Successful Bendigo women share their experiences of gender equity in the workplace

MOVING FORWARD: Barrister and solicitor Jennifer Digby says things have improved for women practising law. Picture: NONI HYETT

MOVING FORWARD: Barrister and solicitor Jennifer Digby says things have improved for women practising law. Picture: NONI HYETT

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Women still come up against challenges when it comes to achieving equity of the genders in the workplace, successful local women say, but there is cause for optimism.

One significant issue identified is that of raising children, a responsibility that still generally falls more heavily on women than men.

“Just because I chose to have children – it was a choice, I agree – but for some reason, it’s been seen as something that could hold me back,” Yvonne Wrigglesworth, City of Greater Bendigo councillor and Bendigo Health strategy, planning and governance director, said.

Cr Wrigglesworth said she and her husband shared family responsibilities, but the expectation had been that her husband would be available for work regardless of children, whereas that was different for women.

Barrister, solicitor and former university English tutor Jennifer Digby said she had carved out a career for herself because she had not been content with the expectation that women stay at home.

WORK TO DO: Linda Beilharz says systemic inequalities still need to be addressed. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

WORK TO DO: Linda Beilharz says systemic inequalities still need to be addressed. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

Linda Beilharz, chairwoman of two organisations in the region and a former chief executive, said she did not step into more senior roles until her children reached high school, but believed she would have done so earlier had she been male.

“These are embedded, systemic inequalities that need to be challenged,” Ms Beilharz said.

Ms Beilharz is also a senior Bendigo Flying Club instructor and adventurer, and has found in these areas she does not experience overt discrimination, but has come up against societal expectations about the kinds of activities men did and those women did.

She said these more subtle attitudes affected how women saw themselves and what they envisaged they could be.

Ms Beilharz said her strongest experience of sexism came working in a voluntary role, where she found men were uncomfortable with a woman being in a decision-making position and found it difficult to include her in discussions.

A WAY TO GO: City of Greater Bendigo councillor and director at Bendigo Health, Yvonne Wrigglesworth.

A WAY TO GO: City of Greater Bendigo councillor and director at Bendigo Health, Yvonne Wrigglesworth.

Cr Wrigglesworth said health was an industry populated mostly by women, but it was still generally men who held positions of power.

For Ms Digby there has not been any experience of gender-based discrimination in law, but she says there are concerns that women do not receive the same fees as their male counterparts.

But she is optimistic about the future for women in law, citing several women in leading positions including Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, Diana Bryant, and Law Council of Australia president Fiona McLeod.

Ms Digby said gender equity in law had improved, and a number of local female lawyers maintained successful careers with families.

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