A group of women of different ethic groups crossed their arms

Celebrating International Women's Day

Today we celebrate International Women's Day. While this day is about celebrating the many wonderful achievements of women, it is also about continuing to push the boundaries, raise awareness and take action for equality across all areas of our lives. It's about creating a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination - a world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive. We're all accountable to #breakthebias.

In honour of International Women's Day, we caught up with two female Board members at Regional Australia Bank - Alison Sheridan & Sally Mackenzie - to share their insights on how women's roles in the finance sector have changed and what more can be done to invoke better equality in the workplace.

What progress have you seen on gender equality in your life and in the finance sector?

"While there have been positive changes in women's employment in paid work and representation in leadership positions over this time, there is still a long way to go," says Alison Sheridan.

As a gender researcher, Alison has studied women's employment for 30 years. She says the finance sector is a good example of some of the positive changes we have seen in the labour market more generally as it now has a relatively even mix of female and male employees.

"Women still, however, remain under-represented in executive roles, and the gender pay gap in this industry is 29.5% compared to the national average of 22.8%," she said.

Sally Mackenzie remembers her Nana talking about her experiences in the workforce as a tram fare 'conductress' during World War Two - the first and only opportunity she had to earn her own money in her life.

"She talked about how liberating that was, to be able to make her own financial decisions. My mum worked part and full time during my childhood, and I saw how much that fulfilled her personally and professionally."

Regional Australia Bank board member Sally Mackenzie

For Sally, it wasn't until she attended the March for Justice at Parliament House in Canberra in March 2021 that her mum opened up to her about her experiences of harassment at work.

"This made me reflect that while we have come so far, we still have so far to go," she said.

"I have seen a dramatic change in my own career. After coming back from maternity leave 15 years ago to work part-time, a senior male boss told me that if I was serious about my career, I needed to come back full time. I think (hope) that is an antiquated view now."

"At Telstra, we have flexible work and paid paternity leave for both parents. These types of initiatives can make a huge difference," she said.

Women are represented across all areas of the business at Regional Australia Bank, and four in key leadership positions - what are your thoughts on this?

"To have three women (of the eight) directors and a female Deputy CEO shows the progress we have made within the business, and the Career Revive program reinforced Regional Australia Bank's commitment to enabling women's careers," says Alison.

In fact, Regional Australia Bank has been recognised through this Federally supported program as an exemplar employer, particularly for its flexible work arrangements and focus on enabling women's return to work.

"The efforts by Regional Australia Bank to create an inclusive, high-performance culture are laying the foundations for further progress to gender equality," she said.

Sally says she's in great company on the Board of Regional Australia Bank with senior experienced women like Kate James, Alison Sheridan and Michelle Edmonds in the leadership team.

"It is also great to see the men in the sector supporting women.

That is the real way to affect change. Gender equity is not a women's issue, it is an issue that requires everyone to make real and meaningful change," she says.

Why is it important to celebrate International Women's Day?

"Over the years, I have attended IWD events in Armidale, Scone, Murrurundi and Coffs Harbour and continue to be inspired by the stories of amazing women who are contributing to our communities at all levels," says Alison.

Regional Australia Bank board member Alision Sheridan

While their work all too often flies under the radar, Alison says IWD provides a platform to highlight the success, remind us what women are achieving, but also prompts us on what more needs to be done to break the bias.

For Sally, International Women's Day is imperative to keeping gender equality front of mind, with the Workplace Gender Equality Agency's Scorecard published last month revealing a 22.8% gender pay gap, and despite making up over 50% of the workforce, women make up less than 20% of all CEOs.

"It is clear that gender equality remains an important matter for workplaces - not just because it is 'fair' and the 'right thing to do', but because it is also associated with improved productivity, organisational performance, the ability of companies to attract talent and retain employees and enhances organisational reputation."

What is your International Women's Day message?

"One practical thing I'd encourage everyone to do is to use more inclusive language at work," says Sally.

"Language is critical to inclusion, and how we speak to and about one another influences how we treat one another."

According to Sally, research demonstrates that inclusive cultures are high-performing cultures. That is, we are more driven to contribute and succeed when we feel we are appreciated for our unique contributions and that we belong within the organisation.

Drawing on this year's IWD theme, Alison is urging both men and women to continue to challenge the status quo, pushing the envelope on gender equality and making a concerted effort to #breakthebias.