APEC Public-Private Dialogue on Structural Reform and Gender
Session Three: The Private Sector, Good Corporate Governance and Diversity. During this session speakers will discuss experiences and best practices from the perspectives of the academic, public, private sectors to increase women’s participation in private sector governance, including removing barriers to women and the appointment of women to leadership positions and Boards.
OPENING: I wish to acknowledge the Māori people and their Elders past and present. I acknowledge their continuing culture, especially their contribution to New Zealand and APEC. I recognise we are working on their traditional country. I respect their cultural heritage and beliefs and I appreciate its strength, resilience and capacity. I am honoured to be standing on the ancestral lands of the Māori people. I pay my respect to the Elders of this community and extend my gratitude to their descendants who are present.
I belong to Warrimay country on the mid North Coast of New South Wales, Australia. It is known as Many Rivers country. I worked for a decade as a lawyer in Australian courts. In 2016 I was an invited speaker at a special session addressing Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls before the United Nations Human Rights Council.
I am honoured to have been invited to speak at APEC, thank you.
I congratulate APEC for its ongoing commitment to promoting gender equality and the economic empowerment of women and girls. In 2011 the first APEC high level policy dialogue on Women and the Economy was held in San Francisco. It has been consequential leading to annual policy dialogues and it has generated concrete actions designed to promote women in the economy as an integral part of its agenda.
What is the role of women in our changing world? Chilean novelist Isabelle Allende said, ‘If a woman is empowered, her children and her family will be better off. If families prosper, the village prospers and eventually so does the whole country.’
During recent decades women in the first world have pushed the boundaries in education, economic participation and political representation. Yet this progress has not been enough to close the gender gap.
The insightful Global Gender Gap Report is published annually by the World Economic Forum. The 2017 edition features a range of unique contextual data generated from research collaboration. It states that on current trends the global gender gap can be closed in 100 years across the 106 countries covered, compared to 83 years last year. Given the continued widening of the economic gender gap it will not be closed for another 217 years. However, the education specific gender gap could be reduced to parity within the next 13 years. The political domain currently holds the widest gender gap and it is also exhibiting the most progress despite a slowdown this year. It could be closed within 99 years.
This pace is not good enough and it would not be tolerated in a business environment for obvious reasons. It is a hot topic of public discourse in Australia right now. Former Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop speaking at a Woman’s Weekly event in Sydney recently criticised the Liberal Party for not including more female representation saying it is unacceptable that less than 25 per cent of our MPs are women. She said it was an embarrassing circus in the National Capital and continued, ‘(I have) experienced some appalling behaviour in Parliament, the kind of behaviour that 20 years ago when I was Managing Partner of a law firm of 200 employees I would never have accepted.’
I have benefited from affirmative action. I sit on number of government, philanthropic and corporate Boards. I am the Executive Chair of the Big River Impact Foundation. It is 50 per cent Indigenous female led and it is a public benevolent institution. We did not wait for someone to appoint us, we did it ourselves. We are the first Australian charity with a majority Indigenous female representation. This is gender empowerment in action.
In the last decade the case for gender equity on Boards and in executive roles has been made repeatedly. Achieving gender parity is overdue and the problem cannot be solved on its own. Alongside gender parity we need diversity rather than elite female inclusion. We deserve a cross section of women and men from all sections of society to be represented in Parliament, on Boards and in executive roles. Diversity can and will drive positive outcomes and innovative thinking.
Women in senior management positions are good for the financial bottom line and there is research to suggest women can be socially conscious. However, it is not clear whether this can translate to achieving the empowerment of women and girls who are not from privileged backgrounds. On the other hand, research has revealed adding one woman to senior management and/or on a Board has been associated with higher financial returns. Empowering women is smart business practice.
It is clear to me investors can be a force for positive change because investors are in a position to accelerate the 100-year gender equity goal mentioned earlier and business is equipped to address poverty and the empowerment of women and girls. I believe financial institutions have a role to play and I will have more to say about that later.
To be honest, I feel uncomfortable speaking to you about increasing female representation on Boards as I am not convinced this should be our focus. The real challenge before us is the ability to harness the speed and efficiency of the private sector to close the social and economic divide impacting disproportionally upon women.
‘There is a 1st world in the 3rd world and a 3rd world in the 1st world.’ In Australia, living standards and opportunities for women are variable because there is an economic divide. It is not only the number of women on Boards that can change this. We need economic innovation and we are advised to channel our resources to ensure equity is achieved in a tighter timeframe than 100 years! I will talk about the steps required later.
Not all Australians are equal.
In Australia, socially enlightened policies started with the election of the Whitlam government in December 1972. It passed legislation to abolish the discriminatory treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. When the Queensland government failed to repeal these laws, the Whitlam government passed legislation to overturn it. Other legislation was enacted to extinguish provisions restricting the property rights of Aboriginal people. The Whitlam government also amended the Migration Act to abolish the provision requiring Indigenous people to apply for special permission to leave Australia.
Before the Whitlam government many children were removed from their Indigenous mothers. The Stolen Generation has been documented as a barbaric act of racial cleansing. The removal of non-Indigenous children from single mothers and divorcees was halted with the introduction of the No Fault divorce proceedings. The Whitlam government legislated to give financial support to unmarried mothers for the first time in Australian history. Before this, children born to unmarried mothers or divorced mothers were sent to Institutions or family to be raised and the consequences have been dire for all.
Yet despite these reforms, gender inequality continues to be a barrier for women and girls. In Australia the unequal status of women and girls has been underlined by structural and systemic gendered inequalities that have interacted with other power structures resulting in multiple and intersecting experiences of disadvantage. This is especially noticeable amongst marginalised Aboriginal women, single older women and other disadvantaged female demographics.
There is a housing affordability crisis in Australia. This is especially critical for single older women who through no fault of their own have been locked out of home ownership. This generation of women did not enjoy free university education when they left school because it was up-front fees before the Whitlam government changed it; they were not encouraged to pursue higher education, rather they were told they would not need an education as wives and mothers; there was no Superannuation (government supported savings for old age) when they started work; their salaries have been historically low and single women could not qualify for housing loans. These social barriers have been documented by the Australian Human Rights Commission, yet we are failing to do much to assist these women after retirement. In Australia single older women are the largest demographic at risk of homelessness.
Access to housing affordability has been shaped by gender. Women earn less than men and single women are financially vulnerable. Australian women have been economically disadvantaged for generations and there is an over representation of women in the key poverty indicators. Gender wealth, income and retirement gaps combine with an increasingly unaffordable housing market to undermine the economic position of women and this reality is compounded by the impact of domestic violence. Issues relating to economic inequality and the unequal distribution of caring responsibilities, all represent challenges specific to gender.
Aboriginal women are the other demographic facing a housing crisis in Australia. This group is twice as likely to be homeless at some time in their life. Imagine living your life in a remote community where the overcrowded homes have 19 adults per room. Could you do it? It is no wonder these women and children are quietly suffering.
Everybody knows gender equity solutions need to be multifaceted. However, solutions also need to be targeted, inclusive and delivered efficiently to solve the problem rather than supporting a social service delivery industry as the current model tends to do.
Equity reform can occur when our financial market incorporates social returns into the design of the financial market. This is because business is the driver of innovation and the capital market moves the distribution of investment capital with velocity. It achieves this by attracting funds and generating successful outcomes. Business is driven by capital returns on investment. Sadly, in this environment decisions are often not motivated by social outcomes incorporating the empowerment of women and girls. This needs to change.
In the first world business has contributed to making our lives easier. Technology has improved our lives and most of us take it for granted particularly the service infrastructure we rely upon. The financial market is the powerhouse of our system. Why not use it to build solutions? This can be achieved using impact investing because it is equipped to generate measurable social outcomes together with financial returns.
The 100 year estimated gender equity timeframe mentioned earlier is reflective of an ineffective system.
Big River has identified the following systemic issues:
- there is an overlap of services;
- there is little strategic mapping of community needs;
- programs are not evaluated for effectiveness;
- outcomes are not monitored continuously;
- reasonably-priced, quality housing is not delivered to meet demands;
- services are usually not client focused encouraging self-determination;
- funding has not been wholistic or responsive to needs.
Business and governments are attracted to social impact investing approaches because they have the potential to provide opportunities and solutions to regain community legitimacy fostering meritocracy, good corporate governance and innovation. Impact investing also offers opportunities for investors with a commitment to social responsibility to invest in solutions for our entrenched social problems.
A recent essay published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, The Rise of Gender Capitalism by Sarah Kaplan and Jackie Vanderbrug defined gender lens investing as, ‘the use of capital to deliver financial returns and improve the lives of women and girls and their communities’. Gender lens investors have made the empowerment of women a central part of their decision making and analysis. The objective has been to boost equality by focusing on the position of women and girls at the same time choosing profitable investments with healthy financial returns.
Impact investing can be applied universally.
The APEC region is at a crucial transformational juncture amidst a changing global transitional economic landscape. The Information Age has had an unprecedented impact on the nature of work and the economic inclusion of women is making a difference especially as third world economies join. Inclusive and sustainable growth is the overarching vision of the 2030 UN Development Agenda.
It is advisable to calculate social consequences by pricing the impact of returns. This in turn has the potential to provide a market for business to build innovative solutions focused on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
APEC can lead the institutionalisation of impact investing. To do so it is advised to encourage its economies to:
- instigate impact investing Pilots across its regions;
- implement data sharing systems;
- support female intermediaries;
- support a common definition of impacting investing;
- create a common measurement for social returns using the UN Sustainability goals as a guide;
- develop an APEC group impact investing strategy; and
- influence leading investors and large asset managers to consider impact investing.
Improving the gender gap will obviously need to be collaborative, innovative and efficient. We need governments, business and investors to provide platforms designed to improve equity. This can obviously strengthen our economies. I know the empowerment of women is a game changer. To build dynamic and inclusive future economies we must ensure everyone has equal opportunity. It is doable.
In his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum describes the fourth industrial revolution as fundamentally different from others. He thinks the potential to connect billions of people to the Web will drastically improve the efficiency of business and organisations and help regenerate the natural environment by being able to access better asset management.
I think his ideas can be applied to create improved business models, to find new ways to develop markets and to provide access for business to be involved in solving social issues including the empowerment of women and girls.
If APEC economies can shift to maximise growth, then the same methodologies can be applied to make our world a truly inclusive and fairer place to live.
 Isabel Allende, ‘Tales of passion ‘, 2007, TED, at https://www.ted.com/talks/isabel_allende_tells_tales_of_passion and https://en.tiny.ted.com/talks/isabel_allende_tells_tales_of_passion
 The World Economic Forum, 2017, ‘The Global Gender Gap Report 2017’, https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-gender-gap-report-2017
 Alison Branley, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ‘Julie Bishop criticises parliamentary colleagues for ‘appalling’ behaviour’, 6 September 2018, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-06/julie-bishop-criticises-parliamentary-colleagues-bullying-sexism/10205944
 See more at, Big River Impact Foundation, http://bigriverfoundation.com.au/about/our-team/
 The Hon Susan Ryan AO, Age Discrimination Commissioner, ‘Older Women’s Network International Women’s Day Conference’, 8 March 2016, https://www.humanrights.gov.au/news/speeches/older-womens-network-international-womens-day-conference
 Sarah Kaplan and Jackie VanderBrug, 2014, ‘The Rise of Gender Capitalism’, Stanford Social Review for Innovation, https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_rise_of_gender_capitalism,
 Klaus Schwab, 2016, ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’, World Economic Forum, pp.8-15, see at https://www.weforum.org/about/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-by-klaus-schwab