What Malala Yousafzai wants you to know about rewriting the rules at work.

Coca Cola
Thanks to our brand partner, Coca Cola

You would be hard-pressed to find a place in Australia where there is no mention of the Matildas and their future-changing World Cup. 

Representation and visibility have taken centre stage and progress feels more tangible than ever before. Think of all the records the Matildas broke, how many people watched on in support, how many jerseys were sold during their World Cup, and how many children’s heroes are now female athletes. 

We’re riding a wave of progression triggered by the gravitational pull of the Matildas, and letting this wave crash now that the Women’s World Cup has finished would be a catastrophic mistake. 

The Coca-Cola Company knows this, so in support of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, they held a one-day Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Summit, aptly named Level the Playing Field. They've been a proud supporter of every FIFA Women's World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1991, and wanted to continue the conversation around opportunities to 'level the playing field' more broadly in society and in our workplaces.

So, I needed to experience it in person. 

I sat as significant change makers and insanely successful people with resumes longer than this article spoke of how to move forward from this pivotal moment. People like Saudi women's rights activist, Manal Al-Sharif, Australian Paralympian, Dylan Alcott AO, Former Socceroo and Voice for Ethics in Global Sport, Craig Foster, and the one and only Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Malala Yousafzai. 


Dylan Alcott. Image: The Coca-Cola Company.

I scribbled all their words down furiously on the piece of paper in front of me as they spoke because everything they said was so important. So informed; so inspiring. Exceptionally difficult to condense.

The moment Malala walked into the room and started speaking is one that I will never forget. She walked onto the stage and sat down beside Australian journalist, Hamish McDonald, just metres from me. 


Malala's informative, empowering conversation was bejeweled with humour and wit. I knew I was going to leave this summit understanding more about how women are rewriting the rules, and what leveling the playing field can actually look in the future. 

I have never seen anyone mention how incredibly funny she is. I think her ability to sprinkle humour into such powerful storytelling truly showcases the indomitable voice that is Malala. 

Watching on in awe, here are the 4 biggest gems I took away from the summit, and what you need to know for creating a gender-inclusive workplace.

Education is one of the best equalisers.

"The best way to deprive women of their rights and freedom is to not let them learn," Malala said to the room, and we all sat in silence taking in this powerful statement. 

Education means knowledge. Knowledge is power. 

Therefore, educating staff and leaders on best practices and the importance of gender equality is the foundation for a gender-inclusive workplace. 

Malala Yousafzai and Hamish McDonald. Image: The Coca-Cola Company.


The best way for men to help gender equality is to allow women, and people from diverse genders, the space to be their own voice.

Malala reminded us that her story of having her rights stripped away by the Taliban was not unique. She said that the difference between her and other women who were trying to advocate for their rights was that she had a father who didn't bow to societal pressures. He didn't stop her from having a voice. 

This is something Malala, and all the other speakers at the summit, actively do in their work. They create space. 

So, to promote gender equality in our workplaces, it’s imperative to allow women, and people of diverse genders, the space and safety to speak openly for themselves. 

And, of course, we must listen. 

Make sure others' stories are heard in the right rooms.

Listening is just the start, though.

Both Malala and Former Socceroo and Voice for Ethics in Global Sport, Craig Foster, spoke extensively at the summit about the importance of using your privileges to help other people. And how, by amplifying the voices of others, you are not only helping those people individually but are contributing to the change we want to see. 


This means we must have women (and people of diverse genders) at decision-making tables, like in our governments, on our boards, and in our leadership teams. 

Craig Foster. Image: The Coca-Cola Company.


We should not take progress for granted.

After the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan, in 2021, Malala had many, complex feelings. The Taliban were the people who attempted to restrict women’s rights for Malala and her community, and who eventually tried to have her executed. 

What this return to power highlighted was that we cannot take progress for granted. We cannot see progress and then wipe our hands and stop working because the work is over. 

Progress takes each, and every, person continuously keeping themselves and the people around them accountable. It takes substantive actions, ongoing learning, and consistent conversations. 

I’ll end this with something Craig Foster said that I've not been able to let go of.

He said, “We all have social and political capital.” 

So, what will we do with ours? Mobilising it will mean we keep this wave of progression from halting. After reading this now, how will we all use our power responsibly so that we can see gender equality promoted better in our workplaces, and more broadly, in our societies?

Explore Coca-Cola’s Level the Playing Field DEI Summit. Read more from the Summit’s panellists and speakers including Manal Al-Sharif, Ellie Cole, Elizabeth Broderick and many more.

Feature Image: The Coca-Cola Company/Supplied/Mamamia.

Coca Cola
Coca-Cola is all about optimism, inclusivity, and bringing people together. To align with their long-time sponsorship of the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023™ and to harness the momentum of this year’s tournament, Coca-Cola hosted the Level the Playing Field Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Summit in Sydney, Australia. International and local changemakers came together to stimulate timely and engaging conversations on the topic of DEI within workplaces and in society.