“I was a bit of a tom boy growing up. I loved cars, building things with Lego and Formula 1 so it’s no surprise that I ended up doing mechanical engineering at uni. I grew up in a generation where we were taught that we can do anything we set our minds to. It didn’t dawn on me that I’d be in the minority until I got to university and I was one of four girls in a cohort of 200. Then, entering the workforce I noticed a difference in the way I was treated compared to my male peers. I wasn’t taken as seriously and people were often surprised by my abilities.
My workplace has recently released a huge global report on gender equality with research spanning over 1100 companies and 7 million employees across 54 countries. We found that while we’ve made a lot of progress in gender equality when it comes to hiring, promoting and to some extent pay, this progress isn’t enough if we want to achieve true parity in the workplace. The historical legacy of inequality means that the workforce has only 40% female representation, with embarrassingly low representation at the senior levels. This means over the next decade, this figure will only rise to 43% if things continue the way they are. We need to have a constant conversation about gender equality and opportunities for women in the workplace.
This is just for gender equality. As we know, there is so much more to diversity. When we also consider race, ethnicity, nationality, language, age, cognitive and physical abilities and characteristics, sexual orientation, education, religion, socioeconomic situations and ways of thinking, we have a long way to go towards seeing workplaces, leadership and boards that are better representations of the diverse Australia we know.
We need to take positive action towards much more inclusive workplaces of equal opportunity. We need systemic change within organisations from the training of managers, to career opportunities, to flexible working, to workplace benefits that take into account the unique needs of diverse people, to active support of a diverse leadership pipeline.
For many this means change. It means having to listen to someone that looks and thinks different to you. People will be unhappy. A lot of tough and awkward conversations need to be had in order to ensure everyone’s feeling heard and on board this journey, but they’re not.
Sometimes I get the vibe that people assume that I got where I am because I tick many diversity boxes – I’m female, I’m Asian, I have tattoos and I’m often the youngest in the room. But I’m not just a diversity quota. I bring value to the table as well as other forms of diversity that you can’t see – like the combination of left and right brain thinking. As both an engineer and an artist, I can think both creatively and analytically.
A more ambitious Australia needs to start with having the guts to shake up leadership and have the tough and awkward conversations about what it actually means to achieve greater diversity and inclusion. Sitting on a number of business committees and boards and even spending time in airline lounges – our senior ranks are so homogenous. Our leadership doesn’t represent Australia and therefore leadership can’t connect with what’s actually going on.
s p a c e is a unique place that brings diverse people with diverse views together to solve for the future. It’s also a safe space to have those tough and awkward conversations – because our Australian “she’ll be right” attitude isn’t going to get us where we need to be.”
*Interview and write-up- s p a c e storyteller, Sian Gooden