The Victorian government is calling on all members of the community, including businesses and startups, to step up to the mission of bringing gender equality to the state.

In its first gender equality strategy launched this week, the government has outlined a series of reforms and initiatives affecting government, business, sporting clubs and the media.

Safe and Strong: A Victorian Gender Equality Strategy will drive programs to boost opportunities for women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM), both in education and out in the field.

Among the first initiatives, the government will host the first all-women international trade delegation to China in 2017; it will work with investors to increase support of female founders; and explore new ways to increase the opportunity for women in small business, including those of Aboriginal, migrant and refugee backgrounds.

The strategy will also involve the launch of the Joan Kirner Young and Emerging Leadership Program for Women to create a pipeline of more diverse leaders, and the Women on Boards Leadership program to assist women pursuing board careers with things like flexible support packages.

It will also re-establish the rural women’s network and spark a review of laws against sexist advertising and gender-based hate speech.

This comes in addition to a $21.8 million commitment over the next two years to establish the Respectful Relationships Education curriculum, announced in 2015, which is aimed at spotlighting negative stereotypes, attitudes and behaviours to prevent gendered harassment and violence.

Earlier this year, Victorian Minister for Women and Prevention of Family Violence Fiona Richardson said the strategy’s aim is not to empower a single type of woman but to see wide-scale change across the public and private sector.

“We want to ensure that women from all walks of life and across all industries actually get the support that they need to ensure that existing barriers are addressed once and for all,” Richardson told StartupSmart.

“Talking about this and the importance of this has not been enough. By having a strategy that incorporates measurable targets and timeframes we can ensure that over time we are actually making a difference.”

Ten recommendations for business

In the report, Richardson lists 10 practical things for businesses to do their part.

  1. “Understand the economic benefits that come from diversity in decision making and make this part of their bottom line strategy,” Richardson states in the report.
  2. “Recognise the gender gap and conduct an immediate audit of their workplace to assess women’s roles, seniority and pay parity.
  3. “Set targets and timeframes by which they will achieve diversity.
  4. “Understand that change must come from the top so they talk about their objectives 24/7 and make it part of their company’s core business.
  5. “Recognise that girls from a young age are conditioned to accept second place so they actively seek out women for development and promotion.
  6. “Introduce and promote flexible workplaces for everyone and introduce family violence leave provisions.
  7. “Call out and act against sex discrimination, sexist language, sexual harassment and sexist workplace norms without causing harm to women
  8. “Prioritise diversity competency in staff, promote those who support diversity goals, share their objectives and ideals and bring in expertise from outside when needed.
  9. “Make the change happen by making it central to their business plans, KPIs and company strategies.
  10. “Regularly audit progress and … [be] publicly transparent about how they are performing over time.”

StartupSmart understands the government’s explicit strategy to bring gender equality to the state may influence the types of businesses, events and groups it chooses to work with.

Initiatives like Above All Human, Girls in Tech and PauseFest, which have committed to gender equality, have recently won priority for commercial support over others.

At this year’s Above All Human, led by prominent investor Susan Wu and former StartupSmart editor Bronwen Clune, they said: “It’s bullshit that so many other tech conferences claim it’s too hard to get to gender parity.

“Don’t laud us for this, don’t call us trailblazers. All we’re doing is reflecting the world as it is.”

Read more: Susan Wu and Bronwen Clune’s opening speech at Above All Human

Tackling the stereotypes

Earlier this year, community consultations in Victoria revealed social attitudes and gendered-assumptions of roles both at work and home would be the hardest wheel to turn on the road to equality.

During one consultation with business leaders in STEMM, “stereotypes” were found to be one of the biggest shackles holding women back.

“We have to challenge the stereotypes that work so blatantly against us,” Social Science and Women in Science in Australia co-founder Michelle Gallaher told StartupSmart.

The report states that these stereotypes become entrenched at school, leading to statistics like women comprising just 33% of STEM undergraduates in Victoria, 40% of STEM PhD completions, only 14% of STEM professors, and under 4% of VET enrolments in construction, engineering and trades.

At the other end of the scale, men are missing in care service sectors, representing only 16% of VET enrolments in nursing and early childhood, aged and disability care.

The strategy also reveals that women who leave school earlier are less likely to find full-time work than men who do the same, and end up in lower paid roles.

At a recent discussion on diversity hosted by Dell, Indigenous entrepreneur Narelle Anderson said taking a tick-a-box approach to diversity and simply offering a position to someone to fill a quota is not helpful as it undermines the value of that person in the boardroom.

“There is a difference between targets and a quota,” she said.

“We should strive for equality.”

Anderson, the founder of Envirobank Recycling, said this will take a dedicated and cohesive effort not just at work but at home as well.

“Equally, we need to be having a conversation with our boys about respecting women and what it’s like to respect and play with girls,” she said.

“It’s not us against them.”

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