Men in power can have a 'chilling effect on women's voices' says Elizabeth Broderick
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Men in power can have a 'chilling effect on women's voices' says Elizabeth Broderick

Amber Harrison described her legal battle with the Seven Network, following her affair with Seven West Media chief executive Tim Worner and subsequent dismissal from the company, as a lesson in "how many ways can you screw a girl".

When former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick is asked about the high-profile case, and why in the wake of that other women would speak about issues they face in the workplace, she says: "well exactly, why would women speak up?"

Ms Broderick, who was recently appointed as the UN as Special Rapporteur for Discrimination Against Women, says powerful leaders often feel that they cannot "step up" because it will "cost them".

She gives a hypothetical example of a man in the office who may be delivering financial gains for the company, but who is at the same time excluding and harassing women, but not being held to account.

Amber Harrison was locked in a high-profile legal stoush with the Seven Network.

Amber Harrison was locked in a high-profile legal stoush with the Seven Network.

Photo: Josh Robenstone
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Calling that out, she says, is more important than ever, says Ms Broderick, who on Wednesday night will deliver the annual oration at Business Events Sydney's Ambassador Dinner to an audience of some of the nation's top chiefs and political leaders.

"In today's world there are loud voices working against gender equality," she says. "As the [Harvey] Weinstein saga is illustrating, power can have a chilling effect on women's voices."

"The forces of change – the international political alignments, Brexit, Trump, to name a few – are exerting a profound impact."

"Each day I sense our progress is slowing; and that hostility to, not only gender equality, but human rights in general is actually growing."

Harvey Weinstein has faced sexual harassment allegations from numerous women in Hollywood.

Harvey Weinstein has faced sexual harassment allegations from numerous women in Hollywood.

Photo: AP

Ms Broderick set up the Male Champions of Change initiative, which calls on male ASX200 CEOs to take action to address to address issues such as the gender pay gap and promote women into executive leadership and boards.

"MCC is not a vehicle for gender-washing, so to the extent that men aren't paying their part, the community needs to hold them to account," she says.

Ms Broderick says while she has worked with well-intentioned leaders at MCC, and to set up cultural reviews into the treatment of women in the Australian Defence Force, the Australian Federal Police and now in the university sector, she still finds that people are "wrongly oriented to 'fixing women' when it should be about 'fixing the system'.

Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) latest gender diversity statistics show 11 ASX 200 companies have no women on their boards (down from 13 last survey), and 64 have just one.

As the [Harvey] Weinstein saga is illustrating, power can have a chilling effect on women's voices.

Elizabeth Broderick

Chief Executive Women (CEW) data shows the ASX 200 has just 11 female CEOs, and 41 have no executive women leaders.

The World Economic Forum's 2016 Global Gender Gap report, which tracks gender disparities globally, found that Australia was ranked 46 out of 144 countries.​

While the data proves there still is a problem in Australia and globally, change cannot be driven just by data.

"It is about combining that data with powerful stories, personally delivered to the leader who sits at the heart of organisational power," she says.

Ms Broderick, questioned how many CEOs are aware of the "micro interactions, the stories that set the tone of their organisation".

Those leading major organisations, must use their influence and access to power to elevate and share the voices of those who have little or no voice.

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"Unless we intentionally change this system, little will happen," she says.

Follow Nassim Khadem on Facebook and Twitter.

Nassim Khadem

Deputy Editor, BusinessDay. Reporting on tax and regulation.

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