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Change the attitudes and equality will follow

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Have we finally reached corporate gender equality? Julie White, head of Macquarie Foundation, believes we are almost there but there’s no time for complacency yet – women in all industries still have work ahead.

Having worked in various fields for over 30 years, White has seen the ups and downs of corporate life. She believes the key to achieving workplace equality is through flexible work conditions and, most importantly, instilling an attitude of opportunity, rather than preparing women to expect a fight.

White trained as a social worker and worked in both the not-for-profit and corporate sector, before being offered the role of head of the Macquarie Group Foundation, the philanthropic arm of major Australian investment firm, the Macquarie Group. Under her leadership, the funding capabilities of the Foundation have grown substantially.

“We had a budget of about $1 million and it was really a role to develop and grow the Foundation, to get better staff engagement and to build on the work that David Clarke, as chairman, had done for many years,” White says.

Since she began in 2000, the Foundation has grown to encompass $22.6 million, from its original $1 million budget, and is currently donating to over 900 not-for-profit organisations. 

“It’s been a wonderful experience and opportunity over the last 10 years to be with an amazing organisation that was at the cusp of growth,” she says.

Changing trends

White admits that the corporate world isn’t the easiest environment for a woman.

“I’ve had to manage motherhood, being a wife and mother and raising children. I’ve had to make some compromises along the way – I’ve worked part-time, I’ve put off studying various things,” she says. “I’ve been through the myriad of live-in nannies, live-out nannies, girlfriends – you just do what you have to do.”

However, she believes that workplaces are changing and becoming more aligned to the needs of working mothers.

“The important thing is for women to feel confident that if they do dip out for three or six months or they do dip into part-time, that their employer takes that into account. That’s not the barrier that it used to be.

“Probably we’ve still got a long way to go but from my older years, I’d say that we’ve come a long way too,” she says. 

Shifting attitudes

Change the attitude and the culture will follow, says White. Rather than training women to play victim to gender discrimination, society should be fostering positivity and confidence to conquer the corporate world, without compromising the community’s need for family. 

White knows the power of positive thinking, having raised two daughters.

“I look at my girls – they don’t for one moment think that they can’t do whatever they want to do,” she says. “I grew up in a house where I was told you can do whatever you want to do. You’ve just got to work out how you do it and just get on with it.

“Don’t get caught up in an ‘it’s not fair’ [attitude] … there are challenges all along life, regardless of whether you want to have a family or not. Careers are challenging and life is challenging so it’s about adopting an attitude of positivism.”

However, she does note that in certain industries there is an “entrenched maleness” and it is up to female mentors to combat this.

“Women like me at the latter end of our careers need to make sure we’re providing the support and mentoring to the young women coming up, encourage them to pursue whatever it is that they want to do and help them work out how best to juggle it,” she says. “We don’t want young women to say ‘well, I’m not going to get married and I’m not going to have a family’ because then the community will cease to exist.”

White says that the law can only regulate equality to an extent – once laws have been implemented, it is up to each woman to create her own fortuity.

“You need to find an individual solution,” says White. “All things can’t be fixed by a big hand somewhere. We all have to take individual responsibility and make our own individual opportunities too.”

Published on: Saturday, January 29, 2011

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