New Zealanders have a choice: to either perpetuate the structures that hold women back or to create a new narrative that is truly egalitarian. Here are my suggestions for the next 25 years.
From the Black Ferns negotiating a salary in a landmark deal, to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern becoming only the second world leader to give birth while in office. From the #MeToo movement to the sexism debate at the US Open. September 2018 caps twelve months in which gender equality has been a hot topic of conversation at home and around the world. It also marks the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand.
With legislation in place such as the Equal Pay Act 1972 and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, it can be hard to articulate why we still have work to do to achieve equality of the sexes. Yet progress on eliminating the gender pay gap is stalling and the World Economic Forum warns that the gap between men and women across health, education, politics and economics widened last year for the first time since records began in 2006.
So on the approach to the 150th anniversary milestone, New Zealanders have a choice. To stand by and do nothing, perpetuating the structures that hold women back, or to create a new narrative that is truly egalitarian. With that in mind, here is my wishlist for the next 25 years.
Dads given time and opportunity to be dads
Employers will make jobs flexible by default, offering senior part-time roles and job-sharing options to ensure broad participation in the workforce. They will empower parents to maximise the time they have with their children, especially in the crucial early years.
Dads, in particular, will be encouraged to use their generous allocation of well-paid paternity leave to bond with their new-borns.
When men and women are equally likely to take parental leave, and to cover sick days and school holidays, and when men and women are equally able to put in extra hours, strive for senior positions or travel for work, there are no disadvantages in hiring a woman.
Women freed from old fashioned stereotypes
Too often outdated stereotypes still lurk around the modern workplace. In 25 years it will be just as likely that a man is given responsibility for the ‘office housework’, like organising morning teas and birthday cards, as it is for a woman today. The same will apply when it comes to taking notes or preparing the drinks at meetings. As Sheryl Sandberg said, “The person taking diligent notes in the meeting almost never makes the killer point.”
All career options open to girls and boys
In 25 years we will be reaping the rewards of investments in initiatives to increase female participation in STEM, such as the amazing work done by Dr Michelle Dickinson (aka Nanogirl). After a generation of focused efforts, we will see the proportion of men and women graduating from university and progressing into careers in STEM even out. The increase in female role models will instil confidence in young girls to follow their passion in these fields.
Women rewarded for their success
Time and again the research shows that when a man is successful, he is well liked, but that when a woman does well, people like her less. Over the next quarter century our attitudes and biases – conscious and unconscious – will shift. Women delivering results at work will no longer be criticised for being aggressive when they are assertive, bossy when they show leadership, or outspoken when they display courage.
Women showing potential will be mentored and sponsored in their careers in the same way as their male peers. As former New Zealand Prime Minister Dame Jenny Shipley commented at a recent event to mark Suffrage, “Be a mentor to someone who’s not like [you]. When you do that, you learn, but you also create an elevator that will make a difference for someone else.”
As we tick off each of these wins from our collective to-do list, the gender pay gap will naturally decrease and New Zealand will become a more inclusive, fairer place to live, work and play. Simple.