Anna Collyer, Chair
The last year was another tough one for all of us, but data shows job losses and financial distress hit women particularly hard during the coronavirus crisis. Female workers were already up against a stubbornly wide pay gap and the lower likelihood of being promoted or reaching senior positions in corporate Australia.
As one of those women privileged enough to hold a senior position, I’ll be honest, I tend to cringe when someone refers to me as a ‘female Chair’. I, like so many other female leaders I am sure, look forward to the day where I’m just referred to as the Chair and my gender is irrelevant. Until then, we must mark and celebrate International Women’s Day and remain committed to driving gender equality for the benefit of all.
This year, the overarching theme of IWD 2022 is Break the Bias. When I saw that, I immediately thought of my mother who was my first role model. She very much broke the mould by pursuing an accounting career in the 1960s and went on to join a partnership which she ultimately led. Yet she remained a gentle, quiet and thoughtful leader, even at a time when women more commonly adopted stereotypical male leadership characteristics in order to progress their careers.
Recognising that we all hold biases, whether they be about gender, leadership style or a myriad of other things, is the first step to creating an inclusive environment where diversity is valued. My mum was fortunate: she worked with male colleagues who saw beyond potential bias, and she had the strength of character to pursue a career she loved while remaining very clear about who she was.
When I dug deeper into this year’s events around the world, I discovered a second theme to IWD and it’s one that is particularly relevant to us and our work at the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC). The theme that’s being recognised by the United Nations Observance of International Women's Day is Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow.
At a macro level, advancing gender equality in the context of the climate crisis is one of the greatest global challenges of the 21st century. Women are increasingly being recognised as more vulnerable to climate change impacts than men. They make up the majority of the world’s poor and are more dependent on the natural resources that climate change threatens the most.
At the same time, women and girls are effective as powerful leaders and change-makers for climate adaptation and mitigation. It’s essential for greater gender equality that we continue to examine the opportunities to empower women and girls to be equal players in decision-making related to climate change. Without gender equality today, a sustainable future, and an equal future remains beyond our reach.
At a micro level, we see proof of it time and time again – women are still underrepresented in the room where “it” happens. The winds of change in many workplaces continue to move at a snail’s pace.
At the AEMC, I am so proud to say, that’s not the case.
When I take my seat in the boardroom as Chair, I feel confident knowing that while women only account for 23% of the traditional energy sector, they make up 54% of the advisory body I preside over.
I give a special nod to women like Kerry Schott AO, and former Managing Director of Energy Australia, Catherine Tanna, who have helped pave the way. I feel so privileged to be supported by so many strong female leaders across key energy bodies – Clare Savage at the Australian Energy Regulator, and Clare’s predecessor, Paula Conboy, Chair of the Clean Energy Council, as well as Rachel Watson and, until recently, Audrey Ziebelman at the Australian Energy Market Operator.
As the energy sector continues to drive the transition to a carbon-neutral economy, inspiring, strengthening, and recruiting women into this space is essential for more innovative, creative and inclusive solutions. Recruiting and involving more women in the work of the energy sector isn’t just about reflecting the customers we serve. It’s also about making sure we capture all the perspectives we’ll need to make this massive transition towards a decarbonised energy system.
It’s an exciting time to join the industry and become part of a workforce that’s helping us all accelerate to a cleaner energy future. For my part, I want to help prepare women to be the innovative entrepreneurs of tomorrow, and encourage them to engage in energy and the transition ahead of us.
As we reflect on this International Women’s Day, I want us to give some thought to a particular rule change request in front of the AEMC – the one adding protection to customers who are victims of family violence.
Tragically, in Australia, one woman is killed every week by a current or former partner, and one in six women have experienced partner violence. Domestic and family violence is so prevalent in Australia that, during their lifetime, most Australians will either experience it directly or know someone who has. Sadly, the rate of domestic violence has increased during the pandemic, with a 13% increase recorded by police in 2020. As well, we acknowledge many incidents go unreported.
Domestic and family violence can include coercive control and emotional, sexual and financial abuse as well as physical violence. Perpetrators can and do use essential services like electricity to abuse their partners so it is vital for the energy sector to be part of the solution.
Techniques perpetrators use to control and harm victims include putting ultility accounts in a victim’s name alone then accumulating large bills or refusing to contribute to the cost of services. Perpetrators can also use essential services to cause other non-financial forms of abuse, such as gaining the victim’s new contact details via utility bills to facilitate ongoing stalking.
Many jurisdictions, regulators, consumer advocates and ombudsmen schemes are increasing their work and advocacy on vulnerability. We have also seen industry groups and retailers taking significant steps to improve assistance.
The AEMC has invited victims and survivors, family violence service providers, community and peak bodies, governments, and businesses seeking to end financial abuse, to be a part of a thorough consultation process. Working together openly and inclusively to progress this rule change will lead to ways in which we can ensure customers feel supported when they most need it.
Our sector is built on innovation and a belief in a better future, and for that reason it is so important we have diversity of thought and skills among our people to lead the way on all the important work we do.
In the words of Lucy Bloom, who addressed AEMC staff and commissioners last week, change that’s uncomfortable shows you’re doing the right thing. Now is a perfect time to be involved in this work and make a meaningful contribution.
If this article has raised any concerns for yourself or someone you know please reach out to:
1800 Respect National Helpline: 1800 737 732
Women's Crisis Line: 1800 811 811
Men's Referral Service: 1300 766 491
Mensline: 1300 789 978
Lifeline (24-hour Crisis Line): 131 114
Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277