- Elizabeth Broderick on men’s role in creating gender equality
Thankyou very much Jill. And it's such a great pleasure and delight to be, to be with everyone here tonight in such a fabulous space. It's just fabulous. I haven't been in here before, but to be covered in books in a room like this is very uplifting. And I have to say, as someone who's never had a TV—I didn't have one growing up, I don't have one now, but instead I have a reading room—it's fabulous to be surrounded by books. I feel like I'm at home. My kids are still trying to work out what kind of dysfunctional family they live in that we don't have a TV. But anyway, that's another conversation.
But thankyou so much Christine and Jill for that lovely introduction. And I also want to acknowledge Sue Roberts, the CEO of the library who's doing such a great job in directing and progressing the State Library of Victoria.
I've been Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner now for seven years and it's an incredible privilege this role. It's a job that takes me from 200 meters under the ocean in a submarine, to the United Nations in New York, to spending time with survivors of acid attack in Bangladesh, to camping out with aboriginal women in the beautiful Kimberley, to the abattoirs and boardrooms of Australia, to the White House, NATO, the Pentagon, and everywhere in between. I mean there's no other job like this, I have to say.
And that's the tremendous privilege of this role. That every day I get to work with people, whether they're business people, refugee women, defence-force personnel, women of faith, aboriginal women, survivors of domestic violence, every day I meet inspiring individuals who are committed to using whatever influence they have to create change in Australia.
And, I have to say, one of the great joys of the role is also the ability to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. So I want to acknowledge that we're meeting here on traditional lands, the lands of the Kulin nation, and to pay my respects to aboriginal elders, past and present, and to really recognise this strong advocacy for equality over the generations.
Next week, some of you will know, on the 25th of November we mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It's a day that heralds 16 days of activism to eradicate violence against the women, violence against women and their children across the world. And one of the things that I do during this period of 16 days of activism is I start every speech with a story about violence against women. I don't care whether I'm speaking at a financial services conference, telecommunications, aviation, security, that's what I start with because I think we need to really bring this into the conversation.
And it's inspiring to be here in Victoria, because I think of all the states and territories in Australia, Victoria is absolutely doing the most in this area.
So did you know that there are more women living in an intimate relationship characterised by violence than malnourished people in the world? I know that because I recently attended the World Bank's board meeting on gender, I sit on the gender board, and this is data coming through from the World Health. Yes, that's about 980 million women, almost 1 billion.
And if I bring that back down into Australia. There's currently 1.2 million women who are either living in an intimate relationship characterised by physical violence—and we know domestic violence is much wider than that—or have recently done so. And you'll know the data as well as me that more than one woman a week is murdered by her intimate partner, about 75 a year. And, I have to say having spent the day with Rosie Batty yesterday and then going home and turning on the TV and seeing a woman in Sydney who had been attacked with a garden implement in her front garden and murdered on the day, it just keeps bringing it home just how pervasive these issues are.
But small actions can have a powerful impact. Two years ago now, I delivered the Vincent Fairfax Oration. I delivered in every state and territory around Australia and I chose to speak about the overlap between domestic violence and workplaces. And one of the women attending, Margo, she rang me the next day, she attended my speech in Sydney. She told me that following my speech, she'd called her staff together, and she's a very senior manager in one of the large banks in Australia. She has responsibility for many staff. She said, ‘Liz, I called them together and I told my staff that today I wanted to speak about something different. I wanted to talk about domestic violence, the prevalent starter, the lived experience. And I started by recounting my own story. A story I've never told before’. She told the story of growing up in a violent household, of wiping the blood off her mother's face, of taking her to hospital, of the shame and the silence. And she said to her staff, ‘Now I want you to do one thing. I want you to go back to your desk and tell everyone in the bank my story. Because in that small way maybe I can make it easier for someone to tell theirs’. And I have to tell you that that bank is now a leader in its response around domestic violence. So I think it speaks to courageous small actions that create change.
But I've had a busy last few weeks, I have to say. Three weeks ago I was in Korea on a floating island in the middle of the Han River, to be precise, and I had the opportunity to address the World Federation of Security Exchanges. So these are CEOs who lead securities exchanges in nations all across the world. And in that room were 85 men and five women. Between them, they were responsible for 98% of traded assets across the world. And we talked about the research which showed that gender diversity, particularly at the senior levels, delivers better outcomes for any organisation. We talked about the social norms that constrain not just women but also men in nations across the world, including Australia. And we agreed that stock exchanges, security exchanges as key economic players in nations could have a multiplier impact if they really set out to embrace gender-diversity.
Imagine if every exchange in the world used their influence in the way that the Australian Securities Exchange has. And you may see, we've had a doubling of the number of women on boards in the last two years. That's a result of systemic intervention in the Australian Securities Exchange.
And just two days ago, just today is…isn't Tuesday…I'm trying to work out. But really, two days ago I returned from visiting our armed forces in the Middle East, and then working with NATO up in Europe. And once again the challenge was to engage powerful men, military leaders, not just in our own armed forces in deployed environments—and I have to say how professional our deployed environments are—but also to engage men, military leaders, in NATO nations and to help them understand that how we treat women in military environments is directly linked to capability.
In NATO, as in many other military environments, I have to say it's very much a work in progress. For example, if you look at NATO, which is now around 75 years old, there have been 15 Secretary Generals of NATO, no women. If you look at who heads the member states. Over the years there’s 56 heads of member states, not one of them is a woman. And I thought it was an interesting contrast because we have the data for the CIA, and I don't know if anyone watches Homeland here, but 46% of people in the CIA are women, which I found quite fascinating. And maybe part of that picture is the success of you know public, or productions like Homeland, where we see very visible senior women carrying out important work, because one thing I know for sure is that it's hard to be what you can't see.
So these recent work-assignments have once again reinforced for me something that I've become more and more convinced of over the seven years that I've been Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner. And that is that if we are to deliver equality for women we actually have to focus on men. I now also understand that to move men from just being interested in this subject to actually taking strong action, we need to make the case for change personal. We have to engage both their heads and their hearts.
So, you might say to me, ‘Well why are we focusing on men?’ Well, the fact is in nearly every nation in the world, every institution and organisation, whether you’re looking at Australia, the United Arab Emirates, the Middle East, Korea, Spain, it doesn't matter, men hold the levers of power in nations and organisations.
When men step up beside women, not speak for us, but step up beside us, to take action with us, that's what accelerates our path towards a more gender-equal future. And why do we need to make it personal? Well, one thing I've learned is that when you take the case for change from people's heads to their hearts, that's when individuals feel compelled to take action.
So tonight that's what I want to explore with you. I want to look at two different case studies of how we have engaged men, and how we've taken the case for change from their head to their heart. And I'll do that first by examining the military and then looking in corporate environments.
So take a moment, if you will, to imagine a world where every private conversation you ever had is made public. A world where your most intimate secrets are spread far and wide across the Internet. And I have to say, the fact is, we already live in that connected world, where sexualised imagery and words are everywhere. We live in a world where the capability to transmit intimate sexual images is but one click away. And sadly, I have to say, from what I see, the transmission is not always with the consent of the other party involved.
And this was a case at ADFA, the Australian Defence Force Academy two years ago, or nearly three years ago now, when there was an incident, which you may have heard about, an incident of sexual misconduct which was called the Skype incident. It was an incident which involved two cadets having consensual sex in one room. What she didn't understand was that that was being broadcast live via Skype to his mates in an adjoining room. And after the incident broke on Australian television, and as a young cadet anonymously told her story, the community outrage was quite palpable. I mean everyone had a view. Was it about university students and cadets performing badly? Or was this something more sinister? Was this about the marginalisation and sexualisation of women in Australia's military?
And that was the world into which I was unexpectedly drawn when the Minister for Defence asked me if I would conduct a review into the treatment of women in Australia's Defence Force. The review was extensive. We have visited, I've visited more than 60 military establishments, not just here in Australia, but I have spent time underwater submarines, above water in frigates and war ships, travelled in tanks and armoured vehicles, Blackhawk helicopters, C17, C130s, and have been beyond the wire in Afghanistan up in the mountains and valleys of Oruzgan Province, in the Middle East, as well as elsewhere across the Middle East. So, over the periods, we've spoken to thousands of defence force members.
And as I travelled across Australia and beyond, a great many people told me stories. And I have to say, most of the stories were about how the Australian Defence Force had served their people so very well. I have to say, it's a great privilege to work with the Defence Force, but it's also a priority. Because on occasion, others told me quite distressing stories. Stories that had really never been told before. And that's when it occurred to me that whilst it was important for me to document these stories, because I was tabling several reports in the parliament, what was more important was that those who had power to create change in the system, and there I'm talking about military men, that they heard firsthand the personal narrative. Not only did they hear the case for change but they actually felt the case for change.
So I flew in women from all across Australia, many with their mothers, so that our chiefs of Air Force, Army, Navy, Vice Chief and others could hear what extreme exclusion feels like. What it's like to be on exercise for four months when no one speaks to you. What it's like to be sexually assaulted by your instructor, who's the very person you go to for advice. What it's like to have your career trashed because you have the courage to stand up and say something.
And I remember that first face-to-face session. The service chief sitting uncomfortably in his chair. The mother nervously escorting her daughter to the chair beside. And the box of tissues in the middle. And I'm sitting there thinking, gee, this sounded like a good idea when we conceived it but how are we going to get this conversation up and running, because these conversations are not easy to have. And then that courageous young woman, she turned to the chief and she said, ‘Sir, I am so nervous’, she said. And the chief replied, ‘Believe me, I'm scared too’. And I just thought, in that moment, we've got a chance at change, because it does take a compassionate military chief to admit that he fears what he's about to be told. And of course, it takes a courageous woman to step up and tell her story.
But most importantly, the chief also heard the pain of mothers. Mothers who had encouraged their daughters into the military, believing the enemy lay outside not within. And I remember one mother, she looked at the chief of her daughter's service and she said, ‘I gave you the person I love most in the world and this is how you've treated her’.
And at the end of a day, to hear senior powerful military men step up and say, ‘Look, if I could stand in your shoes every day and take away your pain, I would choose to do that. What happened to you in Australia's Defence Force should never have happened. I will do everything in my power to make sure it never happens again.’
And I think these were the defining moments of the review. The moments when we took the case for change from people's heads to their heart. And when you see the evolution of what's happening in the defence force, yes there are other incidents coming up, but I know from very deep inspection that they're going through a major transformation, a major cultural change. To build an inclusive culture, one that includes both women and men.
But here's the thing, as the Chief of Army Lieutenant David Morrison said just two days ago in a speech. He said, and this was a speech to one of the largest boy's schools in Australia, young boys, he said, ‘I've come to understand that the terrible things have happened in war zones, murder, rape, assaults, the stripping away of dignity, the absence of hope, they are just as much present in our own communities, in our own families, as they are in other more seemingly troubled countries. It's just that they happen behind closed doors, away from the lens of a war correspondent, ignored by neighbours or even family members, unspoken, but just as life shattering’.
And he went on to say that by every credible measure women are denied opportunities that are afforded to men by virtue of their sex. At home they face levels of domestic violence that imperil their very being. This is the case in the so called first-world nations and in the developing world. It's a feature of secular and non-secular societies. Women face barriers, sometimes tangible, often subliminal, that constrains their lives and their contributions to the development of our world.
And as he says, he says ‘we need men of authority and conscience to play their part. And we most certainly need women, too long denied a strong enough voice, to be given opportunities to lead in all endeavours, in all parts of our polity and society. We all need to come to grips with our culture and how much it counts’.
And I think he makes two really important points. Firstly, that gender inequality is cultural. It's pervasive, it's systemic, it's what I call gender asbestos. It's built into the walls, the floors, the ceilings of institutions and organisations, the behaviours, the practices. It's often not tangible. You can't point to it, but you know that it's there.
He also makes the point that when powerful, decent men step up beside women and we take action together that's when momentum grows and change happens. And the fact is that what I have observed in the military, those attitudes are held much more widely across Australian society. In families, in sporting clubs and sporting codes, and indeed in the corporate world.
So, I came into my role fundamentally believing that it was women working together that would create change. That would create a more equal Australia. And I absolutely agree that women's advocacy, women's leadership is critical to progressing gender equality. But many initiatives focus on fixing women. We need to engage women to change. You know, to network differently. To do, to lead differently, which really undermines the argument for diversity. In fact, all too often we look to women to change the practices that maintain the status quo. And if you're to think about it that's a really illogical approach because it fails to recognise the site of organisational power. Power sits in the hands of men.
So about two, three years ago having had this lightning moment of starting to understand this, I decided to embark on what was quite a controversial strategy called the Male Champions of Change strategy. Some of you may have heard about it and on a couple of initiatives we've partnered with the chief executive women.
How did this begin? Well basically, I picked up, I identified some of the most powerful men in this country and I picked up the phone and I rang them. I rang men who lead Australia's iconic companies like Telstra, Qantas, Woolworths, Commonwealth Bank, A&Z. I rang men who lead global organisations here in Australia like Citibank, Deloittes, Goldman Sachs. I rang men who hold the most senior roles in our government, like the Head of the Treasury, the Head of the Prime Minister in Cabinet, and I also brought in the Head of the Army. And I made a personal plea. I said to them, ‘Will you use your power and influence, your collective wisdom and voice to create change for women in this country?’
And I still remember the first conversation I had. This particular CEO had twins, a twin boy and a twin girl, and I explained to him that in Australia today women only hold 3% of CEO positions of ASX’s 200, and to be honest with Gael Kelly sitting down, stepping down, it's going to be even worse than that. That we hold only 18.9 or 19% now of board directorships, and that it doesn't matter which sector you look at, this basic rule holds true and that is that the higher up you go the less women you will see. That's as true as tax and gravity. And that those results exist, despite women outstripping men at educational, particularly in tertiary level. I mean even my own industry Law, 60, over 60% of graduates are female out of law schools.
And finally, I told this CEO that while women are excluded from power, economic, political and social power they will be marginalised all across Australia. And I first really started to understand that when I dropped into a women's refuge—and I go to many women's refuges across this country—I met a woman who had escaped violence with her children the night before and I met her the next day and I was introduced to her. And she said to me, ‘Liz, how are we going with the Women on Board’s agenda?’ It's like, what is that, you know, you're just trying to escape with your life. And so we had a really great conversation, I start to understand that in her mind women's proximity to economic power spoke to women having power in our nation, and while they didn't have that they would be marginalised across Australia.
So, I think what shifted for the first CEO that I talked to was an understanding that we'd been talking about this, as Christine said, we've been talking about this for years. What shifted for him was an understanding that without intervention by powerful, decent men like him, this picture would become his daughter's story. And not only that his daughter would never have the same opportunities as her twin brother. And what father wants that for their daughter? So, the Male Champions of Change says that, let's not pretend that there aren't already established norms that advantage men. Men invented the system. Men largely run the system. It's up to men to change the system. And that's what the Male Champions of Change strategy is all about. It's about men stepping up beside women to change the system. The discussions are serious. They're led by men and action is taken.
And I don't have time to tonight to talk about all the outcomes and actions that have resulted. But suffice it to say, I think one of the greatest contributions that the Male Champions of Change strategy has delivered has been to change the discourse on gender equality and women's leadership in Australia. We've start, it's helped people understand that these issues are not women's issues. These issues are leadership issues. That the achievement of gender equality cannot sit on the shoulders of women alone. And they're so active in that area. I mean, the last 12 months, despite being some of the busiest men in the nation, they've presented at over 150 women's leadership events. They've travelled for me to Washington, New York, Tokyo, London, Brazil, just to name a few, and all around Australia, persuading other men to get on board.
And they're doing things that only CEOs can do. One example of that is the All Roles Flex Initiative, and Telstra's leading the work on that, but that is where they've changed the starting point of work. So that instead of a starting point being what we call the ideal worker model, 24/7, the starting point is flexibility and then let's have a conversation about why this one needs to be done differently, this particular role. And if you see all their advertising, anything, it will have this job, it's available in flexible work arrangement. They're looking down their supply-chains. They've worked out that between them they spend tens of billions of dollars annually in procuring products and services. And they want to work with organisations that care about gender equality as well.
I think in the early days it could have easy to dismiss the group as simply just another boy's club. And a few people did that. It was quite controversial. I mean, the strategy is controversial and it's disruptive. And that's what we need. Some new thinking, some change strategies. But it took us time to come to grips. We did. But once we did, we very much focused on action, that's the imperative. The time for talking is over. This is about action. We agreed that every member had to play their part. That we wouldn't tolerate any free riders.
The Male Champions recognise that the change starts with them. Every single one of them admits to being an imperfect role model on gender equality, and they are. They are imperfect. On occasion, their actions and words can still unconsciously and inadvertently come across as impolitic or outdated in a world of gender nuance norms and language. And I still remember in the early days, I'd be driving to work and Fran Kelly or someone would say, oh, and we're about to hear from a NOW champion of change, and I'd go ‘Oh my God, what's he going to say?’ But I have to say, I don't worry anymore.
It's been, it's been a safe space for men to learn about gender equality. They're committed to learning from their mistakes. And that's what strong leadership on gender equality looks like. Listening first, learning through collaborating with others, and then leading through strong action. And increasingly, they're looking to engage in societal issues.
So, having understood that it's the personal narrative that takes the issue from head to heart. Just yesterday, I brought them all together. And I engaged two courageous women, Rosie Batty and Christie McKellar, both proud Victorian women, to come and talk about their lived experience of violence. To actually move this issue from the men's heads to their hearts.
The men heard from Rosie and Christie about the pieces that were taken from them. The pieces that can never be reclaimed, such as the joy of pregnancy and becoming a mother, the joy of parenting and watching your son grow up.
The men started to understand at a profoundly human level what it's like for many women. Women robbed of dignity and living in fear in the very place they should be the most safe, and that is in their own homes. And I think what we'll see as a result of that is over the next few months as they become more comfortable talking about these issues they'll really lift up their advocacy in this particular area.
It's no question that women lie at the heart of creating a more gender-equal world. But if we are to make progress, we have to amplify their voice.
As Rosie Batty said when she spoke to the men yesterday, she said to them, ‘Look, prior to Luke's death, no one wanted to hear my story of living with violence. Now everyone does.’ And I have to say that was one of the saddest moments of our session yesterday for me as an Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner. That when women living with violence speak, the system doesn't listen. If someone had listened to Rosie's story earlier, would she have lost her son?
The system breaks down at various points. But it's also equally clear that women cannot pursue this agenda alone. Men taking the message of gender equality are the men. That's what'll change the picture in Australia.
So while the Male Champions of Change will change corporate environments, the military cultural reform is progressing, none of this will matter if we don't change the informal social structures that sit around us and exist within our families.
In my role, on occasion, when you're presented just with the enormity of a challenge, it can be easy to lose faith, to really lose faith in the possibility of change. And it's in the small moments that change happens.
Just like yesterday when Christie McKellar, a courageous Victorian domestic violence advocate, she told the Male Champions, she said, ‘You listening to our stories gives us back meaning and dignity. It represents the idea that there is hope for change’. Or when Rosie Batty told them, she said, ‘Advocating for a world where women and children can live free from violence, gives me a reason to get out of bed every morning’.
These are the moments that matter. These are the moments when we can work together. Because we do have the beginnings of change. We have a path to a more equal future. But it starts right with each of us. And when people ask me, what will be your greatest achievement as Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner? It won't be the military, or the Male Champions of Change, it will be raising a son to believe that equality is the only path.
Thankyou very much.
'Gender asbestos – it’s built into the walls, the floors, the ceilings of institutions and organisations, the behaviours, the practices. It’s often not tangible.'
- Elizabeth Broderick
About this video
As Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick explores the role men must play to create true gender equality in Australia.
In this lecture, she describes how gender inequality remains a pervasive and systemic issue in Australia, and that equality cannot be achieved without commitment from men.
But how to move men from interest to action? In her talk, Elizabeth examines strategies for achieving this in two very different contexts – in the military and in the corporate world.
Elizabeth Broderick has acted as Sex Discrimination Commissioner since 2007, and was also the Commissioner responsible for Age Discrimination from 2007 to 2011. She has been a key advocate for Australia's national paid parental leave scheme and domestic violence reform, and is Global Co-Chair of the Women’s Empowerment Principles Leadership Group, a joint initiative of the UN Global Compact and UN Women. She was the over-all winner of the 2014 The Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence Awards.