Philanthropy’s role in cracking the code this International Women’s Day

Julie Reilly, CEO, Australians Investing in Women Fri, 3 Mar 2023

The 2023 UN Women theme for International Women’s Day, Cracking the Code: Innovation for a gender-equal future, emphasises the importance of bold, transformative ideas, inclusive technologies, and accessible education in combating discrimination and the marginalization of women globally.   Other themes this year include Embrace Equity and Resist. Reimagine. Rebuild

Each year brings a new theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) and a new focus for action on gender equality, recognition of the reality that we need action on multiple fronts if we are to realise the full potential of society.

A quick look at key gender equality statistics, however, shows very little that’s new. 

The gender pay gap persists (13.3%) the number of women on ASX 200 Boards (35.7%) is improving but very slowly, while the pace of change for women in leadership generally is glacial (14 CEO’s in ASX 200 or 7%) and below CEO, the number of women in executive leadership positions is down on the previous year. 

While Australia has bucked the trend with more women in our national parliament (including a record 10 of 23 cabinet ministers), globally the metrics are going backwards.  In the past 15 months we’ve seen Angela Merkel (Germany), Theresa May (Britain), Jacinda Ardern (New Zealand) and Nicola Sturgeon (Scotland) step down from the political leadership in their countries, dramatically widening the gender gap on the global stage. Inadvertently the gender norm of male political and broader leadership is visibly reinforced. 

Hard won gains for women and girls are being eroded not only in Afghanistan and Iran, but in western democracies with ongoing attacks on women’s reproductive rights through the reversal of Roe V Wade in the United States and further restrictions on access to reproductive health more broadly. The impact of COVID, and multiple climate crises, and the disproportionate impact on women has further widened the global gender gap.

Despite a belief expressed by 30% of Australian men that gender inequality doesn’t exist, the evidence tells us otherwise. Yes, we have had gender equality legislation (since 1984) and we have made unequivocal advances in many areas of life, for example women are now allowed to have superannuation, (something initially denied to my mother early in her career despite being a sole parent and the only breadwinner) but the structural realities that see Australian women retire with half the superannuation balance of men persist. Progress is blocked by entrenched societal norms around gender.

As part of our evidence-based advocacy in philanthropy, AIIW last year released research, in partnership with Deloitte Access Economics, that clearly demonstrated the economic cost of holding on to rigid gender norms and highlighted the lost opportunity for economic growth.  The report Breaking the Norm – Unleashing Australia’s Economic Potential noted that Australia’s workforce is among the most gender segregated in the OECD.

The research found that more flexible ideas around gender could lead to an additional $128 billion each year for Australia’s economy and 461,000 additional full time employees. This would be achieved through a combination of:

  • More women participating in the labour force;
  • Women working more paid hours (and men taking on a more equal split of unpaid labour and care);
  • More people working in roles that align with their skills, talent and qualifications.

So what’s to be done this IWD and beyond, and how can philanthropy use its power to drive change?

Philanthropy prides itself on its catalytic power, the freedom to be bold, to foster and back innovation and invest in transformative change.  A growing number of private and corporate philanthropists are recognising the power of applying a gender lens to their decision making and increasing the impact they are seeking in society.

This International Women’s Day, AIIW is calling on philanthropy to:

  • download our Gender-wise resources and embrace an intersectional gender lens to ensure inclusion and the same time accelerate impact;
  • be more intentional in funding initiatives that deliver greater gender equality whether in Australia or internationally;
  • explore our research reports, including A Home of One’s Own – Philanthropic and social sector solutions for women’s housing
  • engage with the next generation of philanthropists who research indicates are more inclined to invest in gender equity;
  • support the cracking the code theme by investing in women in STEM
  • fund women’s leadership programs – browse our Project Showcase for suggested initiatives;
  • complete our survey on the State of Gender-wise Giving in Australia when invited later this year.

At the very least, we invite your to choose one of these and begin to #embraceequity.

Australians Investing in Women (AIIW) is a leading not-for-profit organisation that advocates for Gender-wise philanthropy. AIIW encourages all Australians – particularly philanthropic, corporate, and community leaders – to apply a gender lens to their giving and increase investment in women and girls, to help create a fairer and more inclusive society.