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January 23, 2013

Strategy for Gender Equality: Educate our Sons

Posted by Jackie Korhonen (View Profile | View All Posts) at 1:01 PM

Global figures like Kofi Anan and Shashi Tharoor tell us that, perhaps, the single most powerful tool for improving the world is educating women and girls. Summing up a large body of evidence ranging from health outcomes to economic productivity, Tharoor concludes, "If you educate a boy, you educate a person; but if you educate a girl, you educate a family and benefit an entire community."

Like many female executives, I'm often asked how to increase women's participation and advancement in business.  Increasingly I am convinced the answer is, educate boys.

The Lucky Country?
We Australians like to refer to ours as "the lucky country," and when it comes to opportunities for women, we are more fortunate than many.

We have a female Prime Minister. A recent global survey found Australian women are the most economically empowered in the world, topping 128 countries for dimensions like women's access to education, equal pay, childcare and anti-discrimination policies.

But let's scratch the surface a bit.

Despite higher educational attainment, Australian women don't receive higher pay in a single industry. We rank 44th in female economic participation and 66th in wage equality according to World Economic Forum data. In fact, the gap between men and women's pay has increased in recent years in Australia; we're going in the wrong direction.

So how do we shift back into the right direction towards gender equity, and create some more of our own luck?

Personal Experience
My own experience as a woman in business has been mostly positive. Yes, I have had to make small sacrifices - relying on the support of my family, especially my mother and husband to step up and be there doing some of those traditional "mum" activities for my son when I can't be there. I have accepted the opportunities that have come my way. These have required me to travel, live overseas and push beyond my comfort zone. To make this work, some years ago, my husband made a decision that he would be the one to step back from his successful technology career, to do the lunches and pickups and parenting that our son needs.

Our family feels fortunate to have the economic and social wherewithal to make these choices;  in my experience, many women leaders owe their success in part to this kind of support and sacrifice.  But how many men - in Australia or most other countries - would find it socially, economically and professionally acceptable to put their partner's career ahead of their own, even for a few years? In my view, it won't happen en masse in my generation, but we are raising our son to see female equality to be a logical and natural imperative. What does it mean to be a man in an era where women are economically equal?

Until more of our sons and grandsons are educated to understand what it means to be a good man with women who have equal economic power and status, we won't see improvement in outcomes for our daughters.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, I'll be attending sessions on Decoding the Gender Divide and Women in Economic Decision Making, where world leaders will address some of the important issues.


Well said, Jackie ! Optimising change in our thinking is moving in the right direction ... we just need to continue to champion this cause and not be complacent !

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