Australian Communities Foundation - Home

Sorry. You're using a browser that we
don't support.

To experience this site, please use Firefox, Chrome or Edge.

7 min read

Empowering giving to ‘crack the code’: Australians Investing in Women

Profile of Dom O'Donnell
Written by Dom O'DonnellPosted on 8/3/2023

It challenges leaders and changemakers to create new social, economic, and cultural codes for a gender-equal future and highlights the role that transformative ideas, inclusive technologies, and accessible education can play in combatting discrimination and marginalisation of women globally.

At Australian Communities Foundation, we’re committed to supporting gender equity on our journey towards a fairer Australia. In 2021/22, our giving community distributed over $2.5 million to projects with a specific focus on women and girls or gender diverse people.

To mark International Women’s Day 2023, we caught up with Julie Reilly OAM, who heads up national advocate for Gender-wise philanthropy Australians Investing in Women, to discuss philanthropy’s role in ‘cracking the code’.

Julie Reilly OAM, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Investing in Women

This year’s theme is Cracking the code. What does that mean to Australians Investing in Women?

Each year brings a new theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) and a new focus for action on gender equality – recognition of the reality that we need action on multiple fronts if we are to realise the full potential of society.

The focus on innovation, transformation and technology this year highlights the need to close the digital gender divide given the increasing role of AI in all of our lives. According to UN Women, women make up only 22 per cent of the world’s AI workforce.

A disturbing global analysis of 133 AI systems across industries found that 44.2 per cent demonstrate gender bias. At AIIW, we feel a sense of urgency to combat this bias by encouraging a gender lens approach to all giving and by growing support to increase women’s representation in STEM, particularly in leadership positions.

This year’s theme speaks to the power of educating girls as a key strategy impacting everything from poverty alleviation to reducing global warming.

The inclusion of education in this year’s theme speaks to the power of educating girls as a key strategy impacting everything from poverty alleviation to reducing global warming. Put simply, educating girls makes them richer, healthier and more free. They have fewer children and the children they have inherit these advantages.

What is Gender-wise philanthropy? Why is funding needed for gender equity?

Gender-wise philanthropy recognises that men and women, and gender diverse people, have different needs and experiences, and that policies and programs often impact them differently. By encouraging gender analysis, and consideration of these differences, this approach supports better informed and more impactful decisions about giving.

Gender equity is central in building the fairer future that funders want to see. But a quick look at the statistics demonstrates just how much work lies ahead.

At the current pace of change, it will take another 132 years to achieve global gender equality.

The World Economic Forum estimates at the current pace of change, it will take another 132 years to achieve global gender equality. That means the year 2,155, which should ring alarm bells and mobilise more funding that delivers greater gender equality.

What are the biggest challenges we face in Australia for gender equity?

While we have made progress in Australia, the gender pay gap persists (13.3%). The number of women on ASX 200 Boards (35.7%) is improving but very slowly, while the pace of change for women in leadership generally is glacial (14 CEOs in ASX 200 or 7%) and, below CEO, the number of women in executive leadership positions is down on the previous year. 

Australia has bucked the trend with more women in our national parliament (including a record 10 of 23 cabinet ministers), but the global metrics are going backwards. Inadvertently, the gender norm of male political and broader leadership is visibly reinforced.

The impact of COVID, and multiple climate crises, and their disproportionate impact on women has further widened the global gender gap.

Hard-won gains for women and girls are being eroded not only in Afghanistan and Iran, but in western democracies with ongoing attacks on women’s reproductive rights through the reversal of Roe V Wade in the United States and further restrictions on access to reproductive health more broadly. The impact of COVID, and multiple climate crises, and their disproportionate impact on women has further widened the global gender gap.

We can be proud that Australian women are among the best-educated in the world according to the World Economic Forum, but we have fallen from 13th to 70th for women’s workplace participation and achievement. This is a shocking waste of talent and represents lack of return on investment that can be blamed in large part on the gender norms that inhibit the full participation of women.

What change is needed to crack the code?

As part of our evidence-based advocacy in philanthropy, AIIW last year released research, in partnership with Deloitte Access Economics, that clearly demonstrated the economic cost of holding on to rigid gender norms and highlighted the lost opportunity for economic growth. The report Breaking the Norm – Unleashing Australia’s Economic Potential noted that Australia’s workforce is among the most gender segregated in the OECD.

The research found that more flexible ideas around gender could lead to an additional $128 billion each year for Australia’s economy and 461,000 additional full-time employees. This would be achieved through a combination of:
• More women participating in the labour force;
• Women working more paid hours (and men taking on a more equal split of unpaid labour and care);
• More people working in roles that align with their skills, talent and qualifications.

What advice do you have for funders this International Women’s Day?

Philanthropy prides itself on its catalytic power, the freedom to be bold, to foster and back innovation and invest in transformative change. A growing number of private and corporate philanthropists are recognising the power of applying a gender lens to their decision making and increasing the impact they are seeking in society.

This International Women’s Day, AIIW is calling on philanthropy to:

be more intentional in funding initiatives that deliver greater gender equality whether in Australia or internationally;

engage with the next generation of philanthropists who research indicates are more inclined to invest in gender equity;

support the cracking the code theme by investing in women in STEM

fund women’s leadership programs – browse our Project Showcase for suggested initiatives;

complete our survey on the State of Gender-wise Giving in Australia when invited later this year;

request an ACF Gender-wise Presentation or Workshop from AIIW.

At the very least, we invite you to choose one of these and begin to #EmbraceEquity.

Watch: #PowerOn for International Women’s Day 2023

About Australians Investing in Women

Australians Investing in Women (AIIW) is a leading not-for-profit organisation that advocates for Gender-wise philanthropy. AIIW encourages all Australians – particularly philanthropic, corporate, and community leaders – to apply a gender lens to their giving and increase investment in women and girls, to help create a fairer and more inclusive society.

Further reading

Feature image: UN Trust Fund/Phil Borges