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The real battleground for gender equality

By David Pich CMgr FIML

(Warning: This is not an article about the ins and outs of Brexit!)

As a dual citizen of Australia and the UK, I tend to keep a foot in both camps, so to speak. Whilst primarily focusing my attention on local leadership issues, I do keep a keen eye on leadership matters in the land of my birth. This inevitably brings me to the absolute shambles that has commonly become known as ‘Brexit’.

Before your eyes glaze over, before your finger twitches towards the minimise button, let me restate that this isn’t another article about Brexit! It’s about something arguably more significant. It’s about institutional gender inequality. It’s about the fact that – typically – our institutions remain male-dominated domains. And it’s about the fact that this needs to change.

A reality check is needed

On 14th January there was (yet another) crucial vote on Brexit in the House of Commons. (It was a vote so crucial that most people, including me, have long since forgotten what was being voted on). My interest was piqued not by the vote itself but by the reports and images of Tulip Saddiq, the MP for Kilburn being wheeled into the voting chamber in a wheelchair.

The issue was – and still is – that Westminster doesn’t have a proxy voting system that allows absent MPs to vote in debates when they are away from Parliament. In fact, the British Parliament almost has a proxy system. About 12-months ago all political parties agreed that a modern political system needed this facility. And then nothing happened.

Back in 2018, Harriet Harman MP arguing in favour of the introduction of proxy voting pointed out that there 200 women MPs in Parliament and that an increasing number were young. She went on to say that ‘there are two babies in the offing and it’s time we just got on with it’.

Indeed. I find it almost unbelievable that the institution that arguably holds a good many of the keys to political power in one of the most advanced democracies in the world doesn’t have processes in place that accommodate the realities of modern life. And that promote one of the very basic principles of gender equality.

Of course, I’m actually not that surprised at all. The ‘Tulip Saddiq incident’ is just one example of the way that women in leadership roles are viewed and treated.

What often surprises me the most about this, and other examples is the reaction of men (and yes, I’m one of those!). One notorious Parliamentarian at the time of the discussion around proxy voting in the British Parliament proudly pointed out to a newspaper that he was no ‘modern man’ and that he hadn’t changed a nappy in his life (or in the life of his kids!). That he said this proudly says it all really. That he said it at all should surely disqualify him from voting on issues such as this!

Systemic change is needed

As leaders, we are always accountable for the decisions we make. Taking personal responsibility for the way we view, decide and act on matters is part and parcel of the job description. The equal treatment of women should be no different. ­

Unfortunately, the fact remains that men continue to dominate many of the positions of responsibility in society. Until there is parity in positions of power men must play both a leading and a supporting role in the fight for gender equality.

This is a real battle and better leaders need to lead the charge. Better leaders are key. The mark of a great leader rests on decision making based on the highest standards. The highest standards of our society demand that decision-makers show the respect and consideration that women deserve. Our actions, great or small, as leaders is what will shape the society we desire. Indeed, we need to rethink how to create a gender equal future. This cannot be done in isolation, it needs the cooperation of all regardless of gender.

Cooperation is needed

Right thinking men need to be there to support women in the push for gender equality. That struggle isn’t a one-sided battle; we are stronger fighting inequality together.

My view is that cooperation is always desirable. This isn’t a fight of us and them, of men v women. It’s a battle between equality and inequality. The battlegrounds are everywhere – in the workplace, in our political institutions, in religion, families and throughout society.

The only way to fight inequality of any sort is through collaborative action.

David Pich is the Chief Executive of IML ANZ.

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