Senior leaders and elite business men and women were confronted by the highly acclaimed US documentary and feature film, MissRepresentation, which premiered at Sydney University yesterday.
The film, which was hosted by Insync Surveys and Gender Worx, in partnership with the Sydney Morning Herald, explored the representations of females in the mainstream media, and the struggle to get more women into leadership roles by reducing unconscious bias.
The viewing was followed by a panel discussion between Kathryn Fagg, president corporate development Linfox, Katie Lahey, Korn/Ferry managing director Australasia, Amanda Wilson, editor Sydney Morning Herald and Nicholas Barnett, executive chairman, Insync Surveys.
In the film Marie Wilson, founding president of The White House Project said, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” and pointed to alarming gender disparity between the number of men and women in high leadership roles.
Fagg said that the issue of achieving workplace gender parity was an organisational issue as well as a broader community issue.
Wilson commented that whilst Australia has come a long way since she started her career as a young female journalist, when ‘shame and ritual humiliation’ were the order of the day, achieving power is still often seen through the lens of what effect it has on men.
Lahey, who is also a director of David Jones and a member of Chief Executive Women, said that real change in organisations comes from the top down, via the C-suite.
“It’s really driven by the CEO, becoming a champion of change and really articulating what their organisation stands for, such as increasing the diversity of women and becoming an advocate of change in the community."
Lahey said that Australia also desperately needs male champions for change, because the conversations can’t just be women talking to women.
Barnett said that board decisions can go a long way to embedding the culture of an organisation and setting the tone.
Fagg said that in some cases it may be appropriate for company board members and directors to intervene in the hiring process to ensure the lists contain strong female candidates.
“In some roles and industries they may be harder to source, but they’re out there,” Fagg said.
Lahey also commented that the statistics of women on boards is changing, and for the first time in a long time she feels optimistic about the future of achieving gender diversity.
“We’re on the cusp of change just now - and until it’s unremarkable that we have a female editor in chief of the Sydney Morning Herald, or a female Prime Minister of Australia, we’ll know that there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Lahey said.
Barnett added that there is a shared responsibility to keep shifting the needle, and added “I implore organisations to start the conversations, to start the journey; it’s up to us as individuals to get the ball rolling.”