LeadingWoman: Fighting with honour

Kath Walters /

I have been speaking with successful businesswomen recently about why they give up precious time to mentor others. They give the same sort of answers as men give: they have had opportunities, and want to return something to the society that afforded them; they have had mentors who helped them in critical moments of their career; and they enjoy the company of smart, ambitious young people.

In charities, in business, in community organisations, in volunteer roles, in advocacy of good causes, men and women are equal in their commitment to contribute, and they do so for the same reasons.

Same reasons, same work, but not the same recognition.

Each year, many fewer women than men are awarded Order of Australia honours. Our national system for recognising social contribution, it carries great prestige.

Many men in corporate roles have achieved this honour.

However, women receive only about a third of the awards given out and since 1999, the trendline for that percentage is falling.

So what is behind this fact? Surely there are not fewer women doing good work in our society?

The Women’s Leadership Institute says the answer is simple: women don’t get nominated.

Neither do people with disabilities, people from non-English-speaking background or unconventional people, the WLI notes in its booklet, Advancing Women, Women & the Order of Australia, co-authored by ourcommunity.com.au.

These two advocacy groups are keen to see the situation turned around by encouraging our whole community to nominate more women.

Given all the issues that women in corporate life face, is this a useful place to focus our energies, I wonder?

I think it is important. A while ago I spoke to a bunch of young women leaders about whether they aspired to board positions later in their careers. They did, in marked contrast to women I had spoken to a decade before, and they all pointed out that their aspirations had been lifted by watching other women succeed.

The impact of seeing a woman leading the country, becoming our governor-general, or heading up a big bank are among those influences that lift women’s aspirations and belief in what they can achieve.

The beauty of the Order of Australia awards is that they recognise effort and ability in areas where women have traditionally excelled: sustaining support services for those in need, fighting causes on behalf of the less fortunate, challenging our society to rethink attitudes that we take for granted.

For men who support equality but feel that the hurly-burly of gender diversity debates are not for them, nominating women for Order of Australia awards is a more sedate alternative, but a significant one.

There are 500 or so awards made each year: up to 30 Companions of the Order of Australia, 125 Officers of the Order of Australia, and 300 members of the Order of Australia.

The awards are our opportunity to put forward the name of someone we look up to, and to see them lauded and recognised for the work they do.

The process is explained in the useful handbook created by Women in Leadership and ourcommunity.com.au.

Let’s look around us at the women who are making a difference in our lives and nominate them for awards that will inspire us all.


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