In celebration of International Women’s Day, we spoke to Reddin Group Partner, Merran Brown on her views, experiences, hopes and advice for the future of working women in corporate Australia.

Merran Brown has spent the last 30-years working in and around recruitment, spanning almost every industry you can think of. Many of these years were spent working while caring for young children, as a single mother. So, when she speaks on the topic of inclusion and equity in the Australian corporate landscape, we listen.

“Real Equity in the workplace is a critical topic that is still to be fully embraced,” Merran explains.

“We have reached a point where, talking just of equality is no longer enough. The differences between equity and equality must be highlighted and meaningfully addressed for working women now and for those who will join us in the future.”

The key difference is that simply providing individuals with the same resources and opportunities assumes that all people have the same starting point and are experiencing the same challenges and obstacles, which is certainly not the case. Working with an equity mindset instead of an ‘equal’ approach gives everyone what they need to achieve, or in the wise words of Naheed Dashini –

“Equality is giving everyone a shoe. Equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits.”

There are countless examples of where equality has been metered out with the best of intentions for women or minority groups, but in real terms have often resulted in little more than token gestures. This is simply because the very people intended to gain advantage, physically still are not able to do so. Women continue to bear the brunt of childrearing and undertake over 80% of domestic work, indigenous groups still do not have access to the same healthcare and education standards that most others take for granted.

“We first need to recognise the reality of things. Offering an opportunity without enabling it is pointless. Just imagine if the playing fields were levelled and where all members could thrive?” Merran says.

A recent analysis found that companies with 30% more women executives are more likely to outperform companies where the percentage is much lower. According to McKinsey and Co, businesses with gender, ethnic and culturally diverse leadership are profoundly more likely to outperform businesses that are not!

Merran further believes that there is more that businesses and leaders can be doing to ensure we are embracing equity in the workplace. Systemic racism and unconscious bias must be monitored. In return, retention and engagement will both benefit when all employees feel they are invested in and able to operate without barriers or bias.

Remuneration – it still goes without saying, but there are still sectors where there is so much more that can be done. Studies show women are still paid 26% less than their male counterparts overall. “Pay transparency will go a long way to dealing with this issue,” Merran comments.

Parental leave is another notable example. “The bulk of the childcare burden is still on the female, partially because they expect to pick it up, partially because they often earn much less, further compounding the issue.” Merran firmly believes that companies need to support this shift with more flexible approaches for both working parents so the pressure of childcare is spread equitably between both parents.

“Men must also get better at asking for flexibility. One reason men don’t ask is they see how it plays out for women and don’t want to be seen as less available themselves. While I am seeing promising signs, we still have a way to go,” she says.

“Businesses can also do more to encourage women on maternity leave to return to the workplace by ensuring that they keep them in the loop whilst they are away. While we don’t want to place extra pressure on women who are parenting a baby, there are ways we can work to ensure returning to the office isn’t so daunting. For example, Grace Papers are workplace gender equality experts who have some fantastic programs in place to help organisations and those on maternity leave navigate being physically absent while still maintaining business knowledge.

“Further examples are accommodating health conditions and disabilities by running programs to support and encourage employees that are neurodivergent. You must ask yourself – does my organisation make a public statement on goals towards this type of change, do they encourage and champion this kind of change within?”

Hybrid work is certainly a step forward for many but don’t rush to go completely remote. “While hybrid work has been embraced by many working women who have responsibilities around children, they must also ensure that they are spending some time working in the office. You won’t pick up on skills that you learn by firsthand observation at home. You won’t necessarily be developing the relationships you will need to navigate the corporate environment by taking yourself out of the office, and you certainly cannot fine-tune leadership skills and build culture by sitting at your home desk,” she says.

“Further examples are accommodating health conditions and disabilities by running programs to support and encourage employees that are neurodivergent. You must ask yourself – does my organisation make a public statement on goals towards this type of change, do they encourage and champion this kind of change within?”

On the topic of leadership, Merran firmly believes that women are uniquely placed to be strong and highly skilled leaders if they are given the right exposure. “Women are often awarded less opportunity to take on lead roles as a result of the male perceptions of what makes a good leader. There has been a tendency to devalue some of the trait’s women are more likely to display. Women are often more encouraging of exposing vulnerabilities. They are open to being the kind of leader to encourage new ideas and endeavours, which means you will try new things and inevitably also face failure. However, it’s from these mistakes, that you will certainly learn and inevitably the company will reap the rewards.

“Women must also trust themselves more. They need not seek permission, rather jump in wholeheartedly. Studies have shown that Men are often happy to put themselves forward for a role where they meet less than 50% of the requirements, by comparison, women expect to bring more than 80% of the skills and experience required. We constantly seem to make things harder for ourselves. “On this International Women’s day, it’s certainly important you be your best advocate, back yourself and expect nothing less than equity from your workplace, your partner and your colleagues.”

To learn more about Merran or to start a conversation, connect with Merran.