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Only 170 years to go, sisters

With the final election results in, our Parliament is now made up of 38 percent women. That’s up eight points on the last election and around 12 points shy of reflecting the New Zealand population.

Twelve percent is also what is considered to be how much less women earn than men in New Zealand. Based on how long it’s predicted to take to close the gender pay gap, we can all look forward to celebrating a house of representatives that’s actually representative in 2187, a mere 294 years after women got the vote in New Zealand.

Maybe it will even be easier for Mums to be in Parliament by then - it’s only taken until this year to lift the ban on children in the debating chamber.

In the meantime, between now and 2187, we can enjoy some corporate-sponsored public art by companies being sued for paying women less than men. State Street, the Wall St investment fund behind the Fearless Girl statue, has this week been exposed as consistently voting down gender equality proposals at some of the US’s largest corporations including Alphabet, (Google’s parent company), Wells Fargo, American Express, Bank of America and MasterCard and have just agreed to pay $5m to settle claims that it underpaid hundreds of its female employees.

If statuary isn’t to your taste, perhaps a new Harvey Weinstein blockbuster will be. It should be out after he’s done enough time away from the spotlight. It is depressing to read the number of pieces about Weinstein’s alleged sexual assault and harassment that reference a lack of surprise and an abundance of fear.

While sexual assault and harassment is at a graver end of the ‘things women experience in the work place’ spectrum than pay equality, I believe they are all part of the same problem. Work, in its modern form, is a fundamentally male construct, designed by men, for men. Until that is openly and truly acknowledged I don’t believe we will ever start to tackle the range of issues at play that keep women from being truly equal.

The addition of women to the workplace and our Parliament is a recent phenomenon and many work places remain almost military in their design and operation. There is a hierarchy and a chain of command. You work in teams, pods and units. When you do more than required you are going ‘above and beyond the call of duty’. Decision-making must be logical and rational. Loyalty is prized above all and breaking rank to express an alternative view, particularly with any form of emotion in your voice is the stuff that gets you labelled stroppy, overly-emotional, headstrong, difficult, intimidating and over-confident. God forbid you cry at work.

All that in an environment where women are also far more likely to be quiet in meetings because they’re more likely to be interrupted and their ideas taken less seriously. It’s been researched to death and is so common that it has its own taxonomy. “Manterrupting” (a man unnecessarily interrupting a woman), “mansplaining” (a man interrupting a woman to explain something that she actually knows more about than he does) and “bropropriating” (a man taking credit for a woman’s idea) come to mind.

For all that might look like progress, and 38 percent of our MP’s being women definitely is, we can’t ignore that “empowerment” and “diversity” are measured in terms of their efficacy in driving results within a system women didn't create and isn't serving us particularly well.

What most women experience in their workplaces is institutionalised sexism - systemically validated micro-aggressions that reflect an entrenched power imbalance and a flawed design. To change that we must tackle the maleness of our institutions and not just overlay more guidelines and frameworks on top of them. To redress the imbalance, we need to create space for women to have a go at designing our institutions and for them to be able to do that in their own ways, which may be outside of what would be ‘normal’ process.

If you want an example of the beginning of this kind of thinking in New Zealand, I commend Simon Moutter to you. Moutter is the Managing Director of Spark and in his recent ‘Global Women 1 Day for Change’ summit address he says that when it comes to addressing diversity he feels ‘like a midfield battler rather than a real Champion for Change’.

Spark boss Simon Moutter. Photo: Getty Images

He goes on to say Spark’s approach has been ‘very logical, very process-oriented, very designed and very 'best-practice' and yet Spark has recently lost several of their senior women leaders, many of whom have since expressed to Moutter that they felt Spark’s diversity efforts were just lip-service and that they were ‘still excluding women and minority groups through the ways we speak, the ways we interact and the ways we behave, often unconsciously.’

He refers to his shift in thinking on this matter as leading more with heart, than head and is pledging to address what I think is part of what constitutes institutionalised sexism by specifically committing to calling out non-inclusive behaviours, eliminating foul and disrespectful language, cutting the macho themes and analogies and ensuring there are negative consequences for those who don’t get on board.

It is a long way off remaking a system so that women can play a role in designing how it works, but by addressing behaviour and values, it feels as if Moutter is starting to challenge the institution and suggest that maybe women don’t have to keep adapting to it by leaning in, lying down or contorting themselves into the ‘right’ shape but that ‘it’ - the workplace, the business, the industry, the institution - could adapt to them.

With a new and greater crop of women headed to the corridors of power, I can only hope we might start seeing more of that kind of thinking in Parliament. It is one of our most venerable institutions and yet when examined closely on how woman-friendly it is, it seems increasingly undeserved of veneration. Whoever the Minister of Women is, starting at home would be a powerful way to demonstrate how institutionalised sexism can be tackled.

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