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Effective Communication




By the time we become adults the majority of us would consider ourselves to be good communicators. After all, we’ve been communicating with each other since we first learnt to talk; that’s at least 18 years of solid talking.

However effective communication especially within a workplace setting, can be an incredibly difficult skill to master. It is never as simple as just saying the right words to someone, but also the tone and body language when saying those words. In fact only 7% of communication is based on what is said, while the rest is communicated through non-verbals.  Tone, body language and content combine to create different communication styles ranging from submissive to aggressive. We can jump between communication styles depending on the situation, however many psychologists have argued the ideal communication style especially within the workplace, is assertiveness. This is because an assertive person can effectively influence, listen and negotiate which allows others to choose to co-operate willingly.

I’m sure many have heard of this magical word during work seminars or training sessions, but what does being ‘assertive’ actually mean and how is it different to being aggressive or submissive? Last Friday the VM Learning office were lucky enough to find out when our managing director Julie Verner Mackay held an effective communication training session for all staff. Julie has been facilitating professional development programs for the last 26 years and was able to find some time in-between managing VM Learning and our software product aXcelerate, to demonstrate assertiveness and why it is so important for effective communication both in and outside of the workplace. This training session was the first of many for our VM Learning staff, as we make a concentrated effort on […]

ANZ to increase super contributions to their female staff




The banking giant ANZ, are the first of Australia’s banking corporations to announce they will be increasing super contributions for some female staff, in a bid to combat the gender financial gap. Both the superannuation industry and women’s advocacy groups are applauding ANZ’s move to provide superannuation contributions of $500 a year for female staff with less than $50,0000 in their super funds, in an attempt to minimise the gap in retirement savings between men and women.

Super contributions on parental leave will also be paid by the bank for up to 24 months.

This announcement comes hot on the heels of a recent report commissioned by ANZ  which revealed that women retired with, on average half the amount of super of men. Furthermore the report claimed that women were 15 per cent more likely to experience poverty in retirement and across a lifetime, where full-time working women earned $700,000 less than men.

This increase to women’s super could have significant benefits not only for future women joining the workforce but also overall quality of life , as access to a greater amount of retirement savings would have a positive effect not only on the individual woman but her extended family.

The bank’s chief executive of global wealth, Joyce Phillips believes that while these measures won’t completely solve the problem, they are a step in the right direction.

“ Over time, we believe these new measures will help improve the financial security of women at ANZ by directly targeting the areas of advice, superannuation and financial education” he was quoted saying in the Australian Financial Review last week.

Many prominent political figures are applauding the ANZ’s actions, with Green’s industrial relations spokesman Adam Bandt requesting a Senate inquiry into women’s superannuation savings […]

Crowdfunding: the key platform for budding female entrepreneurs




The crowdfunding phenomenon, which has dramatically changed the way businesses and individuals raise capital could now become a catalyst for the success and growth in female entrepreneurs and female-owned businesses.

A recent study has revealed that crowdfunding- an internet-enabled provision of financial resources- not only reduces barriers faced by female funders/entrepreneurs seeking capital, but shows that female led pitches are out performing male led pitches.

Jason Greenberg of New York University and Ethan Mollick of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, found that women-led-ventures (particularly technology based firms) were more likely to reach their funding goals than male led-ventures. More specifically, 65 per cent of all female-led tech startups reached their funding goals through using a crowdsourcing platform, versus just 30 per cent of male-led tech start ups. Furthermore, outside the tech industry female-led ventures prevailed. Overall, 37 per cent of all female-led ventures (using crowdfunding) were funded compared to 32 per cent of male led ventures.

This is a stark contrast to funding success rates via traditional methods. An MIT study conducted in 2013 found that investors preferred entrepreneurial pitches presented by male entrepreneurs compared with pitches by female entrepreneurs, even when the content of the pitch was the same. When analysing three years’ worth of entrepreneurial pitch competitions (where applicants pitch their venture idea to angel investors) researchers found male applicants were 60% more likely to receive funding for these. Furthermore outside of crowdfunding, female-led companies have received only 7% of all venture capital funding in the United States in the last year.

So why the disparity in funding success? Both studies believe unconscious gender bias to be the culprit. Greenberg and Mollick believe that given a choice of whom to associate with, we tend to […]

Gender Equality at the Forefront of Hilary Clinton’s Economic Policy



This was a big week in the world of American politics, with the current candidates competing for the 2016 presidential race giving their first major domestic policy speech. The first of these were heard this Monday night, when Democratic front-runner Hilary Clinton took to the stand in New York to voice her economic vision.

A key aspect of this vision  was in relation to gender equality. This is hardly surprising given Clinton’s long political history championing  ‘women issues’.  In her speech Clinton declared that America is limiting it’s own potential due to the barriers preventing more women entering and staying in the workforce.

“We  need to break down the barriers so more Americans can participate more fully in the workforce, especially women….we are in a global competition and we can’t afford to leave talent on the sidelines”  she said.

Full-time employment increased from 28.6 per cent of all women in 1979 to 43.6 per cent in 2007, before declining to 40.7 per cent in 2012. Similarly, in statistics that she referenced in her speech, Clinton claimed that in 1990 the U.S ranked 7th among 24 developed countries in women’s labour force participation, but that their ranking has now dropped to 19th.

Clinton presented the scenario of a single mother balancing full time work and community college, highlighting the need for affordable childcare, and a grandmother who watches children for a living but cannot afford to fill her own prescriptions, weakening the effect of providing the childcare in the first place.

She also highlighted wage disparity: that the average American woman makes 78 cents for every dollar earned by men.

All of these barriers negatively impact on the level women can contribute to the workforce, which consequently has negative impacts on America’s economy. […]

Australian Government is the sixth worst in the world for gender balance according to recent report from OECD


Over the last month VM Learning have been reporting on the decreasing rate of female representation on Australia’s government boards and this week is no different, with both the Sydney Morning Herald and Brisbane Times announcing our current government is the sixth worst in the world for gender balance.

Both newspapers have cited a recent report released by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), which revealed that the gap between women and men in ministerial positions in Australia has actually worsened since 2012, despite the targets set in place by previous government policy.

Furthermore, the report claimed that Australia now has fewer women in its highest ranks of government than every OECD country except for Greece, Korea, Turkey, Hungary and Slovakia. Even the two countries the OECD are currently considering to join its organisation- Latvia and Columbia-have far higher female representation within their government, as shown by the graph below.


So why do these statistics matter? Surely the most important thing is appointing the right candidates for the job, rather than appointing parliament members based on gender?

However the OECD argues that this is precisely why these statistics do matter. In a statement made within their report, OECD claimed that a more representative public administration provides the administration with access to “previously overlooked” knowledge and perspectives.

Meanwhile there are multiple studies indicating that companies with more women on their boards out perform non-diverse companies in regards to productivity, employee morale and overall business performance. In fact The Credit Suisse Gender 3000: Women in Senior Management report released last year, showed that from the beginning of 2012 to mid-way through 2014, companies with at least one woman on their board outperformed non-diverse companies by 5%.

This doesn’t mean that […]

Chance of New Gender Equality Bill Being Granted for Australian Government Boards

A bill introduced by independent senator Nick Xenophon which seeks to legislate 40 per cent representation by women on government boards, is now working it’s way through the government system. It is important not to become prematurely excited by this prospect; the coalition hasn’t given it a tick. Nor however, has it been publicly argued against.

This may be because this 40 per cent quota isn’t radically different to what’s already in place, from a practical perspective. Thanks to the previous government’s policy to implement a 40 per cent target for female membership of federal government boards- the number is already pretty close at 38 per cent.

This begs the question, why legislate?According to Xenophon there is evidence that the proportion of women on government boards has slipped since 2013, when the policy was first in place. He argues there is a real risk that unless legally fortified this number could slip further. In 2012-2013, 13 of 18 government boards met the target (40% of each gender with 20% wiggle room) but in 2013-2014 only nine boards met this goal. Furthermore, the biggest decline in the number of women on boards since 2013, was in the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio, where 41.2% female board representation plunged to 29.4%.

“ What concerns us is what happens in 2015 and 2016- unless attention is paid to arresting this decline it could very easily blow out to 6-10% where it will become exponentially harder to arrest” Xenophon’s associate and executive director of the Women on Boards committee, Claire Braund said earlier this year.

However the main purpose of this legislation is for this 40 per cent quota to have a flow on effect within Australia’s leading corporations. Currently less than […]

Promoting Pregnant Women To Partner

Recently KPMG, a global network of professional firms providing Audit, Tax and Advisory services has promoted 2 women about to go on maternity leave. This is an unusual move within the corporate industry, as children have traditionally been viewed as a barrier to moving up the corporate ladder.

Could promoting women while pregnant be the solution to getting more women on boards and improving overall statistics for women in leadership roles?

Angela Priestly, journalist for the online publication ‘Women’s Agenda’ finds out in her most recent article below:


There’s a major problem facing ambitious women in law and accounting firms.

Many women approach the partner level just as they approach another major milestone in life: having children.

It’s not the only reason, but at least one of the reasons why the number of female partners in professional firms tends to be well below that of the number of male partners — often averaging less than 20%.
 So this week’s news that KPMG has not only promoted a record number of female partners, but also a record number of women who’re working flexibly and/or on or about to take maternity leave, is certainly positive.
KPMG has appointed 51 new partners and executive directors, 19 of them are women. That’s 37%, up from 24% last year.

Two women have been promoted to partner while on, or about to take maternity leave. As the Financial Review reports, 35-year-old Courtney West is expected to give birth to her first child at the end of July, the same month she officially commences as partner. She said she always believed having a child could fit with her partner ambitions with the firm and plans to take six months maternity leave. Another five of the new […]

Intel: the next corporate giant to jump on the diversity bandwagon



Following on from the theme of last weeks blog regarding the underrepresentation of women within the tech world, Intel has been the latest corporate giant to publicly announce incentives to encourage further diversity within their organisation. This week Intel announced that it will be investing $300 million to help improve the pipeline for women and minorities, actively support the hiring and retention of diverse candidates and fund programs that support the positive representation of women and minorities in technology and gaming industries.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich has vowed that by 2020 the company should have a “full representation” of women and minorities-meaning Intel will be more representative of the available talent in America, including closing the gap at the leadership level.

To kick start this initiative and ensure it is followed through to all the industry associations, Intel are planning to partner with organisations within the industry including the International Game Developers Association, The E-Sports League and The National Centre for Women in Technology. Furthermore, the company will also collaborate with minority-serving elementary schools and engineering programs at colleges so as to promote careers in technology as a legitimate career path for young women and other minority groups.

While on the surface this investment appears to be another step in the right direction for the tech industry, there are some skeptics. Alyssa Oursler,a journalist specialising in technology, gender issues and entrepreneurship argued that there is good reason to be weary of this kind of “progress”.

“As an entrepreneur, investor and feminist one might think I would applaud any fund or initiative that explicitly focuses on investing in women leadership however there are certain reasons to be skeptical about these types of initiatives….as it stands right now, when women […]

The Tech Industry: Finally Putting Women On Centre Stage



Because VM Learning specialise in development programs for women while also owning the software company aXcelerate, we take the concept of a gender-balanced software industry quite seriously. And it seems that some of the big tech players within Silicon Valley are finally taking the concept seriously too.

At the most recent  Worldwide Developers Conference sponsored by Apple, two women presented to the crowd of software developers: vice President of Apple Pay Jennifer Bailey, discussed the progress in mobile payments while Susan Prescott gave the pitch for Apple’s forthcoming News app. It marks the first time female executives have made an on-stage appearance during an Apple Keynote presentation since 2010, when Zynga’s Jen Herman gave a demonstration of the game Farmville.

Meanwhile, at Google’s I/0 developers conference, arguably the biggest news of the day (Google Now on Tap) was presented by Aparna Chennapragada, the company’s director of product management. Chaennapragada was one of three women who spoke during the keynote presentation. Similarly, at the Developer conference for Microsoft in late April, three women took to the stage to walk developers through technical subjects like SQL databases and Saas applications. This is a stark difference to the Microsoft conference the previous year, where the only female voice on stage came from ‘Cortana’ who sounded like a lady but was really a piece of artificial intelligence technology.

It appears that the heavy hitters within the software industry are trying to shake the label placed upon them  by the media during the last few years as ‘sexist’ and  ‘male dominated’. Sadly they still have a long way to go before achieving gender equality. According to each company’s website, about 30% of Apple and Google’s employees are made up of women while […]

Joan Kirner: Advocate for Women in Leadership




Today Australian politicians remember Joan Kirner, Victoria’s first female premier and Australia’s second, who made a significant influence to the women of  Australian politics for the last 25 years.  The state funeral for Mrs Kirner, who passed away earlier this week is being held today at the Williamstown hall and many high profile female leaders are expected to be in attendance to remember and celebrate Joan’s contributions to Australian politics.

Mrs Kirner was first elected to parliament in 1982 as a member for Melbourne West and then in the legislative Assembly seat of Williamstown in 1988. She then became the  the state’s first female premier in 1990 after John Cain. She held office for two years and in this time education, health and the advancement of women became her primary political focus.

However it was once she retired that she truly cemented her credibility as a female advocate, through establishing EMILY’s List Australia- an organisation independent of the ALP that supports the election of progressive women.

EMILY’s List originally started in the USA and functioned outside the Democratic Party to assist pro-choice Democratic women to be elected to Congress, the Senate and Governorships around the country. The organisation has helped to promote a record number of women serving in the United States and is currently campaigning to see America elect its first woman President in 2016.

Mrs Kirner and a number of labour politicians saw the good work EMILY’s List was doing in America and decided to adapt the U.S model to Australia  to assist progressive Labor women in their campaigns. Furthermore this organisation was chosen to exist outside the ALP in order  to ensure the women were in control  of their own finances. Initially  EMILY’s List Australia […]