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Opinion Business Gender and LGBTIQ+ Women Investment

Opinion: Breaking gender norms that act as barriers to equality

3 min read

In the past two years, we have seen Australian women bear the brunt of unpaid work in the pandemic, draw low wages propping up the care sector, and march to demand safety at home and work.

We’ve seen global indicators of gender equality tell a disturbing story about life in Australia. Key measures show we are not just stalled on the path to equality, we’ve fallen from 15th place to 43rd on the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index.

Australia is a wealthy, educated country, with laws in place to prevent gender discrimination. So why are we going backwards? And what is it costing us?

Australians Investing in Women is a national not-for-profit that advocates for gender-wise investing to make our society stronger and more equitable. We work in partnership with philanthropic, corporate and community leaders to catalyse investment in women and girls in Australia, and globally.

A key part of our work is helping Australians identify gender gaps and understand what is at stake when we limit the opportunity for half of our population. As part of that work, we have partnered with Deloitte Access Economics to put a dollar figure on the cost of gender norms to the Australian economy.

The ground-breaking results of that work were launched early in November, revealing that removing entrenched gender norms could boost the Australian economy by $128 billion a year.

The report, Breaking the Norm: Unleashing Australia’s Economic Potential, found gender gaps were underpinned by rigid gender norms that reinforce traditional roles for men and women at home and work. Closing those gaps in line with leading equitable countries would deliver massive, sustained gains for Australia’s economy.

It found that more flexible ideas around gender would not only deliver a multi-billion dollar boost to our economy annually, it would also create 461,000 additional full-time employees at a time of dire skills shortages.

These benefits would flow from increasing women’s participation in the workforce; increasing the number of hours of paid work able to be completed by sharing unpaid work across genders; and ensuring men and women work in roles that align with their skills, talent and qualifications.

This research is a call to action for policy and decision-makers in government, business and the community sector.

As someone who works closely with the philanthropic sector, encouraging investors to apply a gender lens when they allocate funds, I think Breaking the Norm is crucial reading.

Related: Future of gender equality in Australia bleak without focused investment, report shows

It’s important information for anyone with funds to donate, and for all of us who work with donated funds. If we want to make the biggest possible difference in the communities we serve, gender is key.

Philanthropy has long provided the risk capital necessary to drive social innovation, and the report tells us there is an incredible opportunity for corporate, private and institutional funders to take a lead on breaking gender norms.

It’s my hope that the Breaking the Norm report provides the evidence base for every investor to think about how their decisions can shift the dial on equality, and the value that can unlock for individuals and our economy.

In Australia today just 12 per cent of all philanthropic investment has a strategic focus on women and girls.

AIIW provides a range of tools to help investors apply a gender lens when choosing and tracking projects. We encourage investors to have clear goals, ask thoughtful questions and measure outcomes for all genders.

We connect funders to opportunities that drive economic and social equality – from specific programs targeting women and girls, through programs that support systemic change within organisations.

A great example of the way philanthropy can support system change in the STEM sector is by funding research institutes to complete Science in Australia Gender Equity or SAGE accreditation.

SAGE is based on the successful Athena SWAN Charter of the UK, which has been in operation for over a decade, improving gender diversity and bolstering women’s leadership roles within science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine institutions.

The Women in STEM Decadal Plan singled SAGE out as the only transformative gender equity program of its kind in Australia. Enabling SAGE to be adopted more widely would bring unparalleled impact to the sector.

For philanthropists wanting to make a difference across the economy, accelerating progress towards gender equality is the ultimate impact investment.

We can make 2022 a turning point for gender in this country.

More women MPs walked through the doors of Parliament House after the 2022 Federal election than ever before.

Concerted advocacy from women leaders saw the Treasurers of NSW, Victoria and Australia put childcare, as a driver of women’s workforce participation, at the core of their 2022/23 budgets.

And the push for gender-balanced leadership in public and private institutions has also accelerated.

We need to build on that momentum by breaking gender norms that act as barriers to equality. These norms don’t just destroy opportunities for women and girls, they limit social, economic, and political possibilities for everyone in Australia.

Related: Promoting investment in women

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Julie Reilly OAM is the CEO of Australians Investing In Women.

Julie is passionate about growing philanthropy for women and girls. She has worked across government, corporate, NFP, the university sector and in media, winning an Excellence Award for her work in gender at Swinburne University of Technology, Pro Bono’s IMPACT 25 Award in 2014 and, in 2017, was named Herald Sun’s 50 Women in Victoria You Should Know.

Julie has undertaken a Churchill Fellowship to study global strategies for growing philanthropy for women and girls and currently holds Advisory Board roles with Perpetual Foundation, Canadian based For a and MECCA’s M-Power Program.
For 25 years she co-produced Myer’s annual Spirit of Christmas CD which raised over $8.5m for charity.

In 2021 Julie was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for services to the charitable sector.


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