Women in business - building a network of achievement and connections
March 20, 2014
When we wanted to look at the issue of women in business as part of our “conversation series” we knew we had to kick off with an organisation that plays an important role not just in Australia, but at the global level.
BPW International is a global movement that supports and empowers women, advocates on the big issues and is stacked to the brim of some of the most hardworking entrepreneurs we know of. As we said in our earlier post, its not just about the glass ceiling when you realise that many hundreds of thousands if not millions, of small business around the world are – you guessed it, run by women.In our kick off to the series we put a couple of questions to Marilyn Forsythe who was President of Business and Professional Women Australia from 2007 – 2013.
As inspiration to many, Marilyn takes us through the world of BPW Australia.
What does Business and Professional Women Australia do?
BPW Australia is a network of women who want to end gender inequality. Our focus is issues that affect women and work. We’re a member-based Non-Government Organisation (NGO) that’s part of a global network, BPW International. We make real differences in women’s lives by creating awareness, leading debate and driving change. If it matters to women, it matters to us. As an NGO, BPW lobbies business and government at all levels, including at the United Nations, where we hold Special Category Status.
What motivated you to get going?
No matter whether one is in business or in civil society there is always a better way to do things. I believe that if it is not possible today it will be possible tomorrow. My possible took me from a beach in Port Macquarie to the unions to the United Nations and to Helsinki. Nothing is impossible if you have passion.During my term of leading BPW Australia from 2007 to 2013 and I was worked in public hospitals for 35 years where salaries were set by awards so it came as a big shock to me when I realised that a major percentage of Australian women did not receive equal pay.
In 2007 as National President of BPW Australia this would be our next challenge but I soon discovered that the majority of the community did not believe that there was gender inequality in Australia. I was not daunted but a valuable lesson is that there is always more than one route to take to success and so I am sitting on a beach at Port Macquarie watching board riders and thinking about the sharks out in the deep.
Bingo I had my route as we needed a big shark and that would be the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) who had just released a program “Fair Work for Fair Pay” Now the next lesson I have learnt is to have other champions with you for your cause so I enlisted the BPW Australia Director of Policy, Sandra Cook. Within a month the ACTU had become a first partner in the Equal Pay Alliance of Australia bringing 1.8 million workers with a large percentage of women members.
They were delighted to partner with us as they viewed the BPW Australia as a “conservative organisation” who would defuse the image of the ACTU as the perpetual ogre of business. Never be afraid to think beyond your boundaries so we decided to contact all the Universities in Australia and invite all the professors and lecturers in women’s rights to join and they did. Next we invited all the NGOs for women’s issues in Australia to join.
Within six months were had organisations that represented hundred and thousands of women in Australia. Now the doors to parliamentarians were open to us as we were no longer just a small NGO but a major lobby group. The next lesson is never being afraid to step outside your boundaries. In 2009 I attended the Commission of Status for Women at the United Nations in New York. I was invited to participle in a plenary session on Gender Equality. This was way outside my boundaries but wall flowers never will achieve success so I accepted.
In 2011 at the BPW International Congress in Helsinki, Finland, Sandra and I were awarded second prize in the Power to Make Difference by Advocacy Award. We competed against 98 countries. Our journey continues and in the last few years there have been major changes in Australia such as the Equal Pay Day by the Australian Government; the continuing dialogue about should there be quotas for women on ASX Boards; major pay success for some categories of workers in the Community Services. The campaign for gender equity in Australia has started and BPW Australia will continue to influence the campaign.
What have been some lessons you have learnt (both good and bad)?
The lessons I have learnt have been that: if you have a passion do not let negative people influence you and only have champions.Think strategically when planning as there are many possibilities to achieve an aimTalk to other people in the some field and look for a mentor Sometimes it is better to take on a smaller objective than trying to change the world.Be prepared to step outside your comfort zoneKnow when it is time to let other people step in and participate in your successful project.
What have been some of the best successes?
My best success was taking a risk and having the ACTU become our first partner in the Equal Pay Alliance. We are an organisation that has business owners and I was concerned that they would not be happy that we were getting into bed with unions who were the direct opposite in beliefs to business owners. When it was realised that the ACTU represented 48 unions and 1.8 million workers they were very welcomed.
Where to next for your business / organisation?
We will continue to make real differences in women’s lives by creating awareness, leading debate and driving change. If it matters to women, it matters to us. On a more personal note I took on a new challenge three years ago when I decided to write to the United Nations Secretary General to become a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact as our organisation supported all the ten principles. Does not everyone write to the Secretary General?
“The Global Compact asks companies to embrace universal principles and to partner with the United Nations. It has grown to become a critical platform for the UN to engage effectively with enlightened global business.” – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
We were accepted and now we are a member of the Global Compact Network Australia and my journey has me travelling to Korea to accept an international prize. My next step will be working with our members about the principles and human rights.
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