The #MeToo and #TimesUp social media campaigns, New Zealand’s first female prime minister and Megan Marhkle breaking royal tradition – these were just some of the breakthroughs and highlights for women throughout the past 12 months.
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Company director and lawyer Sophie Ray spoke about these changes and how local women could advocate for gender parity in ways that suited them at the Shoalhaven Business Chamber’s Women in Business event at Silos Estate.
The cheese and wine networking evening was held on Thursday, March 8 to mark International Women’s Day in the Shoalhaven.
Mrs Ray spoke about her experiences as a lawyer in large firms and some of the stereotypical attitudes she encountered when she decided to have a family and take maternity leave.
The World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap report revealed gender parity is more than 200 years away, she said.
“Unfortunately data shows that the gender gap is widening, so there desperately needs to be new ways of thinking if the world is to close the gender gap,” she said.
Mrs Ray encouraged the more than 40 women at the event to press for progress in their own way.
“You need to come to your own comfortable spot about why,” she said. “It might be because you are sick of carrying your keys in your hands when you walk down the road at night, so you have a weapon in case someone attacks you.
“It might be because you don’t understand why you will end up with less super than your brother, and be more likely to be homeless in old age than him.
“It might be because you are sick of being leered at. It might be because you don’t want your children to have to keep pressing for change because change should have happened.”
Acknowledging that pressing for change takes time and energy, Mrs Ray gave practical suggestions for the women present.
“Call out sexist assumptions,” she said.
It might be because you are sick of carrying your keys in your hands when you walk down the road at night, so you have a weapon in case someone attacks you.- Sophie Ray
“If you are senior or you own your own business, think about your organisations. How many men are there, how many women? How does this affect who you hire, who you envisage in certain roles?”
She urged women to support other women, not to “climb the ladder, only to pull it up on others” and to create safe spaces in the workplace where women and men could call out sexual harassment.
Mrs Ray asked women to consider their influence on the children around them and lead by example, to be conscious of the language they use and to educate themselves via podcasts and books.
“We all work hard and we all come from different backgrounds, but we all have a support network and have a voice,” she said.
“If we don’t start pressing for change in our local business network and local area, then no one else will.
“Take a step, then a next step, and you’ll be continuing all the work of those amazing women, and men, who came before us fighting to make a change so that the freak of nature which made you a woman, rather than a man, doesn’t make any difference to your life.”
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