Next Monday is International Women's Day and this year's theme, Choose to Challenge, is timely.
We've talked about it ad infinitum. About the need to end bias, close the gender pay gap and stop bullying and harassment in the workplace. But we are still more talk than walk.
There continues to be a conscious and unconscious bias against women and progress has been too slow. We constantly see in leadership positions that the gender balance is woefully unbalanced. We are always talking about the gender pay gap – it has been sitting at 9.5 per cent for at least the past four years – but nothing changes.
Women are often disproportionately affected by downturns in the labour market and this is highlighted by the fact that 10,000 out of the 11,000 people who lost jobs because of Covid last year were women.
Shovel-ready projects have been touted as a panacea to unemployment but those projects are in male-dominated industries and offer little comfort to those 10,000 women.
Women do more unpaid work than men, caring for children and the elderly, and volunteering for community groups and charities. They are more likely to work in lower-paid jobs, all of which makes them more susceptible to economic hardship.
In public and private sectors, women are grossly under-represented in leadership roles. While women often lead fashion, food and health businesses, why are we taken aback to see them lead in fields such as science, engineering and construction?
These typical stereotypes have fortunately begun to change as education encourages more gender-neutral courses enabling girls to do metalwork and woodwork and boys to take up home economics and fashion design.
The Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) sector is being promoted to children and girls are stepping up and engaging.
In fact, some of our most brilliant scientific minds are women.
We need to see more of our exceptional women in business and active in leadership.
Young women and girls should see these strong and successful female role models and the potential path of great achievement in front of them.
One of the most insidious things that must be overhauled is the continued imbalance of power in the workplace and how that leads to unwanted approaches and inappropriate behaviour.
You don't need to look too far back in the headlines to see high-profile organisations caught out badly in their culture of disrespecting women.
One of the most recent examples of this is a tertiary institution's unhealthy culture of men acting inappropriately.
Last year I was contacted by several women from that organisation who told me of their unpalatable workplace experiences. The group expanded to around 20 women and men who came to my home every Sunday for three months looking for clarity on an impactful way to address this. Individually, they were reluctant to speak out and potentially commit "career suicide".
But many of them, so overwhelmed by the ongoing harassment, sought support to take action. The cost to me was an emotional toll and a five-figure legal bill to ensure the process was undertaken properly and overseen by the highest level of accountability in that organisation.
No more sweeping it under the carpet. As a result of the courage of a handful of people, more than 400 people came forward to take part in the review carried out by a Queen's Counsel.
Slowly but surely, individuals who have had complaints laid against them are leaving that institution.
But ultimately it is leaders that need to be held to account. There has to be zero tolerance for this sort of behaviour at all levels of the organisation.
If this scenario resonates with you and you want to take action, firstly gain support from someone close to you. Be confident that if it's happened to you, it's happened to others.
And remember only go as far you're emotionally able – others will pick up the baton.
Gender equality can be articulated in strategy documents but many organisations' cultures are heavily entrenched in unconscious bias with no awareness or commitment to change.
We all need to have the courage to call out bad behaviour and the people responsible for arrogant recidivist offending must be held to account. Nothing changes unless individuals are prepared to act, despite threats to their careers.
It takes courage and the personal cost can be huge. But it must be done, if we are to change the status quo and put an end to this willful disregard in the workplace.
Don't be afraid to speak out. Your voice is important. Choose to challenge and choose to take action.
One person can make a difference for thousands.
• Sarah Trotman, ONZM, is a business leader and advocate for women.