In celebration of International Women’s Day, Thrive PR + Communications & Generator co-hosted an event featuring some of New Zealand’s most dynamic and inspiring women – including Thrive’s Founder and Managing Director, Leilani Abels - talking about what needs to be done to achieve gender equality.
Looking at what action ordinary people can take to achieve equality for women in the workplace, our panellists shared their experiences and views.
Our panellists were:
The Honorable Paula Bennett, Deputy Leader of the National Party & MP for Upper Harbour, who has served in Parliament since 2005 including time as Deputy PM.
Maru Nihoniho (MNZM), Founder and Managing Director of Metia Interactive, and named as Forbes Top 50 Women in Technology in December.
Robin Davies, People & Culture Director, NZ at Lion, who has led Lion’s awarded and globally recognised inclusion and diversity journey.
Sido Kitchin, Editorial Director of New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, Woman’s Day and Australian Women’s Weekly, with a 30 year career in magazines, television, theatre and film.
Leilani Abels, Founder and Managing Director of Thrive PR + Communications, and a passionate supporter of diversity and helping women reach senior roles within the PR industry.
The panel was moderated by Paul Head, CEO of NZ’s Commercial Communications Council.
Here are our top takeaways from the discussion.
Businesses need to take the lead in driving gender equality.
Our panellists were united in the belief that to achieve gender equality, we need business and industry to be our key drivers. This can be through supporting flexible work, equal pay and other initiatives that promote gender equality.
Maru said a key factor is providing everyone with equal opportunity. “Everybody should be treated fairly, having equal opportunities… everyone feeling that their values and opinions are respected.”
The panelists agreed that flexibility is critical. According to Sido, “time is such a precious commodity today, increasingly women are asking for more flexibility.”
Lion’s Robin Davies highlighted that this is beyond “talking the talk” - businesses need to put their money on the line and invest to achieve equality. Lion NZ is recognised as a world leader in company culture, having invested money and time to develop LionFlex, an approach to flexible working that allows its employees to balance work with their lives outside of Lion.
Leilani identified childcare as a key factor that is “ripe for disruption”. She noted that the current childcare model leaves little flexibility for those who work shift or weekend work. “I’d love to see someone come in and transform what the world’s childcare system looks like,” she said.
We need males on board to help drive change.
The value of male support is also a huge factor. “The biggest difference we can make is having men as champions” said Maru.
Leilani agreed. “If we’re going to really shift the dial, there should be loads of men in the room with us tonight. The reality is that in the corporate world they’re still the decision makers, they need to be part of conversation.”
The Glass Ceiling is real… but you have to act as though it isn’t
While our panellists have achieved seniority and professional success in their careers, they all recognised that women can be unfairly disadvantaged and held back.
This can start from birth. Paula shared: “I grew up in a male dominated household, my father believed women should be treated differently … it was very distressing for the family that the only brain was wasted on the girl!”
Advice from Maru might help other women crash through the glass ceiling. “I didn’t realise there was a glass ceiling. When I went to conferences in LA and San Francisco, I learnt there might only be 4 or 5 girls in a room with a thousand men. I didn’t know there was a glass ceiling, until I hit it!”
“I’d already decided what I want to do, I’d already invested in what I want to do. To make that journey easier, it was good to set goals and meet them along the way.”
Feel the fear but do it anyway
Fear can be present for women even when they’ve achieved what most of us deem ‘success’. Sido said women need to find their voice and the confidence to ask for the things they want. “I’m not proud to say it but only in the last couple of years I’ve been able to negotiate a pay rise”.
Leilani pointed to Thrive clients such as ANZ, Cisco and Twitter which all run development programs specifically for women. Not just about technical skills, these initiatives include a focus on giving women confidence and skilling them up in areas that will help them succeed at senior levels.
Being female in business has its advantages
There are certainly lots of uplifting and positive stories from women in business today. As Leilani shared when talking about Thrive, “our competitors are really big networks run predominately by men. Businesses see us and they want to support us. Just recently one major client, from a prominent brand, talked to me about how they loved seeing women supporting women, a group of females who genuinely enjoyed working together, when they partner with Thrive.”
On the media side, Sido spoke about the privilege of connecting with women through Bauer’s magazines and digital channels. “I love celebrating women … across all our platforms we talk to over a million women a week”.
The secret to success
Finally, we asked our panellists to share how they measure success. Balance was a key theme, and Paula pointed out that, “the measure of success changes - someday it’s handing back five children alive” (her grandchildren). She also highlighted that success might not mean being number one, referencing the fact that she’s constantly asked if she’s going to lead her party.
For Sido and Leilani, success was around juggling work with personal life. Sido said, “I spend a hell of a lot of time at the office, so for me success is being at home”. For Leilani, “it’s keeping sanity while the juggle is going - when my family are happy, when I’m with my friends, when I’m enjoying work.”
The last word goes to Robin, who said: “My measure of success is knowing that I’m making a difference.”
One thing that’s certain is that all our panellists are making a huge difference for women and girls, inspiring the women of today and paving the way for future generations.
See the whole panel discussion here through the Facebook Live recording.