The following piece was written by the playwright Alana Valentine, who attended and observed the second Inclusion2 luncheon that took place mid-2018.
‘Female graduates in engineering are, on average, paid two percent more than their male colleagues’, said Consult Australia CEO Megan Motto at the beginning of the second Inclusion 2 lunch I was attending with thirteen other women.‘Within two years there is a five percent swing and male engineers are averaging three percent more than women. And that’s what I tell business leaders when they say that women are paid less because they leave to have babies. I tell them that that is simply not true. The numbers don’t bear it out. They go silent, they let me speak then, because there’s nothing that impresses an engineer more than accurate numbers. And it’s only when you drill down into the data that you can start busting some of the myths that circulate in our sector.’
Drawn once again from an astonishing diversity of dynamic business leaders and consultants in engineering, infrastructure, intellectual property law and sustainability, this gathering was another eye-opening session about the remarkable hard work that is being done in Australian business to bust what Ms Motto frequently referred to as the stupid curve, ‘If you’re looking for one hundred percent talent then you can’t recruit it from fifty percent of the population.’
‘I asked a fellow working in HR what he asked during exit interviews for women who were leaving because of pregnancy,’ Ms Motto said, ‘He told me that they don’t conduct exit interviews for those women because they’re obviously leaving to have a baby. And I said to him, well, workforce participation research tells us that seventy-eight percent of professionally trained women will re-enter the workforce, so perhaps you should consider that when those women leave your firm they are not saying, ‘I’m not going back to work’, just ‘I’m not going back to work for you!’’
What I’m loving about these Inclusion 2 sessions, designed to support STEM women through the ‘lifecycle’ of their careers, is the tin-tacks essentialism of the talk, the hard-nose strategizing, the genuine guts and, well, radicalism of the discussions. The masks come off, the shoulder pads are left resting on chair backs and instead the women here don (metaphorically) the crash helmets they’ll need to institute profound and effective change in their respective industries. Here, behind closed doors and away from the gaze of propriety, these women are knuckling down and skilling each other up on how to call time on sexism, how to call time on ‘the meritocracy’, how to genuinely and effectively confront a business domain that for too long has genuflected toward diversity and then thrown its hands in the air in defeat.
‘The modern workplace is designed by men to suit men, especially to suit men who have a wife at home and we need to break that structure, we need to deconstruct that workforce if we’re going to effect change,’ Ms Motto parlayed. ‘If there are ten criteria for a job, studies have found that women will only apply if they can meet eight or nine of the criteria. Men will apply if they meet four. We have to begin to address this confidence gap in women and, frankly, get some of that honest over-confidence that men have.’
Having instituted the Consult Australia Male Champions of Change programs, Ms Motto was candid in confronting the initial criticisms of the organization, ‘The response I often get is, great, a bunch of blokes, as per usual, sitting around talking about how to fix us women. But then I tell them how these men have to commit time, resources and finances to internal programs for change and the cynics begin to listen. I explain that at the end of every year, the accountability of every member firm is publicly published with lead indicators such as the policies they have implemented and lag indicators, the areas of gender bias that remain stubbornly unchanging, and suddenly no-one is talking about ‘fixing’ women, but honestly, genuinely being made accountable for leading change that is reflected in data and numbers.’
Now in my own brain I could hear the synapses popping and snapping with genuine hope. It was as if Ms Motto took the numbers and graphs and figures and facts and laid them out before us like a sheaf of finely sharpened kitchen knives, like an array of particularly pointy long lead pencils, inviting us to use them how and where we could. It was a simultaneously inspiring and actually electrifying experience, a get-on-board or get-left-behind-moment, challenging every woman in the room to join the fight. A reckoning, a zeitgeist shifting surge of seeing change made physically transparent in research science and no-more-excuses logic-led passion. At the end of the dinner Megan Motto urged us, ‘If there is one paper you should read I would urge you to look at ‘In the Eye of the Beholder: Avoiding the Merit Trap’. I have already sent it to the entire board of the Australian Writers’ Guild, on whose National Executive I sit.
Change is coming, and it’s coming now. Megan Motto has the numbers to prove it.