I don’t look like a middle-aged white male – well, I hope I don’t – but I’ve realised I think a lot like one over the past few months.
One of my responsibilities in my new job is to convene a diversity and inclusion council. As a result, I hear – and report – a lot on the subject. I also attended the 2017 Women’s Leadership Symposium this week, which focussed on Australia’s plummeting diversity outcomes and rising gender pay gap.
It’s slowly dawning on me that I’ve lead a very sheltered and fortunate professional life. My gender has never been an issue. I’m (fairly) sure it hasn’t hindered my career progress at any point.
I started my working life back in the 1980s – at age 17 – as a cadet journalist. My gender wasn’t a drawback during the recruitment process – an even mix of sexes were chosen for the intake.
My gender didn’t matter during my cadetship either. Mastering shorthand was far more critical to becoming a graded journalist.
My trade was heavily unionised and the pay rates were fixed when you moved to being a fully fledged journalist. There was no gender-based pay gap. It may have kicked in later when women tried to move up the ladder, but I didn’t hang around long enough to find out.
I embarked on a career in women’s magazines instead and spent the next 20+ years in an environment that I’m now looking back on with wide eyes. Women edited the majority of magazines and those women were managed by other women. And most of those women were amazing at their jobs, usually much better than the occasional male editor or publisher I encountered. Admittedly, there was always a man at the very top of the food chain, but he didn’t have much to do with my daily working life so I didn’t give him much thought.
My years at Cosmopolitan magazine were particularly diverse. I had a 50-year-old female boss. She had a young, male personal assistant. There were numerous openly gay employees working around me.
In magland, I didn’t need shorthand any more. The only thing holding me back wasn’t my gender, it was my personality – I had to overcome being painfully shy if I wanted to succeed.
So I did. And I did.
Each year brought promotions and pay rises. I went from sub-editor to production editor to deputy editor. I moved to Singapore and became an editor and then an editorial director. I moved back to Australia to edit one of the country’s biggest magazines – Woman’s Day – then became editorial director of a swag of weekly magazines.
Looking back, I never thought about whether I was being paid less than male editors. I was stoked with my salary.
When I hired people, it was on their merit, not their sex or sexuality. There were just as likely to be male fashion editors as female news editors.
I edited Woman’s Day until a week before giving birth to my first child. I went back to work two months afterwards. My husband took paternity leave because I earned twice as much as he did.
Thirteen years later, he still works part-time. It turns out that’s pretty unusual in Australia. While 76% of men who work full time have a partner who stays at home or works part-time, only 15% of women enjoy the same. It’s why Annabel Crabbe – one of the speakers at the symposium – wrote The Wife Drought.
She reckons if women had “wives” to take care of the home front there’d be a lot more of them at the top of business and politics.
The very first time I experienced diversity challenges was last year. They weren’t because of my sex, well, not entirely. They were mainly about my age. I was trying to succeed in the world of digital journalism, where it was preferable to be pretty, young and cheap to hire. I was no longer any of those things, so News Limited found no use for me within its walls after making my role as digital travel writer redundant.
I’m still a little dumbfounded by that, given my resume and versatility. But I’ve decided it’s their loss and my gain to have been pushed out of my comfort zone. I’ve moved into a new role outside journalism, in a workplace that values my skills and couldn’t give a toss about my age or looks.
That’s a long winded way of saying I’m struggling to get my head around the diversity challenges women face after spending so many decades NOT confronting those obstacles. Every day I hear more and more horrifying stories about the sort of discrimination people encounter because of their sexuality, gender or cultural background.
The gender pay gap in Australia is widening rather than narrowing. Very little progress is being made on getting women into positions of influence in business or government.
And I was much like the oblivious middle-aged, white men who don’t see a problem … because it hasn’t been a problem for me.
After two days at the Women’s Leadership Symposium, being bombarded with depressing statistics, it’s a bit confronting to see just how much of a problem it is. And how hard it will be to solve while women remain the primary caregivers for the next generation.
I don’t have any answers, just a wobbly hope that my daughters won’t face discrimination. I want them to have every opportunity for success and to be rewarded for their efforts at the same level as a man.
Anything else remains inconceivable.
Song of the day: Madonna “What it feels like for a girl”