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Stop Fixing Women

2/03/2017
The title of Catherine Fox's latest book is meant to be as provocative as it reads. For too long we have focussed on blaming women rather than shifting the system.
  • A system built and designed by white anglo-saxon men to benefit white anglo saxon men.
  • A system that normalises white anglo-saxon male behaviours across government, business and society.
  • A system that says because we legislate for equality we will get equity.
​Catherine's new book looks at why the system needs to flex to accommodate differences between men and women and the way they work and lead. Rather than endlessly work on the women to adapt to and benefit from a system we had little hand in creating.
 
As one of Australia's leading commentators on women and work, Catherine has constantly challenged the mantra that women need to 'back themselves, speak up, negotiate harder, ask for more and support each other'. In other words, women being asked to adopt male behaviours in order to get ahead.

Avivah Wittenberg Cox, a leading global gender consultant and CEO of 20-First, has similarly argued that if you want to hold women back, you should treat them or ask them to behave like men. In an article in 2015 in The Harvard Business Review she wrote that equal treatment is actually detrimental to women who are too often simply judged as "not fitting the dominant group’s systems, styles and patterns."

Sadly a lot of work in the gender space has focussed on ensuring every policy and procedure treats men and women equally, no one is given 'special' treatment and everyone sinks or swims in a pool of uniform depth. It's just unfortunate if one or two people are afraid of water, can't swim or have a cultural reason they cannot be seen in a swimming costume. Those in the disability sector have long understood and argued against the broadbrush application of the principles of equality.

This is at the core of the language shift that is needed from the using the phrase 'gender equality,' where we mandate all inputs to be equal, to where we talk about 'gender equity', which is focussed instead on getting gender equal outcomes for men and women. WOB moved a long time ago to this language and to speaking about 'gender balance' as opposed to 'gender diversity'. There is really nothing diverse about being a woman. However there is diversity in being a black, gay man/woman living in rural Australia.

Some might say WOB falls into the category of an organisation that has worked on fixing women by providing them with the intelligence and skills to move into board and leadership roles. We prefer to see our work as enabling women to realise their capacity for leadership - for whatever reason they and others were undervaluing. We also identified that we needed to work on both sides of the ledger, so implemented a vacancy board whereby any organisation could post a board or committee role and advertise it to the network free of charge - thus providing women with access to opportunities, rather than hand picking winners to apply.

So our advice for those organisations seeking to stop fixing women, is to redesign a more accountable and transparent system that focusses on equitable outcomes as opposed to equal inputs. 

To buy Catherine's book go to www.newsouthbooks.com.au and enter the promo code WOMEN20 at the checkout to receive a 20% discount.
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