Corporate Exclusion. Or Why I Wish I Were A Man


Here’s one to file under “What would chicks know?”, or “Sheilas, if they didn’t wear skirts we’d throw rocks at ’em”, or possibly “Stand back ladies, have a cup of tea and talk about your feelings while we fellas run the world”.

Yes, I do have penis envy this morning; I wish I were a bloke writing this because I’d have a better chance of people taking me seriously. They’d be seduced by my authoritative voice, convinced by the myth of my genetically superior intelligence, hypnotised by my sense of entitlement and comforted by my grey suit and crisp white shirt.

The next bit’s a bit dry but go with me. The Millennium Development Goals were cooked up by the UN to help make the world a better place. The eight goals are: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development.

You’ll be thrilled to know there’s an event beginning tomorrow here in Melbourne called Business For Millennium Development Summit. It’s not as sexy as it sounds, trust me.

Pen pushers, number crunchers, professional capitalists and captains of industry from all around the world are meeting to chat about the practicalities and challenges of implementing the eight goals in business.

I expect the conference will kick off with some lukewarm coffee and flaccid croissants and end with a dinner, which will be part hot bed of adultery, part celebration of the choreographically challenged.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fabulous the folks with the cash and the jobs are bumping heads and chewing the fat trying to work out how best to implement these goals. What I am appalled, incensed and almost amused by is that on the original program of 24 speakers, all were men.

That’s right. Twenty-four speakers. All men. Just to be clear, in an attempt to make it appear that it isn’t a festival of gender apartheid, the moderator is Jenny Brockie. I imagine her role consists of using her feminine charm to diffuse potential testosterone-fuelled shirt-fronting: “Righto boys, settle down, take that biffo outside. We’re trying to save the world here.”

The decision to select Brockie as moderator (who’s not only smart, wise and incisive but also very pretty) aligns perfectly with the corporate world’s mission statement: Women As An Afterthought And Only If We Have To.

One woman equals 24 blokes. Where do I start? Jane Sloane, executive director of the International Women’s Development Agency, was outspoken and constructive in her response. She called the organisers of the conference, pointed out the absence of female speakers and gave them a list of suggestions. Which may explain why the number of speakers on the website has suddenly jumped from 24 to 32 and the number of women has skyrocketed from zero to three. You’ll find them at the bottom of the page of speakers.

“Yet, again,” Sloane points out, “we have a major summit on critical issues facing the world, with women almost completely excluded from the discussion.” It’s not enough for women to be there. They have to be setting the agendas.

Wouldn’t we need gender equality embedded as a default setting for the other seven Millenium Goals to have any hope of being successful? If the organisers approached an equal number of women and men in the first place, there’s no way they’d have ended up with an all-bloke line-up.

If there were an equal number of women and men in the organisation to start with, this probably never would have happened. Now it’s a game of “if my aunty had balls she’d be my uncle”. The truth is, if my aunty had balls she’d have a better chance at being approached to speak at this forum. Or any forum, conference or symposium.

The response is always “We just got the best speakers and they just happened to all be blokes”. Wow! What a magic trick! Imagine if the line-up just happened to turn out all women. I’m certain one of the mostly male organisers would have said: “Hey! Where are the blokes?” But it took women to tap them on the shoulder and point out there were no women and show them where to look.

Suddenly they found three women speakers. Just like that. Imagine if they’d tried looking earlier than the last minute how many may have ended up contributing to this important discussion. Apparently conference organisers find it hard to find women speakers. Here’s a tip. Try looking.

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