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‘Being Bold’ is being ethical: International Women’s Day wrap

by The Ethics Centre
08 March 2018
Today, we’ve been encouraged to "be bold" in seeking gender parity. Our very own Victoria Whitaker talks about speaking up and taking responsibility.

When it comes to standing up for what's right, Victoria Whitaker knows what she's talking about. She's worked in academic, government, non-profit and corporate roles advancing sustainability, accountability and transparency. She now heads up the Advice and Education team at The Ethics Centre, helping people live up to their values and principles.

This International Women's Day, we asked Victoria for her views on gender equality. Are we headed in the right direction? How can we do better? And in the spirit of IWD 2017, how can we ‘be bold for change’?

Achieving gender parity

"Well, it's International Women's Day. Most women around the world still have less access to education, health and wealth. So the evidence suggests we're a long way from parity", Victoria says.

In Australia, she thinks things are unideal but a little better. "There are still plenty of differences between men and women but they can be subtle." What makes things more difficult in Australia is some women are quite content and don't feel marginalised at all.

Others "experience harassment and discrimination daily". Victoria sees we've still got a lot of work to do.

What 'Be Bold for Change' means

It's all about courage for Victoria. "Any type of leadership requires courage. To be courageous about change, you need to be bold, step up and voice your expectations."

But it's not only women who need to be bold. "This has to apply for men as well", she says.

"I don’t think you can get power without someone else giving up some of theirs. So, to enable change, men have to think about what their role is rather than women having to demand more."

Being bold in tough situations

"You have to know what you want, what you value and what you're seeking to uphold." Victoria acknowledges it's easy to keep in mind the plight of other women who might have it worse off. She thinks it's important those in a position of advantage also speak up for those who can't.

"Again, it's not just women. Men need to be speaking up as well." Part of this is about self-awareness and taking responsibility for any biases we have. "Biases are natural, human and everyone has them", but in her line of work she sees people underestimating how seriously they influence our everyday decisions.

By combatting bias, we can create a world where it's easier for everyone to boldly speak up.

On gender disparities at work

In recent years, Victoria hasn't experienced discrimination but it has been a feature in her working life. "I was a waitress for many years, of course I've experienced sexual harassment at work! And I certainly know of women who have been degraded simply for being female."

Victoria believes one of the more insidious forms of discrimination is the "pause button". "A woman's career progresses nicely until she's about 27 and then it slows down. Questions arise about when you're going to disappear and start having babies."

And if a woman does start a family, it doesn't get any easier. "Many of my friends and family have issues where the husbands work in jobs where they're expected to work 12 hour days". It's an expectation the husbands also adopt, which leaves nobody to help at home.

"This pressure means it's not just organisations pushing the pause button for women. Sometimes they're forced to push it themselves."

Ethics can help accelerate gender parity

Ethics can be an ally to those seeking gender parity in two ways. "Ethics provides an inquiring mind", Victoria says. "It starts with Socrates' claim, 'the unexamined life is not worth living'".

An examined life is one that confronts biases and makes decisions in the light of all the facts. Victoria is optimistic that stereotypes, confirmation bias and other forms of discrimination won't stand up to an inquiring mind.

At work, the possibilities for change are even more palpable. "Ideally, an organisation has an ethical framework of values, principles and a purpose."

"By making decisions in light of their ethical compass, organisations can provide support in those difficult areas of finding balance and allowing people to live their lives whilst also managing the task of producing excellent work."

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Header image credit: Illustration by Kolchoz