By Dr Suzi Chen, Founder of Resilient Leadership Academy

I like the idea of celebrating women and having a high-profile themed day dedicated to women world-wide resonates with me. But like many others, International Women’s Day creates a bit of confusion for me.  

If women are worth celebrating; if women’s contributions have proven through research to be business case worthy, then why is the progress so slow? After all, we’ve been at this International Women’s Day for quite some time now. 

Confused as I may be, I am still an optimistic realist. I want to keep contributing where I can. 

So, I look at the theme for this year’s Interational Women’s Day, Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress., and ask myself, “how exactly do we count her in?” 

I am being pragmatic. I am thinking about how we can invest in women in a way that leads to tangible results. 

Gestures, symbolisms and words are well and good, but I suspect most women prefer real outcomes. Whether it be equitable pay or meaningful career advancement.  

I invited a few professional women to help me prepare this article, because I knew the responses that I would get would be brilliant.  

And I was right.

I must thank my four contributors for their brilliant and “real” suggestions to my questions. Thank you for the work you do.

Now, just what exactly companies and allies and … us, women, need to do to count women in and invest in women? Here are the answers from four professional women. 

1. Ask, don’t assume. Don’t back-bench women because of an assumption.

NSW-based lawyer Clarissa Sempel (Our Lawyers) talks about how assumptions can hinder the progress of counting women in. 

“To count her in, I believe companies and individuals should recognise the value of communication and empowerment. By asking rather than assuming about workload/circumstances and offering flexibility, they demonstrate respect and acknowledge the diverse realities of our lives. 

It is also imperative that an individual not assume that a woman is unable to contribute because of alleged home duties. This approach fosters a culture where women can thrive, contribute fully, and achieve their aspirations without sacrificing personal well-being or being “back-benched” from an assumption.” 

About Clarissa 

Clarissa Sempel is a commercial and employment lawyer at Our Lawyers who wears a few different hats. Clarissa is passionate about providing support in all walks of life and being able to build connections and growth of those around her, particularly as a regional women lawyer.  

In 2024, Clarissa completed her Master of Laws at the University of New England. She is aware of the demands juggling “home” life, a strong family commitment, working full time, networking and studying. For that reason, Clarissa often advocates work-life balance, the importance of communication and mental health. 

In addition to working as a lawyer, Clarissa is also a committee member of the Women Lawyers Association of NSW, the Vice-Chair of the WLANSW Wollongong Regional Chapter, Immediate Past President of JCI Australia. Clarissa takes part in local grass root organisations that benefit and support her community.  

2. Policy needs to marry culture. Official policies don’t mean real inclusion unless they can be implemented practically and with the support of the right culture. 

Claire Quigley, Senior Account Director ANZ at Vonage and Founder of Gentlewomen’s Union expands on how the strategies that companies have implement to support women often do not address the core issue that underpins gender inequity in the first place. The impracticality of a well-indented diversity and inclusion policy truly shows with the examples shared by Claire. 

“I think many companies make a big effort with diversity and inclusion and counting women in, but human error being what it is, there are many blind spots that are missed.  

A key component of the glass ceiling is the ‘caretaking penalty’ women suffer from – women do 75% of domestic labour around the world (1). In practical terms, this means cooking, cleaning, laundry, childcare, caring for elderly relatives and more. And while none of these jobs individually are necessarily impossible, it’s the culmination of multiple, repetitive, ongoing, largely invisible labour that often counts women out of the workforce.  

The consistent invisible labour is time consuming and expensive to replace – having a cleaner, nanny and cook isn’t cheap. So women take on the burden of doing it themselves and suffer for it professionally. 

Often systems put in place at company level do not address the core issue – that women (on average) often have more responsibilities than men.  

Take corporate travel as an example. From Ubers, coffees, cocktails to meals, one can seek reimbursements on a variety of travel-related expenses – basically anything required to get you from point A to point B, keep you at point B for a few days and get you home. Everything except things that are typically ‘women’s work’ – childcare, laundry, meals at home, for example, which are prerequisites, if you are a mother, in order to make a business trip.  

So while you can expense $500 in food, you can’t expense a babysitter. If you are the person who needs to drop your kids to school, you either must pay out of pocket or you miss out on the trip.  

[It is the] Same thing for companies that require attendance at out-of-hour events and meetings. There is an underlying assumption that ‘someone’ is taking care of the house and family. Unfortunately, historically that ‘someone’ was a woman. What happens when that ‘someone’ is you?  You miss out on valuable chances to further your career and network.   

In practical terms, it could mean policies around MFDs (Meeting Free Days), limits on meetings/events out of hours, limits on work travel, overhaul of the expenses system and above all, policies that encourage men to partake more at home.  

Studies have shown that men who take parental leave are significantly more involved in the day-to-day running of a house than those who don’t. And making parental leave available on paper is no good unless employees are encouraged and empowered to take it. Saying “we’ll give you 8 weeks parental leave, but here’s 12 projects we need done by June” is not empowering.  

Culture starts at the top – leaders who leave at 4pm to collect kids from school or drive an elderly relative to an appointment make it socially acceptable for employees to do the same.  

Official policies need to marry culture to give people access to the flexibility they need to participate both at work and at home.” 

About Claire 

Currently the Senior Account Director ANZ at Vonage, Claire runs the existing ANZ book of business for the applications group.  

Originally from Ireland, Claire has been in the IT world for 10+ years across Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. Claire founded the GentleWomen’s Union (GWU) in December 2022 as a safe space for professional women to connect, support and mentor each other. Now boasting 7 corporate partnerships, multiple catered events per year and a strong mentorship program the GWU continues to empower professional women across all industries in Australia.  

Claire is a fluent Irish speaker with a BA in Gno agus Gaeilge (Business & Irish) and a GDip in Counselling. In her downtime, she loves to travel and has been to over 25 countries.   

Reference

UN Women (2016): Discussion Paper Unpaid Care and Domestic Work: Issues and Suggestions for Viet Nam 

3. To truly practiseCount Her In, it demands self-reflection on our actions and behavious.

Sally Close, a seasoned organisational development consultant from Acronem Consulting Australia, takes on a reflective approach when answering my question of “how can we count women in?”.  

Sally’s 8-question approach provides a framework (okay, we don’t need another “framework”, but this one is simple to use, I promise.) that everyone, from a team leader to a CEO to ally, can use to truly reflect on how we advance gender equity. 

If you would like to see how these 8 questions are used in practice, scroll down to see Sally’s self-reflection. 

 “By reflecting on these questions and honestly assessing your actions and behaviours, you can celebrate the contribution you are already making and identify an area where you may stretch more out of your comfort zone for greater learning or impact. I hope you enjoy actively working towards inclusivity and equality for women in your personal and professional life.”  

  1. Listening to Women’s Voices: Am I actively listening to women’s voices and perspectives in meetings, discussions, and decision-making processes? 
  2. Supporting Women-Owned Businesses: Am I consciously supporting women-owned businesses and seeking out opportunities to collaborate with or promote women entrepreneurs? 
  3. Advocating for Gender Equality: What specific actions have I taken to advocate for gender equality and challenge gender-based discrimination in my personal and professional life? 
  4. Educating Myself: Have I participated in educational or awareness-raising activities to learn more about women’s issues and ways to address them? 
  5. Celebrating Women’s Achievements: How have I celebrated and recognised the achievements and contributions of women in my community or workplace? 
  6. Promoting Inclusive Leadership: In what ways do I promote inclusive leadership practices and support women’s career advancement and leadership development? 
  7. Supporting Women’s Rights: Have I contributed to or supported organisations that work to advance women’s rights and empower women in need? 
  8. Challenging Gender Stereotypes: Do I actively challenge gender stereotypes and biases in my interactions, language, and media consumption?” 


Sally’s reflection: 

The theme “Count Her In” for International Women’s Day 2024 emphasises the importance of inclusivity and recognition for women in all aspects of life. Reflecting on this theme prompted me to assess how I show up and actively incorporate it into my actions and behaviours. Here’s the outcome of that reflection:  

Listening to Women’s Voices In settings where women are present, I ensure their voices are heard by directing questions and fostering inclusion. 

Supporting Women-Owned Businesses I actively support women entrepreneurs through participation in a neurodivergent women-led social enterprise, mentorship, collaborations, and employing female youth.  

Advocating for Gender Equality Over a 30-year career, I’ve transitioned from fashion to hardware and manufacturing, continually advocating for gender equality and addressing systemic issues.  

Educating Myself I’ve found intentional diversification of my friendship groups and collaborators to be incredibly enlightening. Surrounding oneself solely with like-minded individuals or those of similar cultural backgrounds can be limiting. The most profound lessons often arise when I step out of my comfort zone.  

Celebrating Women’s Achievements I celebrate and recognise women’s achievements by attending events, buying books, referring services, and sharing success stories.  

Promoting Inclusive Leadership I develop inclusive mentorship programs, career coach women, advocate for gender pay equity, and celebrate organisations promoting inclusive leadership.  

Supporting Women’s Rights I support organisations advancing women’s rights through pro-bono work and specifically target my charitable donations to organisations and programs that do the same. 

Challenging Gender Stereotypes I challenge stereotypes and biases through action and voicing opinions, while being cautious of media portrayals that may not be accessible to all women. 
 

About Sally

Sally Close, a seasoned Organisational Development Consultant (Acronem Consulting Australia, Awabakal & Worimi Country, Port Stephens, NSW), brings over three decades of experience driving diversity and inclusion in Australian businesses.  

Since pioneering her own inclusive recruitment program with Monash University in 2003, she’s dedicated to creating inclusive workplaces through tailored programs. Sally’s “ideas into action” approach ensures practical learning aligned with each organisation’s culture, fostering sustainable change.  

Her work spans private, government, social enterprise, and not-for-profit sectors, focusing on addressing and overcoming obstacles, biases, and systemic barriers within the employment environment that hinder opportunities for certain groups of individuals this includes; women, carers, parents, disabilities, learning differences, neurodiversity, refugees and CALD communities. By addressing these issues, Sally’s goal is to create a more inclusive and equitable employment environment where all individuals have equal opportunities to thrive and succeed.   

 4. To count her in is to be practical. 

Molecular biologist, advocate and balloon artist Dr Chloe Lim believes in taking practical steps when it comes to advancing gender equity.   

Dr Chloe’s approach makes a lot of sense to me when we consider how women often wear multiple hats at a given time. 

Just look at Dr Chloe’s title – molecular biologist, advocate and balloon artist – and this is not all. What about being an advisor to non-profit organisations, a businesswoman to Giggly Wiggly Balloons and Twistyfic and a published author?

To fully maximise women’s talent and our desire to advance, any measures designed to support women must be practical. But what does practical actually look like? Here is Dr Chloe’s take.

Practical strategies to count women in:

  • Provide flexible working environment for those with caring/parenting responsibilities so they can still have a career while raising a family 
  • Consider all candidates for a position and provide equal opportunity to all qualified candidates to apply for the role regardless of what you think their circumstance is 
  • Sponsor women into useful, practical leadership development that aligns with the business and strategic plans of the organisation 
  • Provide opportunities to practise leadership so [women] can gain the experience needed to move to the next leadership role. For example, shadowing and sitting on boards 
  • Provide sanitary products in workplace to remove financial barriers and access to essential hygiene items, enabling women to focus at work without worrying about period issues

 About Dr Chloe Lim 

Dr Chloe Lim is a molecular biologist with over 14 years in academia and now works in government as a regulatory scientist. She discovered balloon twisting and launched ‘Giggly Wiggly Balloons’ in 2019. Her talent in balloon artistry propelled her to become a finalist on Channel 7’s ‘Blow Up,’ featuring the best balloon artists in Australia. Merging balloon art and science, she launched Twistyfic, an education company cultivating kids’ love for science through interactive storytelling.

She is an advocate for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) and migrant women. She is an advisor, coach and mentor for non-profit organisations like STEM Sisters, Global Sisters, SiTara’s Story, and Professional Migrant Women. She shares her migrant story in the anthology book ‘Undefeated’, to inspire other women to show up, take space, and embrace who they are. She amplifies the stories of women in STEM through her podcast ‘CALD Voices in STEM’ to inspire women to speak up and improve the visibility and representation of CALD women.