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The Great Debate: Is Australia Still a Man’s World?

6 March 2017 at 1:50 pm
Wendy Williams
Whether Australia is still a man's world in 2017 is set to be the cause of a “raw debate” held in recognition of International Women’s Day.

Wendy Williams | 6 March 2017 at 1:50 pm


The Great Debate: Is Australia Still a Man’s World?
6 March 2017 at 1:50 pm

Whether Australia is still a man’s world in 2017 is set to be the cause of a “raw debate” held in recognition of International Women’s Day.

Australian Institute of Management’s International Women’s Day Great Debate, now in its 20th year, will tackle the provocative topic in a bid to celebrate the importance of gender diversity in Australian society.

This year AIM has teamed up with charity partner PROJECT FUTURES to raise money to support established projects within the Asia-Pacific region that help transform and restore the lives of victims, survivors and those at-risk of human trafficking, slavery and exploitation.

PROJECT FUTURES founder and CEO Stephanie Lorenzo told Pro Bono News the question of whether it is a man’s world was an important one.

“I think it’s important to realise at different levels of society inequality still exists,” Lorenzo said.

“Maybe at the top end it exists much less than at the bottom end, but… if you look back in history we have lived in quite a patriarchal sort of society so while women have risen up and there are feminist movements and so forth, as we get into a world that’s largely digitised and there’s more information available than ever before, and new stories… come out, I think we do need to realise that statements like this need to be heard but also debated on.

“[We need to] showcase the progress but also showcase and highlight where we need to work better at it as a society and as a community.”

Lorenzo said it was a loaded question.

“I guess debates are meant to be that way,” she said.

“I am like an eternal optimist, so I always believe that the glass is half full rather than half empty. I would say that females, certainly in my opinion, have been given more recognition lately and we’re starting to see more women need to go on boards, more women need to be paid equally, the sort of awareness raising and the sort of coming together of community from students all the way up is a huge benefit to women.

“So I think we’ve come along way and it is very easy for me to say that because I feel like I’ve been supported so much in my journey as a young woman, however I think we have a long way to go.

“It’s about acknowledging what has happened and being able to empower people to be able to continue that journey… I think if we can continue to keep up that pressure and keep up that momentum, we’re going to see nothing but good things happen, for women more and more.”

She said there was no “one size fits all solution”.

“One woman’s experience is certainly different to another woman’s experience and that needs to be acknowledged,” she said.

She said there was a connection between discussions on gender diversity and the gender pay gap in Australian society and the global issue of human trafficking.

“I don’t think people make that connection as much, I think it is 100 per cent connected and interconnected,” she said.

“PROJECT FUTURES started by supporting victims directly of human trafficking… but one thing we started to realise as we dug deeper and we learnt prevention is just as good as cure, and education, a lack of opportunity, the fact that women in countries like Cambodia aren’t of the same status as men, all of these symptoms are what can drive someone to be exploited.

“So we have to kind of look at multiple facets of these issues and we have to see how they interconnect so we can work better together but also we can start to try and find a more systematic way of dealing not just with one issue in a silo but with the issues as a whole circle or chain.

“So gender diversity and equality around the pay gap is a huge factor in human trafficking, particularly amongst migrant workers.

“Many women, just generally, if they are getting paid less at the top end, they’re 100 per cent getting paid less at the bottom end as well.”

She said human trafficking was happening “in our own backyard”.

“In Australia we have actually partnered with the Salvation Army who run Australia’s only trafficking and slavery safe house for women since 2008,” she said.

“Throughout that time we also had our eyes opened about the issue here in Australia and while the numbers might not seem as large as that of Cambodia or the Phillipines or Thailand, it certainly is something that we feel could be potentially stamped out, being that the global slavery index estimates around 4,300 people are victims of human trafficking right here in our own backyards.”

According to some reports there are more slaves today than at any other point in human history.

Lorenzo said she believed this statement to be true.

“I think back when… it was legal to buy a person to be your property in essence, we’ve moved away from that however now, they call modern slavery, slavery without the chains, because you don’t physically sign your life away, you are psychologically coerced, you are threatened, you have no other opportunities available to you, and you come from a vulnerable place so it is very easy to exploit people in those situations,” she said.

“Unfortunately we’ve seen it in big companies in Australia like Domino’s… through to 7/11 which was a huge scandal and is still going after a year of people trying to get compensation for a lack of support and the exploitation that occurred within that company.

“So we also have to look at the supply chain of where we get our clothing and food and so forth, because if you actually peel back the layers a little bit further and look past the fact that we are just consumers, and we just get these great clothes and food in front of us, that we buy at the supermarket, how do they get there, what condition are these people being treated.

“I think what PROJECT FUTURES does and has done very well is really empower the community to actually do something about it because it is very hard to think where do I start.”

Lorenzo said they were excited to be the charity partner for AIM’s International Women’s Day Great Debate.

“We were very much excited to have that platform to be able to talk about the work that we do, not just overseas but obviously in Australia as well, around human trafficking,” she said.

The event, held simultaneously in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne on Wednesday, will also focus on gender diversity in the workplace.

It comes after AIM’s 2016 Gender Pay Gap report found gender bias, in terms of pay, continues to exist within Australian organisations.

On average, male staff are paid 8.2 per cent more than their female counterparts for undertaking the same role, with the widest pay gap existing at senior executive level or within the administration and other specialist job families.

AIM chief executive David Pich said AIM was proud of its history in advocating for increased diversity in the Australian workplace.

“The AIM International Women’s Day Great Debates have become institutions in their respective states,” Pich said.

“I’m sure this year’s topic will prove to be a popular point of discussion, as we have made progress as a country over the last few decades, but reports still show we have some way to go before we realise true equality in the workplace.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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