International Women’s Day has seen the launch of the Australian Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the first national chamber to represent Australian businesswomen.
The chamber has been established with the purpose of representing female entrepreneurs, who own around 30% of Australia’s businesses.
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According to chief executive Yolanda Vega, the goal of the new industry body is to promote commerce and trade, helping women to achieve the same success as their male counterparts.
“Our aim is for businesswomen to be given the same opportunities to procure contracts and be represented equally,” Vega says.
Members of the advisory committee include Ita Buttrose, Deborah Hutton, Professor Marian Baird, Dr Wendy Attwater and Dr Katherine Woodthorpe.
The chamber will have three forms of revenue: membership, sponsorship and government grants.
Vega says women are poorly represented across industry associations, with no women on the board of either the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry or the Business Council of Australia.
But Vega says the AWCCI hopes to work with such organisations in order to raise more awareness about the issues facing Australian businesswomen.
“I think that the whole idea of starting up the Australian Women’s Chamber is to tap into that 30% of business owners who are being ignored,” she says.
“We know that more than 700,000 [Australian] women own a business, but little else is known about this powerful economic sector. The AWCCI will instigate the much-needed research to ensure businesswomen are correctly documented.”
Vega says that while there is a lot of attention focused on businesswomen’s networking groups and the push to increase the number of women on corporate boards, many smaller female-owned businesses are ignored.
“These women are not only working running their businesses, but they are usually running their home, they have children. They don’t have time to get involved in networking or voice their concerns,” she says.
In another attempt to readdress gender inequalities, a group of high profile women has urged the Government to increase compulsory superannuation payments to 12%, arguing Australian women need it the most.
In an open letter, prominent women from business, academia, the arts and public life have used International Women’s Day as a platform to push for the higher funding.
Signatories include Dr Lyn Kiers from the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Perpetual Limited director Elizabeth Proust and AGEST Super chief executive Cath Bowtell.
The letter says the increase in payments from 9% to 12% is critical for all Australians, but particularly important for women who battle to build up savings amidst broken work patterns, lower wages and longer life expectancies.
Meanwhile, a recent report commissioned by recruitment agency Hydrogen Group reveals Australian women are less inclined to work overseas despite being just as willing as men to relocate.
Titled Global Professionals on the Move 2011, the report is based on a survey of 2,673 women from 85 countries.
When it comes to Australians working overseas, the survey found the number of men was double that of women.
Yet according to Emma Halls, Hydrogen director for Australia and New Zealand, the company’s Australian clients are increasingly requesting women with international experience.
“Australia is addressing the gender divide with companies making a strong commitment to gender equality,” she says.
“With gender diversity at the forefront of our clients’ minds, women with international experience will see their CVs fast-tracked through to interview in Australia,” she says.