Trying to achieve gender equality/diversity currently is like charging a wall, the head of a construction company said at the launch of JLT’s “Women at JLT” initiative recently.
“For those first through the wall, there may be blood but don’t focus on the blood, focus on the hole in the wall,” Josephine Sukkar, co-founder and principal of construction company Buildcorp says, referencing a quote from Aaron Sorkin’s movie Moneyball and inspired by Anna Bligh, former Premier of Queensland, in her book Through the Wall.
“Women in this generation … it’s leaving work early, going part-time … we’re the first ones through the wall. We’re making the hole bigger for [the next generation of women].
“You have to live these values all the time. [People have to] see you leave work early … we have to see men doing women’s work, and women have to see women doing men’s work.”
The women-only panel agreed that things have changed but there was still a long way to go.
Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, who was originally from the UK, says that she encountered a macho culture in Australia, when she arrived 17 years ago, something that she had not been subjected to before.
Reflecting on her experience when she first arrived, she recalls being told by another woman to be “more feminine” and to “tone it down” in meetings. “I was anxious about it for a long time,” Macgregor told the room full of women insurers and brokers.
“Things have changed”, she acknowledges, “but the stereotypes are still there. There’s still a lot we have to do to challenge expectations and stereotypes.”
Sukkar notes, for example: “It’s challenging to find visible role models [say, in the construction industry] … How do you break into sectors you don’t know? … Girls need visible role models.”
It might be because it starts when girls are in school – they’re not enrolling into STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects – because: “We are not having conversations with girls about coming into construction. We are having conversations with young girls differently.”
While things need to change, for women now leading the charge, Macgregor’s advice is: “Make sure you have the support of people around you. Recognise those who are genuinely supportive of you.”
And then, as Lynne Anderson, CEO of the Australian Paralympic Committee says, “just do it”. “Don’t look at the negatives [and] challenges that are out there,” she advises. “Be kinder to yourself. If you like your job, just do it and don’t let other voices get in the way.”
The panel discussion, part of the “Women at JLT” program, to embrace, support and encourage female talent to build successful careers, was led by Tricia Hobson, Global Vice Chair of Norton Rose Fulbright.
The event was held at JLT’s new offices in Sydney with over 120 JLT employees, clients and underwriters attending.