Celebrating Westpac Scholars this International Women’s Day
16 February 2023 | Ruby Connection
16 February 2023 | Ruby Connection
A significant global event on our calendar, International Women's Day is an opportunity to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women while also raising awareness about the work that needs to be done to achieve gender equality. Here, we explore what’s on the agenda this year, celebrated on March 8th, and speak to two high-achieving women who are making a lasting mark in their respective fields.
Based on the priority theme for the United Nations’ 67th Commission on the Status of Women, this year’s IWD is all about . The day will be a chance to reflect on how we can innovate and develop transformative strategies to combat discrimination and marginalisation faced by women all over the world.
Innovation is key to driving real, lasting change. In particular, by embracing new technologies we can tap into the unique skills of women in STEM fields and start striving towards gender equality at a faster pace. That being said, there are still obstacles to overcome, particularly around providing access to inclusive digital technologies and education. It’s time to close the digital divide that keeps so many women offline and away from new opportunities.
By ensuring that women of all ages have equal access to education, and by creating inclusive workplaces in STEM fields, we can harness the power of inclusive innovation – a crucial factor in cracking the code to gender equality.
To get inspired for the upcoming IWD 2023, we sat down with two Westpac Scholars to discuss what excites them about their work, how they believe women can use innovation for a more gender-equal future, and what true change really looks like for their respective industries.
A court reporter in a former life – where she saw the true depth of injustice that so many face – Bronwyn Bate founded national gift delivery service Mettle Women Inc. thanks in large part to the confidence that blossomed under the tutelage of her former boss. Today, Mettle employs women who have experienced homelessness as a result of domestic and family violence. By having a stable income, comprehensive training and access to study scholarships, crisis funds and childcare subsidies, Bronwyn is helping women take the next steps towards the safe, financially secure future they deserve.
When it comes to this year’s theme for International Women’s Day, Bronwyn is most excited about its potential to drive real progress for marginalised women.
“It excites me that the theme is encouraging creative thinking to drive reform,” she says. “It’s so important that there are many brains working collaboratively if we’re ever going to achieve progress towards an equitable future for marginalised communities of women. I don’t think we can ‘crack the code’ unless we’re working in a united way.”
Like Bronwyn, Lucinda Hartley, Managing Director of Neighbourlytics, is interested to see how this year’s IWD theme will encourage women to take actionable steps towards a more gender-equal future. In particular, she believes shining a spotlight on innovation could help female entrepreneurs develop solutions that affect real change. But first they need to be supported with the right level of funding.
“At the moment, there is a lot of noise and a lot of advocacy around female founders, so there’s a lot more awareness,” she says. “We've made achievements in the early stages, but what we haven't seen is that awareness translates into real, concrete outcomes – like increases in capital.
“The most critical thing is to look at funding female-led companies – female founders having access to and receiving venture capital. Without funding, it's really hard to get anywhere. Unfortunately, women face barriers for funding due to a lot of unconscious bias, because there are many different perceptions on the types of businesses they will run. We need to look at opening up more mechanisms for female funding, and not just at the early stages but the follow-on stages that can really help them scale.”
Bronwyn has a similar mindset, especially when it comes to how awards and investments are distributed to women innovators.
“The novelty of ‘Best Female Innovation’-type grants has worn off, in my opinion,” she says. “It’s time for funders to start using a gender lens to distribute their capital. This will ensure all innovators have equitable access to opportunities to launch their ideas, without having to be seen as only the ‘Best Female Innovator’ as opposed to ‘Best Innovator’.”
As successful business leaders in their own fields, both Bronwyn and Lucinda have advice for budding innovators and entrepreneurs who are looking to make their mark in 2023 and beyond.
“I think if anyone tells you what it's actually like, you'd never start!” Lucinda says. “But my advice is always that you're a parked car right now. If you want to get going, the best way to do that is to not overthink it – just start!"
One of the most supportive tools along Lucinda’s journey was being selected as a Westpac Scholar.
“I was fortunate to become a Westpac Scholar Fellow at the same time we were starting Neighbourlytics, and that was a sort of career transition for me,” she says. “Even though I had a lot of experience in cities and city-making, I didn't really know anything about tech. So it offered me an amazing opportunity to speak with city leaders around the world to understand how they're using technology for social good.
“Probably the most important part of the Scholars Network was that I could connect with a cohort of people who I'm still actively connected to. That peer network has been a huge source of encouragement over the years.”
For Bronwyn, her advice is to stick to what you believe in and don’t feel like you always need to be the loudest to get noticed.
“I don’t think the onus falls on women to change the way they do things,” she says. “The world needs to start listening to voices that aren’t necessarily the loudest. Just because someone asserts that their idea is the best in a loud voice, that doesn’t mean it actually is. We need to take notice of humble ideas being conveyed gently.”
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