Celebrating International Women's Day with Franca Facci

"This International Women’s Day presents an important moment in time to call out gender-based discrimination and inequality."

"I’ll never know how many jobs I missed out on, opportunities I lost, or promotions I was overlooked for, due to gender discrimination. My instinct tells me this happened many times in my life.

What I know for sure, after working and volunteering in the health and social services sector for over 35 years, is that gender-based bias, in all its guises, still exists.

One of my most enduring memories of gender bias occurred many years ago, when I was participating in round table discussion, in a meeting dominated by men. I raised an idea, which was a constructive way forward, only to have my idea completely ignored. However, a male colleague raised the same idea later in the meeting, he was not only heard but celebrated. My female colleagues and I coined a phrase and labelled it the ’Redondo’ factor. Using this made-up secret word, we had a way of calling out workplace gender inequality and uniting together.

So many assumptions about how ‘suitable’, ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘indifferent’ you may be, are made based on gender. It's related to perceived 'behaviour', compliance, social norms and moderated attitude. Young women like Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins are confronting these assumptions in a very brave and high-profile manner. Their courage and actions put a spotlight on important issues we need to address collectively as a community.

Firstly, we need to examine our own biases – we all have them.

With family and friends, we need to challenge and question comments or jokes and ‘throw away’ lines, that form part of our vernacular but insidiously, then become part of our social norm.

In the workplace, we need to interrogate our policies, procedures and practices which harbour institutional biases and structural unfairness. One prominent example, that I saw repeated many times over, was the reluctance to employ a pregnant woman, when she was clearly the best candidate.

Our cultural institutions need to do the same. Many women are locked out of decision making and influence, due to tradition and historic practices. However, with bravery and resolve, the inclusion of women and people from culturally diverse backgrounds, can allow institutions to become more relevant to contemporary society. This is social justice.

We also need to be pro-active. I am conscious of the support I have received from excellent role models and informal mentors who believed in my abilities and talents. We need to look around ourselves to see if we can help ‘lift’ a talented woman to a higher role. I had a major career change because a female colleague, working in an unrelated field, noticed my abilities and helped me apply for a position in health service planning. I got the job and because of that support and then moved into a series of other senior positions.

I recall 1975, when it was deemed International Women’s Year by the United Nations, and our school Principal, Miss Dorothy Shackley (Smith's Hill High School) made sure we understood and celebrated the importance of the event. Every year that followed, her constant refrain to the student community was to ‘reach for the stars’. Being a girl in those days afforded you a smaller world to explore. However, endowed with Miss Shackley’s enduring belief that ‘girls could do anything’, I felt ready to take on entrenched gender discrimination.

These are the experiences, the values and ideals that drive me in my role as Chair of the CatholicCare Advisory Council. Discussions at the Advisory Council and within our Wollongong Diocese help us to consolidate and re-affirm our shared vision and sustain the mission and work of CatholicCare.

This International Women’s Day presents an important moment in time to call out gender-based discrimination and inequality. It is a day of reflection to help us examine our thoughts, actions, assumptions and processes that stand in the way of helping everyone in our society to flourish. Because in diversity, there is strength, agility, innovation, inclusiveness.

All factors that help a community to truly thrive."

Franca Facci
Chair, CatholicCare Advisory Council