Published by the Faculty of Business, Government and Law, University of Canberra


Research and Stories through a Gendered Lens

‘Equals Now’ symposium: Exploring leadership and gender inequality

Jun 24, 2021 | Research, Democracy, Leadership, Equality, Feature

Written by Briony Lipton and Laura Davy

On Wednesday and Thursday of last week, 16 – 17 June 2021, the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation hosted its inaugural symposium, ‘Equals Now’ at the University of Canberra. In today’s post, Laura Davy (@LauraKDavy) and Briony Lipton (@briony_lipton) reflect on the key themes and highlights from this excellent 2-day conference.

Around the country women have been protesting against current power dynamics.

Around the country women have been protesting against current power dynamics.

The 50/50 by 2030 Foundation is based out of the University of Canberra. Its Founding Director was Virginia Haussegger AM and it is now Co-Directed by Professor Kim Rubenstein and Trish Bergin.

The Foundation’s inaugural symposium, Equals Now, brought together academics, public servants, journalists, and other public commentators to discuss practical strategies for achieving women’s equal representation in leadership positions – and to discuss the challenges that need to be overcome to achieve such a goal, such as the presence of deep structural inequality, the vagaries of political will, and the insidious influence of undermining social norms and biases.

The symposium was structured around three broad themes – share the load, share the power, and share the benefits. Within these themes, the topics explored over the two days ranged from sexism, harassment and unequal pay in the workplace to the disadvantages that flow from the inequitable distribution of domestic and caregiving responsibilities to the potential of feminist critique to transform our basic public institutions such as parliament and the law.

Each panel and session of the symposium also grappled with broader, reoccurring themes of the continued prevalence of deeply sexist societal systems, striking a balance between individual and institutional responsibility, acknowledging the compromises and choices that allow us to survive and flourish within those systems, and the strong need to challenge those systems in more radical ways as part of a broader movement for change. Another key message to emerge in the proceedings was how 50/50 representation is not enough – for many presenters and attendees the ultimate goal was transforming institutions – but greater parity of representation is often the first step on the road to this broader mission. It is perhaps only through a critical mass of diversity in positions of power and influence that this deeper transformative work can be done effectively.

Some of the things about this conference that were particularly great included:

  • An interdisciplinary and diverse array of speakers from inside and outside of academia

  • A short (under 10 minute) timeframe for individual presentations, which made for a fast-paced and engaging sequence of speeches

  • Professional conference organisation that almost seamlessly facilitated both online and in-person modes of participation and interaction (a real feat in these pandemic times)

  • An effective ‘table-based discussion’ Q&A format that enabled particularly rich in person discussion and acted as a reminder of how precious impromptu face-to-face interactions are

  • Indefatigable MC-ing by journalist Ginger Gorman, recently appointed Editor of BroadAgenda (@BroadAgenda5050), and

  • A lovely reception for those lucky enough to attend in person (complete with delightful doggos) at the Residence of University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor Professor Paddy Nixon.

Kim Rubenstein, Co-Director of the 5050 Foundation, concluded the symposium with the following words – “research is essential in order to create social change” – words which are also deeply relevant to the mission of Power to Persuade. The rich engagements embodied in this symposium between researchers and practitioners are key to mobilising research insights in ways that produce real impact.

Interested readers can follow more reflections on the conference by looking up the Twitter hashtags: #EqualsNOW #sharetheload #sharethepower #sharethebenefits

This article was originally posted on the terrific Power to Persuade website. The site is a platform for discussion about social policy in Australia in a global context. Check it out!

Re-posted with full permission.

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