gender-equal future would be to achieve a professional wage for workers in the early learning sector, of whom 97 per cent are women. COVID-19 highlighted the vital role of educators in facilitating both the workplace participation of parents and the stabilising continuity of early childhood education during a period of crisis. We support the Big Steps equal pay case and encourage you to join us.
  5. We need equal paid parental leave. We are proud to have this at YWCA Canberra, and we urge the Australian Government and other organisations to provide paid parental leave regardless of gender. According to many studies, men being encouraged to take parental leave is one of the most important steps we can take towards gender equality, with the flow-on effects it has on workplace gender equality and the ability for mothers to stay in the workplace and take on leadership roles.
  6. Respectful relationships education must be included in schools. Gender inequality begins in young children, as they learn gendered discrimination and power imbalances from adults and the media. We need to ensure our next generations are growing up knowing that all people are equal and deserve respect, so that little girls today can be leaders tomorrow.


What will you do this International Women’s Day to promote women’s leadership?


And if you’re still stuck for ideas, have a look at our list of events around town to celebrate this most important day!

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