Michelle Redfern, Founder Advancing Women in Business & Sport

Michelle Redfern has embraced the concept of a portfolio career, and run with it. She deploys her considerable influence, expertise and executive track record in leadership of a number of ventures, including Advancing Women in Business & Sport, research and advisory services on equality, inclusion and gender diversity; social enterprise Culturally Diverse Women (CDW); career development platform A Career that Soars! and professional women’s networking group Women Who Get It.

She is also an experienced Board Director across a range of industries, and an engaging keynote speaker and facilitator. Admired for for her no-nonsense, #GSD (get shit done), practical approach, Michelle has been instrumental in changing organisational cultures to be more inclusive, diverse and high performing, particularly in male dominated industries.

In 2019 Michelle was named City of Melbourne B3000 Female Entrepreneur of the Year, and in 2018 was a recipient of the AFR 100 Women of Influence Award and a finalist in the VicHealth EWN Community Award for her significant contribution to the AFL.

What’s your advice to male allies who want to support gender equality?

My work to create workplace gender equity and equality means helping those in positions of power and influence use those platforms for change. Often, those people in positions of power and influence (in Australia) are Anglo-Celtic men. So whilst I am pleased that the terminology male allies has become more ubiquitous, it can be like a lot of other terminology in that there isn’t often a ‘how to’ guide that goes with it. So (some of) my advice to men and women in positions of power and influence is this:

  1. Know who you are and what you stand for. Get in touch with your own values and identify your own mindsets about women, work and leadership. You will have blind spots, we all do!
  2. Understand that it is your responsibility to educate yourself about the barriers that women and other under-represented people face. It is not their responsibility to educate you.
  3. Listen with the mindset to learn about the lived experience of women. That means taking the time to deliberately engage with women in your workplace to understand the good, the bad and the ugly! If you want some tips, ask me about my 5×5 activity.
  4. We want you to be an active ally please. This means actively involving yourself in initiatives and activities aimed at addressing gender inequality in your workplace. Offer help, do not wait to be asked.
  5. Take action when you observe sexism, harassment or inequality. Be an upstander not a bystander. Respect Victoria have very good resources to help you do this.

You work a lot with medium sized organisations in transport, manufacturing and logistics. What challenges are they typically facing in relation to Gender Equality?

These sectors are symptomatic of Australia’s very gender segregated workforce, in that they are male dominated. These workplaces have been developed and managed by men over a long period of time. This means that many of these workplaces may not have facilities, employee experiences and attitudes that are overtly supportive of women. This makes it difficult to attract and engage women employees.

Talent sourcing and recruitment is expensive, and given many of these industries are experiencing skills and labour shortages, there is an impact to bottom line profitability which can be addressed by being able to attract, engage and advance more women.

I sit on an industry steering committee called Wayfinder which has the express purpose of breaking down gender stereotypes and attracting more women into the Supply Chain sector. The global supply chain is in a fragile position due the exponential demand from global trading and ecommerce. These labour and skills shortages could be alleviated if more women were willing to embark upon a career in the sector. So to answer your question, attracting, engaging and advancing more talented women is one of the key challenges for my clients in these sectors.

What are some of the key levers that Sporting associations can use to advance gender equality in sport?

We’ve seen a number of initiatives to increase female participation in sport, as well as efforts to increase sponsorship and media attention for female athletes. Which is terrific. But whilst the female athlete experience may be improving, the same cannot be said for the experience for women off the field. The women working in the industry, in admin, marketing, sales, coaching and support roles.

Sport leadership is dominated by men. So through my work, advocacy and research, I am strongly encouraging targeted effort to address gender inequality in all areas of employment across the sporting sector, from athletes, to administrators, to CEOs. That targeted effort starts off like this:

  1. Build a strong case for change
  2. Role-model a commitment to diversity, including with business partners (sponsors, suppliers etc)
  3. Set a clear diversity aspiration, backed up by accountability
  4. Challenge traditional views of merit in recruitment and evaluation
  5. Actively sponsor rising women
  6. Read my research!

Tell us about A Career That Soars, your online platform for women’s leadership development.

A Career that Soars! is a global, digital initiative by Susan Colantuono and I. Our mission in forming this community, on an accessible digital platform, is to reach more women, in more places across the globe. We provide women with access to both leadership development (content, courses, mentoring) as well as a strategic network of peers to connect with and learn from.

Our “why” is that we are both committed to gender equality, and whilst both have developed thriving businesses to address gender inequality, we know that there are many women that do not have the support of their employer to undertake corporate leadership development programs. Therefore, these women can get locked out of essential leadership development activity, and as a result, may not reach their full social, economic and personal potential.

ACtS! is a membership platform with four types of membership starting with the Explorer membership which is free. Then, there are paid Circles based on career stage/location of the woman/women.

What should CEOs and Executive Teams prioritise to advance gender equality?

  1. Face your brutal truths about gender inequality in your organisation;
  2. You must understand the numbers. Are your leadership ranks gender balanced? If not why not?
  3. You must understand the lived experience of the women who work in your organisation. Ask them!
  4. Make a visible and vocal commitment to gender equality;
  5. Be transparent with your organisation about the current experience for women in your organisation and why it needs to change.
  6. Hold your teams accountable to deliver against strategies and targets to address gender inequality.

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