It was great to be a part of Accenture’s International Women’s Day and Equality Week activities last week. Sitting here in the wake of International Women’s Day for 2021, I am reflecting on the events of last week, the focus we all place on one day and the impacts that the past year has had on Gender Equality.

I am struck by how inspired I feel each year by the people I listen to and the events I am involved in.  This year I was a part of the Trans-Tasman Business Circle lunch where I listened to Australia’s longest serving Sex Discrimination Officer Liz Broderick, Chairman of the Minerva Network and Suncorp Christine McLoughlin, Salesforce CEO Pip Marlow, and Paralympic athlete Madi de Rozario.  These ladies are amazing and have all excelled in their fields.  I was also inspired by all the people who presented at our own event on Wednesday 3rd March including former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, STEM journalist Rae Johnston, CEO of ABCN Allegra Spender and science and tech commentator Dr. Michelle Dickinson.  With these amazing women and their stories why do we not see more progress and even more alarmingly, why do we feel like we might have gone backwards in the last twelve months?

COVID-19, has seen women across the globe become 79% more likely to be made redundant than men and women’s earnings have fallen 63% faster than men’s.[1]Accenture research suggests the unequal impact of COVID-19 could set gender equality back 51 years.  How do we change the trajectory on this and make sure we start to turn things around in 2021?

As Elizabeth Broderick mentioned in her recent Hear + Beyond podcast episode.  We all have a role to play and it is critical for leaders to acknowledge the “unintentional bias” in their businesses and bravely remove, what she calls “the asbestos in the walls, the floors, and the ceilings of organisations”.

Along with Liz and many of the people who spoke last week there are also some actions we need to be taking.

  • State the case – Gender diversity must become a clear business priority, included as a measure in and a clear objective of our business strategies. Already, we’ve seen private equity firms and investment houses requiring any company they take public or invest in to have a diverse board. We also need to work with our partners, suppliers and organisations we are looking to acquire to support their progress on equality.  
  • Set bold targets – We have stated our 50/50 target and we are measuring ourselves on this. We will do more at the account and practice level so that we all hold ourselves to account in reaching these targets. Today, women represent 45% of our global workforce – more than 215,000 women, up from 100,000 in 2013 – and 25% of our managing directors. So, we have a way to go. we are promoting women at all levels and investing in targeted support, flexible work arrangements and comprehensive training, networking and career progression programs in a bid to make those targets.
  • Recognise unpaid work – We all need to reduce the “motherhood” penalty by offering paternity leave, tangible childcare support and more flexible working options. During the pandemic, women have taken on more unpaid work than ever. As Annabelle Crabb points out in her book The Wife Drought we need equality at home and that means organisations supporting men and women with consistent parental and flexible working policies. It means removing the stigma for men and improving understanding across the board.
  • Engage the Men – As Pip Marlow and Liz Broderick have said this is not a women’s problem and women don’t need fixing. This means we need men to be allies and support their peers.  I am grateful to Matt Coates, who spoke with me at our event last week, who is leading by example and has taken on the role of Gender Pillar Lead – Thanks Matt!  Our Pride Ally Network has been very successful and a great support to members of the LGBTIQ+ community and we can use a similar model for gender.
  • Elevate our Role Models – We have some great female leaders in Accenture globally and in Australia. I am going to be working with our Leadership Team throughout the year to elevate the great female leaders we have in ANZ and make them more visible to you all.
  • Reduce bias – Despite an increasingly positive sentiment around gender equity, we are yet to create a truly level playing field. Elizabeth Broderick talks about two social norms that act as a major barrier to women’s progression. First, there’s the deeply held belief that the ideal worker is someone available 24/7. Second, she cites research out of the University of Sydney that says, if you were born or educated in Australia, you likely still believe that good mothers are always with their children. In other words, underneath all the fine words about gender equity, we are conditioned to feel that mothers cannot be good workers and that fathers are somehow not quite as good at being parents. We know that’s ridiculous. Some of the most value-creating teams at Accenture are run and populated by flex and part-time working mothers. But unless we systematically fight against it, that dynamic will still be at play in every single hiring and progression decision.

We all need to act against these biases at home and at work.

I am looking forward to having a different conversation next IWD and talking about the progress we have made in 2021 and the way we have bounced back.

Did you catch Elizabeth Broderick’s episode on the Hear + Beyond Podcast? Listen on Apple, Spotify, or

[1] The Unequal Impact of COVID-19 on Women, Accenture, 2021

Sarah Kruger

Lead – Human Resources, Australia & New Zealand

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