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Aus Honours It's time to ditch the men at Top

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djebel View Drop Down
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    Posted: 12 Jun 2017 at 3:34pm

Australian honours: It's time to ditch the men at the top

Jenna Price

Published: June 12 2017 - 12:15AM

Once again the honours list has failed Australian women.

This cannot continue. It's a complete dishonour to the thousands of women across Australia who deserve to be recognised at the highest level.

The awards announced on Monday will show that the percentage going to women has sunk even lower than the five-year average, already an embarrassingly low 31 per cent. In the general division of the Order of Australia, it's 467 males and 206 females. Just 30 per cent women.  

That said, there's no choice but to entirely recast the Council for the Order of Australia. If the organisation that oversees the awarding of honours to Australians can't get anything close to a semblance of Australia in those who receive these awards, the entire leadership needs to go. It must be replaced by people who are agents of change.

It needs to meet the government targets for 50 per cent of women on government boards. Of the 18 councillors, four are women. Of the four women, one, Elizabeth Kelly, comes from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Two others are state reps. And community rep and former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, who must be losing her mind at the slow rate of change.

So why is this organisation failing?

Here are some answers.

Chairman? Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston.

Secretary? Mark Fraser. Official secretary to the Governor-General.

Ex-officio representatives? Senator George Brandis. Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin.

All decent people but from worlds dominated by men. The military. The Liberal Party. None famous for equality. How is it possible to reshape this reflection of Australian spirit if all you see reflected is the people with whom you grew up, with whom you went to school; and now work alongside?

So that's one problem – unconscious bias. And too few women within the council to shake the bias to its core.

Second problem? The nomination system moves at glacial place, when what we really need is some fast-tracking to break the ice.

A senior male science academic emailed me earlier this year. He nominated a brilliant woman in April 2016. She was the first female professor in her male-dominated field. She was head of school for more than a decade, led a renewal of her field in Australia, has been a lambent force for change across teaching, research and administration.

For 12 months he didn't hear a thing, so he got busy. He rang all the referees he'd lined up. They still haven't heard anything.

Ruth McGowan, one of the co-founders of support network and movement for change Honour A Woman, is desperate. She knows that just eight weeks into the establishment of the group it's unrealistic to imagine there can be instant transformation.

"We've been in the ring for 83 rounds and it shows just how stubborn those numbers are ... we are rusted on at less than a third," she says.

She too believes there needs to be change at the council: "We can't keep saying, 'c'mon community, fix this'."

In September 1990, Senator Margaret Reynolds (former minister assisting the PM for the status of women) issued a report titled Women and the Order of Australia.

Her view was that women are not under-represented on the basis of nominations received, but that women are not being nominated in equal numbers to men.

She urged women's organisations to alert their members to the nomination process in an effort to increase the rate of nominations for women.

In 1992, the Lavarch parliamentary committee conducted an Inquiry into Equal Opportunity and Equal Status for Australian Women. Its report, Halfway to Equal, made two recommendations relating to women and the honours system: a fully funded public awareness campaign, and that the honours secretariat investigate "making the process more accessible to the public to ensure that the contribution of women, particularly in the voluntary sector, is recognised and nominations are made".

We've known for years that there's a problem. More than 20 years ago, in 1995, Clare Petre wrote A matter of honour: the report of the Review of Australian Honours and Awards. It made detailed recommendations about how to even up the numbers.

In a stroke of genius, it recommended a group award of the Order of Australia (because many people, particularly Indigenous people), work in teams.

And recommendation 36: "We recommend that inequities in awards outcomes be addressed through raising awareness of award imbalances, among system administrators and award decision makers, and through changes to award processes."

Honour A Woman is doing the best it can to increase awareness and run workshops. And this year Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove called for Australians to use International Woman's Day, March 8, as a day to nominate women for the awards. 

But that's not enough. The council must change its ways.

Rhian Richardson, the board diversity manager for the Australian Institute of Company Directors, has some suggestions. As the person who heads the programs to transform ASX 200 companies from homogeneous to heterogeneous, she's also had some considerable success. In 2009, women made up just 8.3 per cent of boards of ASX 200 companies. With the guidance of a team now led by Richardson, it's 25.4 per cent. That's an achievable rate of change.

Richardson says all the data must be as transparent as possible. In the case of the ASX 200, it's about which boards didn't have any women at all. No more aggregation of data, just the cold hard figures on the page.

And she says that if boards don't start meeting targets of 30 per cent, there will have to be quotas.

"If they can't achieve that as a collective by the end of 2018, we will have to reassess quotas and that's when the government will have to look at it."

There's quite a lot of secrecy about the process of nominating for Australian honours. Don't tell the nominee. Don't reveal that you nominated someone. The actual application process is a lumbering nightmare, which is less difficult if you have a secretary to help you. Most of us don't.

All that must stop. Let's have it all out in the open.

Jenna Price is a Fairfax columnist and an academic at the University of Technology Sydney.



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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Tlazolteotl Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Jun 2017 at 5:13pm
People really really love awards no mattter which mob of self-appointed lollipops hands them out. I'm a queer fellow who would not accept an award if I cured cancer. Accepting an award is prima facie evidence that you are a lollipop, in my book.Big smile

But I suppose they do no harm so keep handing them out.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Passing Through Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Jun 2017 at 7:09pm
They are great. I was shattered when Turnbull pulled the rug out from under Tones knights and Dames, leaving poor old Phil in limbo He has no idea what he is now.Ouch 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote acacia alba Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Jun 2017 at 12:58am
Originally posted by Passing Through Passing Through wrote:

They are great. I was shattered when Turnbull pulled the rug out from under Tones knights and Dames, leaving poor old Phil in limbo He has no idea what he is now.Ouch 

Since you think they are great.  
I now create you Sir Passing Thru ,  Chief Receiver Of The Laxettes,   Knight Of The Burka,  and Champion Of Barristas.
You and Phil can now be doddle about in the same la la land  boat Beer
animals before people.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Dr E Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Jun 2017 at 1:05am
Originally posted by acacia alba acacia alba wrote:

Originally posted by Passing Through Passing Through wrote:

They are great. I was shattered when Turnbull pulled the rug out from under Tones knights and Dames, leaving poor old Phil in limbo He has no idea what he is now.Ouch 

Since you think they are great.  
I now create you Sir Passing Thru ,  Chief Receiver Of The Laxettes,   Knight Of The Burka,  and Champion Of Barristas.
You and Phil can now be doddle about in the same la la land  boat Beer

LOLClap
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