As co-founder of SheSays in Melbourne, I speak to fabulous women working in media and marketing all the time about their career dreams and aspirations.
We’re in an industry filled with ambitious women who are very good at what they do, yet I hear over and over about the barriers that are holding us back.
Through these many discussions and my own experience, I strongly believe that there are three things that women can commit to do that will help us in one important part of the journey to gender equality – to help ensure that having children is never a stop sign, at worst it’s only a ‘pause’, in a career path.
First and foremost, women need to take ultimate responsibility for driving this change. There are many men who support gender equality, and so they should, but we need to recognise that the power lies within women to get there.
How can we “take responsibility” for such a huge task? For one thing, support your female colleagues. Make it a point to identify which women within your organisation need to be supported, and take it upon yourself to be the person to do so. Help them, be their advocate both in and outside of their presence, encourage them.
Support every woman who works hard and has something to offer. Don’t undermine them. Don’t bitch about them. Let’s help each other instead.
Secondly, be accountable.
Be the worker that no boss wants to lose – ever. What are the big picture goals of your boss, and your company, and how can you help achieve them? No matter what your role, make yourself indispensable. Truly. Be the person that everyone wants to work with, wants to have working for them, and wants to work for.
Be the living, breathing proof that employing women benefits business.
Give your boss and your colleagues reason to trust you. This means delivering on what you say you will. Don’t ever palm tasks off to your colleagues unnecessarily. The people you work with need to know that you are making a valuable contribution, and this will come through if you care about your work and deliver what you promise.
Be prepared to put in the hard yards at times (and this doesn’t mean working 80 hour weeks, rather, accept that there are going to be times when everyone needs to do more than usual to get the job done. Whether you have a family or not). Show the decision makers in your business how committed you are – and importantly, show yourself just how amazing you can be when you put your mind to it.
Finally, flexibility. If women want workplaces to be flexible, we need to be flexible in the first place. When I first went on maternity leave, I had my return all figured out, with childcare planned upon working three days a week. Three months before my return, my boss offered me an amazing new role but on the condition that he would need me at least four days a week. Through a bit of discussion and compromise on both sides, I now work four days that are two hours shorter than a standard work day. We could only get to this agreement because we were both willing to be flexible and so far it’s working out great.
For me, being flexible is also about understanding that work nowadays isn’t contained to our office hours. I have no problem whatsoever with logging on after hours to get the job done. But in return I expect my employer to understand when I have to race off suddenly to pick my son up from childcare when he’s sick.
So, there it is. Take responsibility for driving change. Be accountable in everything you do. And be willing to be flexible.
I’m the best example I know of the impact that acting on these three things can do. I lived them for a decade and I truly believe this has shaped the positivity around my experience with taking maternity leave and returning to work in a job that I love, that challenges me and that has allowed me to progress, not stagnate.
Reading this over, it’s clear to me that these points don’t apply exclusively to women. They’re just as important for men who want to be successful. And that fact is just another step in the right direction to achieving equality.
Jane Hutton is co-founder of SheSays Melbourne and Communications Director at Dentsu Aegis Network.