In my role as CEO of Business SA, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry for South Australia, and my former roles as the 78th Lord Mayor of Adelaide, General Manager of Rundle Mall and as a national retail entrepreneur with over 200 employees, I have never taken for granted the talent, commitment and contribution of the individuals and teams that I have either employed or worked alongside. The majority of which have been women.
On Tuesday this week, Business SA celebrated International Women’s Day with a 300-person event in Adelaide’s CBD. It is timely to reflect on what this day means and why it is important.
To go back to its earliest days, International Women’s Day was born out of the USA and Europe. The first National Women’s Day was held across the United States on 28 February 1909. In 1910, when the then leader of the Women’s Office of the Social Democratic Party in Germany tabled the idea at the second International Conference of Working Women, a unanimous vote was secured, and the first International Women’s Day was officially celebrated the following year on 19 March 1911. The date was then moved to 8 March in 1913.
Times were certainly different then, including in Australia where it had been only 9 years since the Australian Commonwealth Parliament passed an act enabling women to vote in Federal elections.
How times have changed, and mostly for the better.
In local history, Dame Nancy Buttfield became the first SA woman elected to the Federal Parliament in 1955. In 1966, the first woman was sworn in for jury service. In 1969, women were awarded equal pay for the same work as men and on 24 June 2010 Adelaide expat Julia Gillard was sworn in as the 27th Prime Minister of Australia, the first woman to hold the nation’s highest office.
There are so many more examples I could list including my own godmother Dame Roma Mitchell who was Australia’s first female Judge, first female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, first female Vice Chancellor of an Australian University and the first female Governor anywhere in Australia. Dame Roma was also a strong advocate for social justice who backed her words with action.
I now encourage you to consider your own workplace and take some time to appreciate the extraordinary achievements of so many South Australian women, past and present. In fact, dating back to the pioneering days through to today, my wife Genevieve has devoted her energies toward uncovering and sharing the stories of many great South Australian women. These stories have been recorded in HerStory, a project supported by the City of Adelaide and the History Trust of South Australia.
Age and experience are not prerequisites for making a difference in society. With social entrepreneur Isobel Marshall named as Young Australian of the Year for 2021, International Women’s Day takes on extra significance for younger women across our nation. Bravo to Isobel and to her business partner, Eloise Hall.
It’s important to remember that although significant progress has been made since 1911, this work is far from over. Equal opportunities are still being fought for in some industries. In many countries, women’s rights are vastly different than our own and in others, almost non-existent.
As a man, I cannot understand on a personal level every struggle that women encounter. However, I can lead by example. As a former business owner, former Lord Mayor of Adelaide and now CEO of Business SA, I value the equal contribution of women in commercial and civic life.
Over 75% of the workforce of my own company were women, I led the first gender balanced Council in the history of the City of Adelaide and Business SA proudly has a 65% female work force. Business SA’s Chair, Nikki Govan, is a strong leader and successful businessperson and many of Business SA’s senior team are qualified, skilled female professionals who add value to the organisation every day.
Let’s aspire to a time when a nominated day representing the achievements of women in business may not be entirely necessary, as they will be celebrated every day, with fair conditions, safe working environments and equal pay.
Let’s also aspire to a day where for every single organisation it’s not about filling quotas, it’s instead about filling the organisation with hard working, capable employees that span genders, preferences, ethnicities and religions.
While we work towards these important outcomes, I encourage you to watch the following stories that were shared at Business SA’s International Women’s Day luncheon event held in the SkyCity Ballroom in the City of Adelaide on Tuesday 9 March 2021.
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With kind regards,
Martin Haese MBA