This year’s International Women’s Day theme is ‘cracking the code’, a powerful reminder of the importance of tech and innovation in improving the world of work for women.
For me, cracking the code is about far more than surface-level, performative action that only takes place one day out of the year. Workplaces must dive beneath the surface and uncover how to build systemic change into the heart of their culture and business.
If you don’t ask, you don’t get – so here is my ultimate workplace culture wishlist that every business should be focussed on achieving, 365 days a year.
Eliminate biased hiring
Unfortunately, bias is still prevalent in many businesses – no matter how outwardly ‘woke’ they might appear. Even though, as a culture, we are growing increasingly aware of bias, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to eliminate it completely from your organisation.
Ageism is one of the most ‘socially acceptable’ forms of bias, and runs the gamut from young people to middle age. Research undertaken by the Commission in 2020 and 2021 found ‘young adults (18-39) are most likely to experience ageism as being condescended to or ignored, particularly at work’, while ‘middle-aged people (40-61) are most likely to experience ageism as being turned down for a job.’
Then there’s beauty bias, which usually results in treatment and positive stereotyping of people who are considered more attractive. For women, however, it’s a lose-lose situation, with bias experienced for being both ‘too pretty’ and ‘not pretty enough’.
I have personally experienced age and beauty discrimination rolled into one, after once being rejected for serious mentorship in the financial space for being ‘too young and too pretty’ to be taken seriously.
In order to change the narrative, workplaces must know what bias looks like, how to spot it, and have systemic tools in place to stop it from happening – from the HR department to the board room.
Put more women in leadership roles
Throughout my own journey towards leadership, the more successful I became, the fewer women I saw alongside me – especially women of colour. To achieve gender equality in the workplace, it’s critical that businesses put more women in leadership positions.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Despite progress in recent years, women are still significantly underrepresented in leadership roles across most industries. Australian government data shows women hold 17.6% of chair positions, 31.2% of directorships and just 19.4% of CEOs. A staggering 22.3% of boards and governing bodies have no female directors, while just 0.6% have no male directors.
Without gender diversity coming from the top of your organisation, it’s impossible to create real, lasting cultural change. And if change isn’t coming from within your organisation, this is your sign to swallow that imposter syndrome and create your own leadership path.
Take an intersectional approach
Using an intersectional lens, we can begin to understand how a person’s gender, race, ability, sexuality, age, class and/or immigration status can make one person’s experience different to someone else’s. In the workplace, intersectionality means understanding people’s various identities and acknowledging that they can have multiple identities at once.
To this day, women who I coach express the desire to remove their accent in order to progress in their careers. These women feel like they cannot be authentically themselves in the workplace with an Indian, Malaysian, or Thai accent, and understand that they could be marginalised for it. Ironically, I’ve never had mentees from traditional Anglo Saxon/European backgrounds present the same concerns.
In order for workplaces to become truly intersectional, they need to acknowledge the unique challenges faced by any people who are marginalised due to their identities and work to eliminate these barriers.
Professional development and mentoring as standard practice
Impostor syndrome is real. Despite our many achievements, we still feel less than and harbour a fear of being ‘found out’. Fixing this means we need more women at the top, normalising our own unique leadership and communication style. When women are less in the minority, they are more likely to feel ‘safe’ and unleash their authentic talents.
So how do we get there? Simple. Hire more women, and promote more women.
But it doesn’t just stop there. Build in the kind of support that women need now in order to feel confident to apply for the roles they’re already ready for. Organisations must commit to ongoing equal access to learning and professional development, including equal access to financial resources and knowledge in order to achieve financial independence.
Mentoring should not just be best practice, but standard practice in all organisations. Mentoring has been crucial to my own development and still is to this day. In order to combat the many hurdles faced by women in the workplace today; including imposter syndrome, lack of confidence, frustrations caused by career ruts, lack of access or strategy and gender discrimination, mentoring can provide great opportunities to unblock and leapfrog ahead.
Celebrate our achievements
International Women’s Day is not just about discussing the challenges women face. It is also a day to celebrate the incredible achievements of women. It is essential that we create a space for women to take time out and build organisations that promote equality and inclusion.
This year, Elladex hosting International Women’s Day by bringing together some amazing women like Naomi Simpson, founding director of RedBalloon, Marina Go who has made a career out of smashing the glass ceiling, and Faustina Agolley, affectionately known as ‘Fuzzy’, who has had an incredibly diverse career in a time when cultural diversity had yet to progress. Women from all walks of life are welcome to attend the event with in person and online options available.
We hope this event and the many incredible events taking place this International Women’s Day will inspire women to continue to break down barriers and pave the way for future generations.
Shivani Gopal is the CEO of Elladex and an expert in money and inclusion.
About Shivani Gopal
Shivani Gopal has over 15 years of experience in the financial, professional and gender equality space. After being denied personal mentoring in her twenties, she set about making personal development, professional growth and financial literacy accessible to all women.
Shivani has spent the last six years perfecting successful mentoring programs for women in business via The Remarkable Woman, and in October 2022 pivoted her database of 25,000 women seeking support to a new digital mentor marketplace, ELLADEX and the ELLADEX super-app, which combines the latest in data-matching and machine learning technology to create tailored bite-sized learning experiences for women at all professional levels.