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"To attain gender equality, we need to focus on men."

Sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick makes a convincing case for involving men in the quest for gender equality.

Equality is our birthright. No one should accept anything less. And yet, inequality is everywhere, visible and invisible, deliberate and by default.

As children, fairness is one of the very first judgements we learn to make. Unfairness is something all of us understands. Despite progress on some fronts, the fact remains that women endure various forms of unfairness – discrimination, harassment, violence, marginalisation and exclusion across the globe.

“Inequality is everywhere, visible and invisible, deliberate and by default.”

In some places, it may be trafficking, or young girls attacked for trying to attend school, or women not permitted to drive. 

In Australia, in 2015, we still see women far less likely to achieve leadership roles – as senior executives, board members, or leading fast-growth companies. Women earn 78 cents for every dollar a man does, and enter retirement with about half the superannuation of their male peers.

And perhaps most disturbingly, Men’s Violence Against Women is a national epidemic.  It has already claimed more than 34 women’s lives so far in 2015.

Women earn 78 cents for every dollar a man does, and enter retirement with about half the superannuation of their male peers.

Not only is gender equality the great human rights issue of our time, it is also our greatest economic opportunity. The wealth locked up inside outdated, patriarchal structures around the globe is enormous. Imagine the economic value that would be unleashed if women were afforded the same economic opportunities as men.

Solving for gender inequality is complex.

When I came into my role in 2007, I was firmly of the view that increasing the number of women leaders was a matter of women’s activism, and women working together.  Women’s activism is critical to making progress.

But, the fact is that if you look at the levers of power in nations and in organisations, they often rest in the hands of men.

Power in nations and in organizations often rests in the hands of men.

My view now is that continuing to rely on women alone to disrupt the status quo is an illogical approach.

Unless we work with the men in power— and help them move from being merely interested in this subject to taking action—we wouldn’t see the transformative change that is urgently needed.  To attain gender equality, we need to focus on men.

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Please don’t get me wrong.  This is not about men speaking for women or “saving” them. This is about men standing up beside women and saying, “The promotion of gender equality in Australia, and the world, is everyone’s business. It is not a women’s issue – it’s a shared issue of critical societal and economic importance.”

Change should not sit on the shoulders of women alone.  Men must accept shared responsibility to create change.

Men must accept shared responsibility to create change.

That’s why I started the Male Champions of Change.  I picked up the phone and rang some of Australia’s most powerful men and asked “will you step up beside women to create a more gender equal world.” The group formed from there, reaching 25, its current size.

The group meets frequently.  The discussions are serious, and build around a model of listening, learning and leading.  The MCC listen to women, gender experts, the research and their own employees.  They build a deep understanding of issues.  They lead with action.

Putting the Chief of Army beside the head of a bank, results in thought-provoking conversations about flexibility and leadership. These leaders have taken steps to advance gender equality within their organizations as a result of this dialogue.  All agree to regular reporting where they share metrics of progress, and learnings openly.  Pubic and shared accountability is an important part of the model.  There are no free-riders.

Elizabeth Broderick is the Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

I’m pleased that the MCC model is catching on elsewhere.  There are now groups based in the State of Victoria, in the Property Sector, made up of Architects and of leaders focused on the Built Environment – all modelled on the Founding MCC group.

My vision is for all Australians – both men and women – step up their leadership to create a more equal Australia.

We are one half of humanity. Men, I call on all of you, particularly those in positions of power, to stand beside us as we rise to our potential.

Elizabeth Broderick is the Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

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