In 2009, Marie Claire surveyed more than 5000 women to find out their views on everything from careers to kids – we still had a way to go in terms of gender equality. This year, ahead of International Women’s Day, Salesforce partnered with Marie Claire to explore this topic once again and determine how far the needle has been moved in 10 years, and how our views may have changed or evolved.

The results are in – on Wednesday Marie Claire Editor Nicky Briger was joined on the World Tour Sydney stage to chat about them with Celeste Barber (if you’re not sure she is, go and join her 5.5m Instagram followers – you can thank me later), Male Champions of Change STEM’s Dig Howitt, and Country Road Group and David Jones Chief Customer Officer Hannah Ross.

Today’s a great day to keep that conversation going. Not only is it International Women’s Day; it’s not yet mid-March, and 10 women have died violently. In less horrific stats, the gender pay gap is still a thing – surprise! Remember my colleague Eileen O’Mara talking a couple of years ago about how we’re 117 years from parity? Or the Salesforce research that found only 25% of business professionals believe their company cares about closing the gender pay gap?).

So, let’s talk about the Marie Claire research.

 

1. Finance

 

The Australian women surveyed say not having enough money to afford the lifestyles they want (49%) and retire comfortably (45%) are their greatest fears.

This is well founded – ABS data says women at or approaching preservation age hold far less super than their male counterparts, with median balances of $96,000 for women and $166,000 for men.

In this same age group, 55-64 years, 26% of women has no super coverage, compared to 16% of men.

Business has a responsibility to address both of these fears and, as super is tied directly to income, the first step in doing that is pay equity.

In 2015, Salesforce committed to to reviewing employee compensation annually to ensure everyone is paid equally for equal work. Since then, we’ve spent US$6 million to bring parity to our remuneration.

Although we saw a great improvement over the past two years, with a 45% decrease in the number of employees who needed their pay adjusted, we have also realised that it’s not enough to pick this up once a year. We’re adding serious numbers to our ranks each month, and are now focused on ensuring from day one that they are brought in without a gender gap.

I'm such a big believer in financial independence for women, and I believe that education plays a big role in it.

Of the Aussie women surveyed, half are happy with the way they manage their finances yet still worry about it – which may mean they’re doing their best but are still aware that their future financial independence is not assured. Only 13% are optimistic that their financial future is secure and the remainder show the depth and breadth of the difficulty of achieving financial independence:

  • 10% find it tough to juggle financial priorities

  • 18% struggle to consistently save

  • 5% try not to think about their finances

  • 4% find it hard to find good financial advice

So part of the solution is pay equity, part is awareness of the importance of ‘thinking about it’, and part is education on how to manage finances.

Education is a big piece of what we're doing at Salesforce – we teach our people the importance of wealth management and provide the tools to help them take control of their financial future – I think generally companies need to do this.
 


 

2. Sexual harassment

 

One in three women have experienced sexual harassment at work. However, 54% would be more willing to speak up about that than they were five years ago and 35% just as willing; only 4% would not feel like they could speak up at all.

We’ve seen a major shift in recent years – the #MeToo movement has provided powerful voices saying ‘this is not okay’ and showing women that standing up for themselves and others is possible – and that it’s essential and empowering.

Women feel like they could speak out about it now, and I think that's amazing. The more than we can talk about this stuff, put it on the table and say, ‘This is real and this is happening. These are the kind of behaviors that we just will not accept in our organisation, we will not condone’, the more people will feel like they can speak up.

Again, it comes back to education. If you're not educating people and you're not setting the tone for what's okay and what's not okay, then people will continue to push and push.

And that’s why I think that the education on language is so important as well as education about harassment, because everyday sexism sets a tone. If someone's speaking a certain way or using sexist or derogatory terms, if they are waiting for women to serve the lunch at meetings, and if they continue to get away with it, that tells the whole organisation that their behaviour is acceptable. It lowers the bar when the bar should be raised, and opens the door to worse behaviour.

Allyship is also part of the solution here, and 75% of women say they have an ally at work who could speak up on their behalf if they experienced harassment – as Dig Howitt said in the World Tour panel launching this research, there’s nothing wrong with embarrassing people.

I don't think everyday sexism is always malicious or conscious, but maybe it's just no one's really calling this stuff out – if we do, I really hope it will help with bigger issues.
 

3. Domestic violence

 

A staggering 63% of women say domestic violence is one of the biggest problems affecting women in Australia today. That statistic was probably the one that scared me the most – I think it's a terrible indictment on our society.

But with domestic violence being the single biggest killer of women in the country, frankly I’m surprised in another way it isn’t ranked more highly. The issue is really concerning, and while it’s a societal issue rather than one directly linked to organisations, it needs attention from employers.

A number of the leadership team here, including myself, feel really strongly about this, and we’ve implemented a local policy on supporting those experiencing domestic violence. Part of that is allowing them the space and time off to access support services, find safety and deal with the fallout of their relationship breaking down in such a difficult way.

So organisations need to provide the space, but they have to do it in a sensitive way. Talking about it is hard. Women don’t necessarily want to tell their employer and have to lay it all out.

Women need to be able to say, “I’m having some challenges and I need some space”, and be met halfway by an employer who has a policy of providing that space, so that leaders know what to do. This is a great first step in the right direction I think.

Other things that I'm starting to see are short-term loans and short-term housing – the provision of resources – because if we go back to the other problem that many women don't have financial security, particularly if they have been in an abusive relationship for some time, how do you get out of a situation if you don't have the financial means?
 


 

4. Workforce participation

 

Finally, the central part of financial independence – workforce participation. Some mothers want to stay at home with their kids, as do some dads – I would have loved to stay at home longer than three months with each of my kids, but at the time I wasn’t in an organisation with paid parental leave. Some women want to return to work. Neither is right for everyone, but those women who want to get back to work need to be supported to do so.

Almost one in five women – 19% – say that their family could be a threat to their career. And considering that 26% of women answered the question of whether their family could threaten their career with ‘not applicable’, suggesting they either don’t have a family or don’t have a career, it’s likely that the proportion of working women with kids who believe having kids could threaten their career is even higher.

Parental leave for both men and women needs improvement to address this, as does return-to-work processes for women who have taken parental leave.

More than half of women would like to see improved parental leave for dads. Here at Salesforce, we agree. Our parental leave policy allows for six months paid leave for a primary carer and three for a secondary carer, regardless of gender. We support couples building families via IVF and adoption, and we just want to see our people flourish at home and work.

We work on a lot of graduate programs at Salesforce and a lot of other companies do as well, and I'm seeing the same sort of programming for women returning to the workforce – it’s particularly useful to catch up on changes in the industry and the company in the time they were on leave. It’s not just the big stuff of ‘this is what we’re selling these days, this is where everything in the new office we’ve moved into’, it’s the little things as well – new technology might have popped up and become quite prevalent, for example we’re using Quip a lot now and if you don't feel comfortable with new tools, it’s hard to return to work and feel as comfortable and productive as you did prior to leave.

Overall, women’s roles in the workforce are expanding, and 78% of women say they are satisfied in their jobs. That’s great, but we have a way to go. Australia does not have equal women in leadership, does not have equal pay, and does not have women retiring in financial security at the same rate as men.

As Marc Benioff says, “business is the greatest platform for change” – we have the opportunity to make real change for women, globally and in Australia.