According to BKindred founder Penny Locaso, the best way to achieve greater gender equality in business and society would be to “make men have babies”.
Locaso appeared at the Salesforce World Tour this week, speaking on a panel addressing equality in modern Australia and expressing her views on how businesses can improve equality in the workplace — and if quotas are the way to do it.
The panel was moderated by ABC journalist Emma Alberici, and Locaso spoke alongside Abiola Ajetomobi from the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, Hiam Sakakini, co-founder of ThinkChangeGrow, and independent member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich.
The panel was asked what the main thing they would do to make their life and the life of those around them more equal, and Locaso expanded on her answer by making the improbable suggestion that the only way men could truly sympathise with women in the business world would be to have babies themselves.
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“Because men don’t bear children, they can’t truly empathise and understand what it’s like to be a working mother. It’s like having three jobs,” she said.
“So many women in business self-select out when having a child, and it’s not because they’re incapable.”
Locaso said that a mindset change is needed for women to encourage them to not self-select out, and that change needs to stem from education. She mentioned work was beginning to be done in schools to better encourage girls to back themselves and take on bigger tasks, saying it’s imperative to empower young women to “take more risks”.
She also labelled financial illiteracy as one of the “biggest disablers” of women and called for more financial literacy classes to be taught in schools and universities.
“It’s about how women can use fear to get what they want in life, to embrace failure and take risks rather than sitting around and waiting for the perfect plan,” she told the panel.
Sakakini, who runs diversity and inclusion coaching/consulting business ThinkChangeGrow called for more businesses to establish a disability-first mindset when building workplaces, questioning “what is it going to take to see more people with disabilities in the workplace?”
“Just have a mindset of disability-first in every place and for every service, and we’ll automatically see more inclusion as a result,” she says.
“It’s about getting businesses to recognise the benefit isn’t just feeling good and being altruistic — there’s a tangible benefit for businesses when taking into account the one-fifth of the population that has a disability, who coincidentally have much deeper pockets thanks to the NDIS”.
Are quotas the way to go?
Discussing the representation of female and LGBTI politicians, Greenwich agreed with Alberci’s suggestion that quotas may be required. But looking at quotas from a business sense, Locaso says she has seen them “go either way”.
“You can have quotas in place, but in reality, women are still going to self-select out. I’ve seen roles stay empty for months as companies try to find women based on quotas. I think it’s fine if a company want to do quotas, but there aren’t the women there to fill them,” she says.
“Women don’t want the jobs in the structure they’re being offered, as they’re still being created in the old corporate structure aimed at old white men.”
The startup founder questioned the lack of job-sharing opportunities at executive levels and suggested it could be a potential way to make executive roles more attractive to women.
Locaso also said this was the reason so many women were starting their own businesses, an unintended beneficial side effect from the lack of flexible roles in higher positions.
“They’re wanting to create flexible working environments the corporate world isn’t offering, so they’re starting companies,” she says.
“So now it’s time for VCs to put more money into women-led businesses. I think it will be too hard to change the corporate structure, and the shift will come from more women creating fast-growth businesses.”
StartupSmart attended the Saleforce World Tour as a guest of Salesforce.