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QuickTake #39: Are the Federal Government’s sexual harassment reforms fair dinkum? How much real change will happen in Parliament House, and in businesses across the nation? Is Scott Morrison the change agent? The potential is there, although the government has an unconvincing record, according to Michelle Redfern, founder of Advancing Women in Business & Sport. Her practical tips are based on experience, discussed here with Peter Wilkinson and Liam Cox#crisiscommunications #leadership #corporateaffairs #publicrelations #ceos
(QuickTake is a niche publication that analyses communications issues for CEOs, directors, corporate affairs professionals and journalists.)

Video Transcript

Liam Cox:

Michelle, thank you for joining us. Your work focuses on creating gender-equal and inclusive workplaces. To do that in Parliament House there’s some key points you would make to Scott Morrison based on your experience, where should the prime minister begin?

Michelle Redfern:

So, number one Liam is face those brutal truths. Well, the prime minister should begin where one of my clients began. So, my client is an ASX 200, and where my clients began was with the CEO, and the CEO knew that they needed to do something to close the leadership gender gap in their organisation. So, when I started working with this company and with the CEO and his team, one of the first things I said to them is you need to face your brutal truths, and which is exactly the same advice I’d give our prime minister. Now, those brutal truths for my client were these, what are our numbers? And we know our numbers at a macro level, so we know how many women as a percentage we have in all of our workforces, but where do they sit? Are they in entry-level? Are they on the floor? Are they in leadership? Are they in HR? And then we delved into the qualitative diagnostics.

So, what is the lived experience of a woman when she walks into X workplace? And this is a workplace with a whole bunch of professional staff, manufacturing staff, logistics staff and when that CEO and his executive became aware, they were certainly facing some brutal truths which was, we didn’t realise from our positions as a very senior, very experienced, but male and Anglo-Celtic men, from our position, we did not understand what it was like to be a woman in our organisation, nor do we necessarily understand the barriers that women face or perceive in joining us and having a great career with us and advancing with us?

Peter Wilkinson:

Well, first up is got to be genuine motivation. Now, the problem the prime minister, I think might have… Interested Michelle in your comment, is whether or not there’s enough across the board motivation in Parliament House, given that this is going to drag on until Kate Jenkins’ report is out in November.

Michelle Redfern:

Very good point Peter, and certainly when I started work with this client and a couple of my other clients, I’ve got another sporting club roles, a director where we did a similar piece of work, a football club. I was pushing on open doors quite frankly because this was a CEO and then certainly the chair of the board and the CEO of the football club work, they said, we’ve got to do this. So, I was pushing on an open door, however, in another one of my clients, we certainly don’t have that top-down support and top-down view that this is an issue. So, what do we do? It’s quite simply, it’s not drip, drip, drip. We’ve just got to keep doing things and keep doing things but bring in a different lens.

What’s the burning platform? Even if there’s resistance from those that sit in power, there’s going to be a gotcha moment at some point, so let’s find that and help them see why this is not just a nice thing to do and it is the right thing to do, but why gender equality? Why safe workplaces for women are so important to your organization’s success?

Peter Wilkinson:

There are many ways from a corporate affairs point of view, or from a board point of view, I think, that you could approach it. One is to look at it as a demand and supply thing. So, in Parliament House, we’ve got to create a demand for more women in politics and that can be to do with quotas. It can be to do with a code for each political party, it can be to promote quality women through mentoring, to make a work-friendly environment, to make a family-friendly environment. Then you’ve got to create a supply-side which is encouraging people into the political system, into the electoral process so that they become elected and that really starts as primitively. It can start at school, can’t it?

Michelle Redfern:

Absolutely, and look, the pipeline construction into parliament and into any legislative assembly is no different than the pipelines that we’ve been trying to create for the areas where we have skill shortages and gendered skill shortages, for STEM, for example. So, the work that’s been done broadly to lift the representation of women in STEM, I think there’s a lot of principles there that we can pay attention to and lift and drop into. How do we create a pipeline of talent, diverse talent, ready to head on into our legislative assemblies?

Peter Wilkinson:

Like what?

Michelle Redfern:

So, we’ll come back to quotas. I think quotas are a blunt instrument without making sure that the landing place for the recipient of the quota is acceptable to them. Now, a quicker side, so if I think about Parliament House, and we think about the attrition rate from parliament, we’ve had young men and young women, we’ve had those people exiting from Parliament House because it’s brutal. Quotas without figuring out how to make a better workplace and an inclusive workplace is just going to add to the problem. I’ve seen it happen where we’d get a whole bunch of women in, Oh, well, they don’t fit so they go. Well, we told you that it wouldn’t work with the women experiment. Yeah, but when I went in there were no toilets for women. There were no change rooms, they were ridiculed, their uniforms didn’t fit, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

So, we’ve got to do a whole bunch of stuff in peril. Pure definition of a wicked problem. There’s not just one silver bullet, there are many, many, many.

Peter Wilkinson:

So, do you think that ScoMo can do it?

Michelle Redfern:

I am not convinced that ScoMo has got the requisite empathy and the ability to walk a mile in another person’s shoes to be effective. Now, what I am going to do is now contradict myself and say he is being forced into a corner, but he’s actually going to have to toe the line for a whole range of reasons. Now I’d love to think that the prime minister or any other leader is going to opt into a gender equality strategy with heart, mind, and hands.

Peter Wilkinson:

Because ScoMo proved himself to be very pragmatic when he came out of the bushfires, which he messed up, into COVID and he did a great job. So, he has got, I think, a flexible personality. It’s going to be very difficult to change the culture in Parliament House because of the factions, because of the wars, because of the division, because of the necessary opposition you get in Parliament House and the lifestyle that they live. It’s going to be very difficult.

Michelle Redfern:

It is, but there’s been a lot of difficult things happen in society and there are things that used to happen 50 years ago that are no longer acceptable, and we’ve dealt with that.

Liam Cox:

It’s imperative now that the conversation turns into real action. Is that where this government and previous have failed in delivering clear, concise change?

Michelle Redfern:

Yes, it has. It is where they’ve failed Liam, because Kate Jenkins has created a report and there are over 50 recommendations and there have been a number of Royal Commissions including here in Victoria, around gender equality, violence against women and so on and so forth.

I guess what I want to do though is a little more generous and kind in that, yes, there are reports. Yes, there are recommendations, but for the prime minister and for any leader of any workplace, do they know how to implement those recommendations? Now I don’t want to be patronising or condescending here, but any of these kind of changes to that abhorrent behaviour that you’re talking about, they’re based on people’s mindsets, their core beliefs, the way they’ve been conditioned through the whole of their lived experience, so we need to get underneath that first.

Yes, listening and paying attention to the lived experience of women, but then if there’s a set of recommendations, quite honestly do the leaders know how to implement? And that’s what I really want to encourage leaders to do, is say, if I don’t know how to implement a particular program or a supply chain or whatever it may be in your line of work, you get the experts in to help you. You become skilled.

Liam Cox:

Michelle, a wonderful insight. Thank you so much for sharing your time and your knowledge.

Michelle Redfern:

An absolute pleasure, thank you, gents.

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