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International Women’s Day 2022: A Call for Men to Join the Gender Equality Movement

It’s time for men to add their voice this International Women’s Day.

Right now we are experiencing a monumental moment in the fight for gender equality. Because whilst the time to gender equity has extended to 135 years, we are seeing another generation of feminists who are not afraid to challenge the status quo, speak up and step up. 

Since March last year, when I and thousands of women marched across Australia to protest against gender inequality, sexual harrassment and abuse, it has been women demanding change. Women like Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame. And as they pointed out in their recent National Press Club speech, a better, more diverse future is not just a hypothetical idea, it is a choice that every individual and business can make.

If this year’s IWD theme is #BreakTheBias, we need to start by breaking down the assumption that gender equality is “women’s business”. In 2022, women alone should not be demanding change, rather they should be supported by men in power standing up and creating a safe space for women in the workplace and the community as a basic human rights issue.   

So what is needed to encourage men in leadership to proactively take part in this critical conversation — without taking away from the voices of women? 

How can we better work together to create change?

Pip Marlow with fellow protesters taking a stance at the 2021 Women’s March in Sydney

1. Break barriers by leading from the top

Today, women are 2.5 times more likely to take parental leave than men. They are also more likely to work from home and be the primary caregiver. For me, one of the biggest opportunities to address this is by offering paid parental leave and normalising men taking it. 

Equality at home is a driver of equality at work, which is why at Salesforce our Australian employees are given 26 weeks paid time off if they’re the primary carer of a new baby or adopted child, and 12 weeks if they’re the secondary caregiver. Since introducing our policy we have seen a large increase in our male executives taking parental leave to be with their family and share the load. 

To begin breaking biases male leaders need to be role models to other men, but it also requires businesses to rethink how they are supporting all employees. To create a truly inclusive culture we need to give our employees — especially managers — the tools they need to recognise and address bias and start breaking barriers. As a first step, businesses can:

  • Develop agreements that don’t unintentionally discriminate against employees who choose to work from home. At Salesforce we have developed a Clear, Flexible Team Agreement to ensure a level playing field.
  • Build an effective Digital HQ that supports teams to work from the office and from home.

But it’s not just the responsibility of businesses to break down social barriers and lead by example. Governments have a responsibility to change the trajectory of women’s role in the home and the workplace. Offering affordable childcare would allow both parents to participate in the workforce full-time and reach their full potential. While Australia has made progress — the federal government has just announced an increase to the Child Care Subsidy — there is still more work to be done. 

As it stands, women continue to dominate part time or casual roles in industries more vulnerable to disruption — the latest data published by Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency revealed that only two out of five of all full-time employees were women. Australia needs to look to countries such as Luxembourg, Iceland and Sweden, whose governments have invested in family-friendly policies, including childcare, to support all parents in their return to work.

But businesses don’t have to wait for our government to take action. We can start leading the way by paying superannuation to those on parental leave, as we do at Salesforce, and help stop the cycle of women retiring with less than their male counterparts.

2. Build trust through workplace reform

After a year where we have seen some of the most powerful and prestigious offices in the country come under fire, the discussion around gender equality in the workplace isn’t slowing down. Last week research published by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner revealed that one in three Australian women have experienced online abuse in a professional context; in the same week Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins warned corporate leaders against confidentiality agreements in dealing with workplace sexual harrassment. 

Just as we need to reform our laws on gender inequality, we need to reform our workplace policies if we are to rebuild trust. At Salesforce, we have clear policies and support structures in place for employees or who want or need to report any instance of harassment — sexual or otherwise — or any kind of bullying. This includes protecting the privacy and confidentiality of the persons involved and providing mental health support through care and confidential therapy and/or coaching and access to resources and tools. And we also need to create safe spaces where men can be corrected if they say the wrong thing. Let’s not cancel someone for innocent mistakes, but instead create learning opportunities that drive exchange not fear. Because every woman has a right to safety at work, whether that’s in the office or online. 

According to my colleague and Senior Vice President — Specialist Solutions, Australia & New Zealand at Salesforce Paul Voges, he’s long considered it his responsibility to cultivate these types of environments. He shared moments where he pushed for female talent to have a chance to shine — and that he sees a big role for other men in leadership, too.

“A leader’s role is to drive vision, alignment, empowerment and accountability for their teams. It is critical that male leaders set their business up from the very beginning to be equal, to change processes, structures, compensation and symbols that drive an equal playing field.

“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. There are no excuses for male leaders in this area. Stop talking about your daughters and why it makes you understand — start making the decisions that show your daughter that you’re a role model.”

For me, it also comes back to the gender pay gap and paying women fairly and equally. At Salesforce we have spent $15 million (AUD) actively closing the gender pay gap and review multiple times a year. Building trust is about consistency and should be a priority every day, not just one day of the year.

3. Balance voices to drive change

Now is the time for men to raise their voices alongside women, and ensure that the future we create is an equal one. Stories are powerful and the powerful stories can come from men. I really encourage men in leadership positions to stand up, take responsibility and be accountable for communicating why change is necessary. 

To do this we need to create space for men to join the conversation. As history shows, a united force for gender equality drives a movement. Paul agrees, saying that the narrative needs to emphasise that a rising tide lifts all boats:

“One perspective is that accelerating equality can come across as taking something away from someone. The reality backed by research shows that companies with strong gender diversity, at leadership levels and across the general population, perform better and grow faster. There won’t be fewer jobs for men, there will be more jobs for everyone.

“Secondly, the sooner we have an equal playing field, the less chance there is for someone brilliant being held back. The potential opportunity for innovation, growth and breakthroughs will happen more often. Bringing this forward benefits all of us.”

A call to arms

My call to everyone this International Women’s Day is to reflect on how you will make the next IWD different. How will you ensure that all voices advocating for gender equality will be visible, present and heard? How can each of us lead by example? 

Everyone has a stake in this, regardless of gender. We all benefit from fair playing fields, diverse voices and leadership, and opportunities for new ideas to flourish. 

That means we all have an important part to play — what will yours be?

Pip Marlow CEO, Salesforce Australia and New Zealand

Pip Marlow is Chief Executive Officer, Salesforce Australia and New Zealand. In this role, Pip is responsible for ensuring Salesforce delivers on its values of trust, customer success, innovation and equality for both our customers and our community across Australia and New Zealand. Prior to Salesforce, Pip was Chief Executive Officer Customer Marketplace at Suncorp, where she was responsible for driving customer focus into all aspects of Suncorp’s business including strategy, customer care, partnerships and innovative solutions that add value for customers. Prior to joining Suncorp in 2016, Pip was at Microsoft for 21 years where she held a number of roles for them in Australia and the USA. This culminated in her role as the Managing Director of Microsoft Australia for 6 years. Pip is also a non-executive director of the Rugby Australia (ARU), sits on the Vice-Chancellor's Advisory Board at UTS,  is a member of Chief Executive Women (CEW), and is an Executive Ally for Pride Diversity. She is a passionate advocate for flexible and diverse workplaces that empower people. Born and  raised in New Zealand, Pip lives in Sydney with her Scottish husband and her two American born daughters, Sophie and Lucy.

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