As the numbers rolled in from the latest election, it became clear that this was not a year for women in power.
Despite the leaps our national politicians took in electing a diverse crop of new MPs, from our first Indigenous woman in the House to a record six openly gay representatives, women now figure at one of the lowest levels of representation in the Federal Parliament in years, down five on the Government benches since 2013.
Why aren’t women attracted to roles of power?
“It’s just too hard,” says Susanne Moore, head of the Centre for Gender Economics and Innovation and Convenor of the GLP Colloquium and Think Tank, Global Perspectives on Gender Economics, one of my personal favourites. Susanne has worked in corporate and consulting positions across Australia, runs her own business, and has worked hard to change the hierarchies and structures that sought to keep her down. These structures, legislative, corporate or legal, weren’t built for women. Politically, “women argue for their own inequality… this is a classic example of gender economics, [as] politics is not a space that is designed for us… it is designed by and for man, not men.” The political field is important, as it is the primary way that power is distributed in society, and reflected in corporate life also. “The way these organisations implement change” says Susanne, “is through democracy, it’s a collaborative effort, once people start to understand democracy and that ‘I’ve got a voice, and I can speak,’ then things start to happen.”
Susanne’s work attempts to shine a light on the positives of full participation of the broad expressions of gender in our economy, but she is keen to establish that “it’s not a conversation about women, it’s not even about gender, it’s about economics. You want to get the most out of your people, then you have to understand the intersection of people.”
It’s trite to say that gender diversity, not only of women but of men and other genders, contributes to superior outcomes across any field, yet so many organisations, governments included, lag behind. Nonetheless, gender identities that are “not men” account for more than 50% of economic activity. To tap into this productivity and the potential for innovation, Susanne has built the understanding of gender economics as a new field from the ground up, incorporating sociology, commerce, politics, gender studies and economics.
In some of her work, Susanne has encountered the kinds of outdated understandings of gender that inhibit her work. Some men who encounter gender economics are initially sceptical. “They have literally turned off when you start talking about gender diversity,” she says. What many men do not consider is that patriarchy hurts them also. “Even being a heterosexual male in the patriarchy is not a pleasant thing, because they are just absolutely constricted by the working hours, the lack of flexibility, and in global organisations where they’re expected to travel, there’s not much give and take. When I start to talk to them about the expectations placed on them by the organisations themselves, they start to get it.” Among the statistics we discuss is the suicide rate. “Men are more likely to suicide than women, and why is that?” she laments, “What’s the economic impact of that? There is a gendered impact. Why are they doing that?” It is a question that I sadly cannot answer.
“How do you get past the opposition?” I ask. Beyond the stories Susanne shares, there are a thousand untold ones she has simply brushed off. “You just cannot believe what someone has just said to you in 2016. But I think to myself, this is what I am here for. I have always been interested in justice and equality, for everybody. I think to myself, this is my job. To bring awareness of this. I don’t take it personally. I get the trolls on Twitter and Facebook, and it’s just like, BLOCK. I don’t worry about it.”
Susanne sees the future of gender economics in Europe, where interestingly her theories have been more widely accepted than in Australia. “It’s interesting because it’s much more understood in the sort of countries that experience economic hardship. They really get it. They understand that every person has to make a difference in order to change the economy. We don’t have that in Australia.” Susanne comments. “Instead, we have a fair go for everyone.” Susanne says, sarcastically. “It’s not a fair go for everyone. Not for indigenous people, for my daughter who’s gay. That saying is so endemic in this society, that we all think we’re doing such a good job, but we aren’t. The national consciousness is so tied to the concept of the fair go, of fair dinkum white male mateship, that we forget that it is not so for our indigenous community, women, our first generation immigrant families. This picture is so strong in our mind and that’s why the shift to accepting other forms of gender is so difficult. We’re clinging to that narrative, without it, what are we?”
Susanne’s work has given rise to new structures in business and corporate life. She has lived and breathed her field for decades and has passed this knowledge onto countless organisations, and seen the benefits: during her years running her own IT consultancy, her net profits reflected a higher rate than similar sized or larger businesses, highlighting the reward that thinking with gender economics can engender. It’s about a generational shift, and I look forward to helping create the kind of world where gender economics is so ingrained into our culture that we can’t help but wonder what all the fuss about.
Written by James Bowers (pictured above).
James was one of our Session 1, 2016 GLP Student Ambassadors. He is currently in a Bachelor of Arts, studying Politics & International Relations, Spanish, Human Rights Law and Development.
James’ interview with Susanne is part of a new blog series to give you a better insight into our GLP Convenors and their Colloquium and Think Tank topics. We asked our GLP Student Ambassadors to interview a Convenor on their area of expertise – what inspires them, what makes them tick and what advice they would give GLP young leaders.
Susanne’s Think Tank, Global Perspectives on Gender Economics, will be running on Wednesday 21 September, 2pm – 5pm. Susanne also facilitates a Colloquium, which will be running again in Session 1, 2017.