Have We Reached Gender Equality In The Workplace? Industry Leaders Weigh In

Have We Reached Gender Equality In The Workplace? Industry Leaders Weigh In

You’d be hard-pushed to find a workplace these days that doesn’t say they are champions of gender equality. Yet despite all the talk, is everyone really walking the walk? Have we reached gender equality? Or do we have a way to go?

B&T spoke to some of the industries fabulous female leaders to find out.

Please note: some of these responses were recorded for IWD. We didn’t want to limit the conversation around gender equality to one day of the year so we have spread them out. If you are passionate about gender equality please look out for our upcoming B&T Women Leading Tech and B&T Women In Media coverage.

Katie Barclay, founder and CEO, Hopeful Monsters

“Have we reached equality in the workplace? That’s a hard no from me. While I love IWD and all it stands for (and appreciate this is an IWD-themed piece), the inequality issue our industry is dealing with right now extends far beyond just gender. Now, it could be because gender inequality isn’t an issue in our business (we’re one of the only sole female owned creative agencies in Australia) and of course I’m sensitive to those whom it does impact, but to me, the inequality that exists across so many areas of our industry (ethnicity, social mobility, age etc.) is a far bigger problem.

“When I think back to some of the conferences and talks I attended last year, the lack of diversity was scary. Many of us are talking in our own little bubbles. Middle-class white people talking to other middle-class white people. (This research on this topic out of the UK is a sobering read). Far more needs to be done to fix that. In our experience, diverse backgrounds lead to diverse thinking, which leads to diverse, interesting, culturally impactful work.

“Fixing the gender pay gap, ensuring a fair balance of women in leadership positions, flexibility for working mums… they’re all great (and should be easy fixes in my opinion) but as an industry there’s still a lot more we need to be doing to fix inequality across more than just gender.”

Sonja Stindl, general manager, Amplify

As a female general manager in my early thirties and a new mum, my career has given me a firsthand look at workplace equality, though I know that my experience might not mirror everyone else’s. In my current role, where both men and women are well-represented, I’ve been fortunate to work in an environment that genuinely values equality.

In my past roles in public relations, influencer marketing, and talent management, I’ve witnessed women stepping into leadership roles, overcoming challenges, and thriving without letting gender be a barrier. Personally, I’ve felt consistently supported and empowered.

While my journey may not be the standard, the statistics tell a different story. It’s a reminder that there’s work to be done—closing gaps, fostering more equality, and transforming workplace fairness from an exception into the norm.

Sarah Wyse, co-founder and CEO, Matterworks

 

There is a way to go before we reach gender equality in the workplace – and the WGEA gender pay gap report only reinforced this. But there are signs that we are on the right track, such as there being 1 in 4 of the top ASX100 companies being led by females.

In any case, it’s clear that when it comes to creating sustainable behavioural changes in the workplace, you need to change the culture. While this is easier said than done, there are a few drivers that can help initiate this change, such as:

  • Developing people-focused strategies that focus on hiring people who model behaviours that challenge gender bias.
  • Encouraging equal care-giving responsibilities for both men and women.
  • Improving reporting and standards – what we don’t measure doesn’t count. Resolving the gender pay gap is just the start of the improvements in this space.

By working on these areas, hopefully we can move towards a more equal workplace for all.

Anna Borien, partner, Galore Creative

‘Have we reached equality in the workplace?’ If the answer is no, where is there still work to be done?

Spoiler alert! The short answer is of course, no. Equality (or lack of) in the workplace will always be able to be improved, but that’s largely because the issue is bigger than the workplace. These issues we’re up against are fundamental cultural and societal issues that have been developed over centuries. So what goes into rectifying and rebuilding is…huge.

Whilst it’s much bigger than us, that’s definitely no excuse. As an industry and as individuals, we have to take the lead and really walk the walk to contribute to positive change. And the good news is, we’re in an industry with the power to persuade, so our impact can be much bigger than just our own house.

Underrepresentation of women (and other marginalised groups) result in company D&E policies being ineffective, because the starting point of diverse representation is overlooked. Look around the room. Who is making your policies? For me, this is where the work starts. We have an opportunity to get the right mix of people in a room and interrogate employment contracts, salary packages, flexible working policies, equal parental leave (to name a few), in a way that reconsiders how you can create a more consistent level playing field for both men and women to thrive.

Kauri Ballard, Director, Analytic Partners

Is there equality in the workplace?

For the workplace I work in, yes. But I know this isn’t the reality for so many women at work.

I count myself lucky to work in this kind of environment, but it’s not luck that it’s worked out this way. Analytic Partners was founded by a woman, who remains the company’s CEO, and who has embedded in the company the values of leadership and merit. I’ve experienced a mix of managers while at this company – both male and female, and I have had excellent experiences with them all.

This is because our CEO and Chief Client Officer, Maggie Merklin, set the tone for the entire company and everyone who is hired into a leadership position is held to a high standard. There is no room for discrimination, harassment or unfair working policies. Many of our global female leaders are also working mums – they are great examples of what can be achieved when women are afforded a supportive workplace.

Equality has to be promoted from the top down – that is the only way to affect real, structural change. There is no understating the importance of great leadership when it comes to tackling these issues, and I hope one day my experience will become the standard across the board.

Kim Dao, Senior Business Partner, Yahoo

 

No – and it’s not for a lack of trying, but everyone is busy. We’re in a fast-paced industry with everyone spinning a lot of plates so Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are usually an afterthought to KPIs and numbers. It’s also hard to measure and track success.

Whilst there is a large focus on the female gender pay gap (which is still extremely important), there are other aspects of equality which need more time in the limelight. For example, we need to work towards cultural diversity and neurodiversity to ensure a range of voices are heard at every level. Recognition and representation has become as important as ever with the rise of connected global markets and focus on mental wellbeing.

At Yahoo, we have 11 Employee Resource Groups tailored to support and actively listen to the diverse voices within our workforce. One example is elevAsian, where our mission is to cultivate a vibrant community of involved Asian employees within Yahoo, empowering their journey toward both professional and personal excellence.

I’m a proud Vietnamese-Australian, so being the chapter lead for elevAsian in Australia has allowed me to create a sense of belonging through community. We celebrate cultural events like Lunar New Year and Diwali, and spread awareness about different customs and traditions, as

well as correcting stereotypes. It’s so much more than fancy events and lunches. It’s about feeling seen, equal and appreciated as my whole self in the workplace.

Lindsay Rogers, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Chello.

‘Have we reached equality in the workplace?

Creating equality is a verb. It’s a moving, doing word that requires action. I don’t know if we as a society will ever reach a state of total equality, but we’re making positive steps forward, with less talk and more action.

At Chello, we’ve spent a lot of time the last few years working away on doing our bit. Over 80% of our team identify as women: but more than this, it’s how women are structured in our business that matters. I strongly believe and have benefited from in my own career, when you see other senior women leaders kicking goals, you see that perhaps you can do it too. Diversity, however, means nothing without inclusion. For us, we have 75% women at a key leadership level, we are well interspersed within our organisation, we’re also big on variety of input of ideas, diversity from all perspectives.

Equality is only furthered by action. We’ve been working away on helpful tools like a Returning to Work pack for new parents adjusting to a career in agency life, we launched our paid parental leave this year, pairing buddies for newcomers of diverse roles for new starters to get different perspectives across the agency, we allocate learning and development budget and leave for each person to go out and get new perspectives to bring back into the agency amongst many other initiatives.

Sophia Habib, Group Account Director, The Company We Keep

This is a complex issue that can’t be answered from one viewpoint. For me, it isn’t just about gender equality – it’s also about equality for all. For our First Nations people, the LGBTQIA+ community, neurodivergent individuals, people from various cultures, and more. And there are many separate yet interconnected issues we need to address holistically.

In terms of gender equality at The CWK, we’ve made some progress but have a way to go. For example, we’ve had open discussions recently about maternity and paternity leave. The appetite to support parents is there but for a small-medium sized company, it isn’t currently commercially viable. So how do we change that? By hoping for governmental subsidies? For things to change in a meaningful way, we need to rethink things on a societal scale. Parental leave, flexible working, support for carers, and office creches should be the norm as opposed to a perk for staff at huge companies.

Around 65 per cent of The CWK are women and we have a supportive culture where we can raise concerns without judgment. Our salary and positions are 100 per cent based on merit – it’s about skills, expertise, and results. We try to ensure that our flexible working conditions – which have been in place since our inception – work for every team member to be able to balance their personal and professional life. I’m also very proud to see so many of our female team members in leadership roles. If we look at what we can do to create more equality, I think it starts with a supportive and inclusive culture where people feel free to have open discussions about the issues that matter to them. What’s important to me may not be important to the next person and so, to have true equality for all, we need to be able to educate, empathise, and evolve.

Stacia Grooby, Strategy Director, Five by Five Global

Recently while waiting for a coffee order, I overheard a man behind me comment to his companion, “I feel like I’m the woman in my relationship, underpaid, overworked and spending most of my time with the kids”. Underpaid. Overworked. Primary carer. A negative yet alarmingly standard connotation associated with the term ‘woman’.

When we speak about equality in the workplace, we are speaking to equality in society. I don’t believe it’s possible to claim we’ve achieved one without the other, so no we haven’t achieved equality in the workplace. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that many leaders and businesses are constantly working towards achieving this long-term goal through increased awareness and action. We can’t discount the investment in the journey because we haven’t reached the final destination, anymore than we can rest on our laurels and stop working towards equality for all.

Many businesses and leaders in our industry are reviewing and changing meaningful elements of their work, like hiring practices, training opportunities, salary, personal support and leadership roles. However, I believe we also need to be held accountable as marketers that the work we produce has a significant impact in maintaining stereotypes and influencing society. It’s up to us to challenge our personal perspectives, and our clients, to recognise when we’re feeding into negative stereotypes and maintaining an unhealthy status quo. Whether subtle shifts or direct challenges, showcasing and embodying the society we want to live in is paramount to creating real change for current and future generations.

Andrea Martens, CEO, ADMA

Personally, I don’t believe we have reached equality in the workplace. We have made good strides forward in a number of areas but we need to remain focussed on the overall goal across so many aspects; whether that is Board representation, senior leadership, workforce diversity, benefits like parental leave (and return to work) or remuneration.

There are green shoots that will inevitably deliver enormous economic, social and cultural benefits and provide better opportunities for future generations.




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