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Below is an insightful speech discussing the practical and financial benefits of empowering women, especially in the workforce.

Both Elizabeth Broderick, outgoing Sex Discrimination Commissioner and Former Treasury Head, Martin Parkinson have written a speech published in the Australian Financial Review on how the empowerment of women is a critical economic reform in many countries, particularly those with ageing populations and how closing gender gaps within the workforce could significantly increase a country’s GDP.

Elizabeth is the co-founder of Male Champions of Change, a group that brings together Australia’s most influential and diverse male CEOs and Chairpersons. The group use their individual and collective influence and commitment to ensure the issue of women’s representation in leadership is elevated on the national business agenda and Martin Parkinson has been a long standing member.

To read the full speech see below:

“Empowerment of women is a critical economic reform in many countries, particularly those with ageing populations. The Second World Assembly for Women (WAW), convened by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and held in Tokyo on 28-29 August, represents a groundswell of international commitment to increasing female participation as a key means of boosting GDP growth in developed and developing countries.

Japan is at an economic crossroads. Today, 25 per cent of Japan’s population is over 65. Over the next 50 years, the working age population will halve. This will lead the ratio of elderly to those of working age to fall from near 3:1 to close to 1:1. With fewer workers to support a larger aged population, the debt and tax burden falling on the young is likely to increase dramatically. Women’s workforce participation is particularly poor coupled with one of the lowest fertility rates in the OECD. Economists estimate that closing gender gaps would add more than 13 per cent to Japan’s GDP.

Similar action in Australia could have a broadly similar impact. As UN Under Secretary-General Bangura noted, Prime Minister Abe’s personal passion and political commitment to boosting the role of women in all aspects of Japanese society is a powerful example of leadership from the front. He understands that creating opportunities for women is an essential pillar of Japan’s reform program, known as “Abenomics”.

It was Japan’s early leadership during Australia’s G20 presidency that helped achieve agreement at the Brisbane Summit to the goal of reducing the gap in participation rates between men and women in member countries by 25 per cent by 2025. For Australia, this means lifting women’s participation rate by at least three percentage points.

A key theme of the agenda this year has been engaging men in the pursuit of gender equality. Macquarie Bank Chairman, Kevin McCann, represented Australia’s Male Champions of Change (MCCs) at the first World Assembly of Women (WAW) held last year. This year, we represented the MCCs. The MCCs are a group of Australian business and government leaders, who aim to step up beside women to achieve a significant and sustainable increase in the representation of women in leadership and to promote gender equality in Australia.

Solving women’s under-representation in leadership positions is difficult and complex. Up until now much of the focus has been on ‘fixing women’ – by providing assertiveness training, mentoring and self-branding strategies – rather than fixing the system.

Many nations have actively worked to remove formal discrimination. What is left is a form of indirect discrimination – practices and systems that on the face of it look gender neutral but actually reproduce disadvantage for one group, namely women. Indirect discrimination – gender asbestos – is harder to identify – is harder to combat – is built into the walls, the floors, the ceilings, the structures and practices of organisations. No one policy will eliminate gender asbestos.

Its cure is courageous leadership.

Prime Minister Abe is committed to creating a society in which women do not face structural barriers in their professional lives. The Male Champions of Change in Australia are committed to the very same goal.

The Male Champions of Change have advocated for target setting and bold disruptive initiatives to accelerate reform in Australia. They have questioned the status quo through their ‘Panel Pledge’ – a pledge to not accept an invitation to speak on a panel or at a conference unless there are women also speaking. Most importantly, they have taken bold action within their organisations. Some are changing the starting point of work – by declaring that every job can be done flexibly. They ask everyday – 50/50, if not why not?

At the WAW we met with our Japanese counterparts to compare progress in our leading organisations in support of gender diversity. There was great enthusiasm for collaboration and co-creation of initiatives that would advance change in both countries.

One of the proposals coming out of the WAW was to bring together male champions to create a global network committed to action. This echoed the views of Mie Prefecture Governor Eikei Suzuki, who emphasised the importance of top leaders demonstrating through their own actions that they are committed to progress. The time for talking is over.

If we are to achieve true gender equality, men must be part of the solution. Our experience with the MCCs is that far from running from this, decent men want to be active participants, whether in Australia, Japan or other nations.

Gender equality is not a battle of the sexes; it is a battle for equality – a battle that men and women must wage side by side. After all, the empowerment of women is part of the empowerment of humanity.”

To read the full speech click here:

To find out more about Male Champions of Change Click here: