Challenging the Leadership Gap: Donna Stolzenberg

This Victorian Australian of The Year says more female voices are needed at the decision-making table for real change to happen.

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Donna Stolzenberg
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This year, the theme of International Women’s day is Choose to Challenge. The theme encourages all of us to challenge the leadership gap, gender bias, inequality in the world, and in our own corner of this world. It encourages questioning the societal inequities that exist in all places, from the poor countries to the developed world. 

A challenged world is an alert world and an ever-changing world. Individually, we are all responsible for our own thoughts and actions. Collectively those actions bring powerful and positive change.

We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements. 

Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world where women are offered and indeed expected equally in leadership roles. 

Women in leadership roles should never be a token gesture. Women should always be seen where leadership roles are in place and where management roles are at the table. 

We must challenge institutional issues like biased hiring practices, oppressive culture, and rigid rules for working hours that are not conducive to a fair work culture for women who are still expected to be the carers and home makers. 

Our societal workday norms were built on an archaic outdated model where women were mostly caregivers and homemakers. It was built using a model where women were not included in the workforce. It was built for men, who almost always had little input into the role of caring for children or running a home. That was a woman’s job
and in many cases it still is. 

This model is outdated and continues to oppress women in the workplace, cutting them out from leadership and management roles. 

All our leading institutions were built by men and for men. As we celebrate International Women’s Day we must choose to challenge the leadership gap and continue to strive for gender parity.  We must listen to the stories of those women who have blazed the trails before us. Those who fought for their place and for recognition of their contribution in a workforce built for men.  

And as we celebrate these women and the new and recent achievements of our tremendous role models and leaders who exist today it is crucial that we bring with us the women left behind.  The forgotten women and the discarded women. Everyone deserves their seat at the table. Every year more and more women lose their rightful seat at the table. 

We must challenge the discarding of women when society dictates they are past their use by date. Too old for marriage, too barren for child baring and too frail for work. These are the women deemed no longer useful who are discarded to the streets and left to mercy of a system that has no place for them. 

In this country, there are thousands of women missing from the table.

We must acknowledge them and give them their rightful seat back.  At National Homeless Collective we choose to challenge the leadership gap. We urge you to make a commitment to join us. 

This keynote speech was made by Donna Stolzenberg at our IWD Challenging the Leadership event in Melbourne.

Donna is a CEO and thought leader. In 2014, she had the simple idea of handing out 50 donated sleeping bags to homeless people to help them keep warm — that idea has evolved into a nationwide charity. A proud indigenous woman and member of the Ngatjumay and Mirning people, in 2021 she was awarded the Victorian Australian of the Year award.

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