Samaritans: Driving better outcomes for women

International Women’s Day Reflection 

By Samaritans Chief Executive Officer, Peter Gardiner

International Women’s Day marks an important occasion to recognise the need for us all to play our part in driving change toward achieving true gender equality in Australia. The theme for this year’s event is ‘be bold for change’. It encourages us all to take positive action toward improving outcomes and opportunities for women in our community.

At Samaritans, we believe in parallel practice- meaning that our expectations for quality and high standards in service delivery are equal to the environment that we provide for our staff. This means taking responsibility for any inequalities that might exist and being responsive and taking action toward reaching gender parity. We believe in celebrating diversity, not just for women, but for all marginalised groups and we demonstrate this in the services we deliver to those most disadvantaged in our community.

Every person at Samaritans can play an important part in helping drive better outcomes for women- from the people we support, to our staff, leadership and to the wider community who support us. In being ‘bold for change’, we can all play a part in making a difference toward a more gender inclusive world.

At last count, female employees at Samaritans accounted for 80% of our workforce.  More than 80% of Samaritans managers are female, including half of our Executive Leadership team. Five out of nine of our board members and three-quarters of our volunteers are female. These numbers demonstrate our commitment and further prove the need to continue to advocate for positive change in advancing opportunities for females in our workplace, as well as defending and enhancing the safety and wellbeing of women in our community.

We have made positive steps to improve outcomes for women as we work towards achieving White Ribbon Accreditation. Our policies, procedures and most importantly, our practice, all demonstrate an expectation that women will be treated equally within the workplace and that we will stand up and speak out when they are not. With the support of Optus, we will soon launch the ‘OI’ app which will provide young people with a platform to identify resources and avenues to get help when they need to escape domestic violence situations. OI will be used as a campaign to drive awareness and conversation amongst young people about abuse.

In the last financial year, Samaritans supported 231 women and children through our refuges- those who were fleeing appalling situations of domestic violence. A vast percentage of the people we support are female, including 58% in our headspace youth service and almost half in our disability programs. Many of these women are at risk of experiencing double discrimination because of disadvantage or circumstance. This is yet another important reason as to why I am committed to realising and working toward closing the gender inequality gap and celebrating diversity across all of Samaritans.

The World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2186. Australia is currently ranked 46th in world rankings, having closed only 72% of the gender inequality gap. 169 years is two lifetimes too many. The report also suggests that Australia continues to experience unfavourable results in terms of the gender gap in income between males and females in the workforce, where we are ranked 60th in the world. This is critical evidence that we need to do more.

I encourage you to ‘be bold for change’ and think about ways that you can help support and advance gender equality within your own circle and the broader community. Perhaps you could sign up to be a White Ribbon advocate, be vocal about challenging bias and inequality or maybe you’ll make comment on social media to bring awareness to this important campaign. Samaritans is absolutely committed to change. Through meaningful collaboration and celebration, we can all play our part toward achieving gender equality and promoting a more inclusive and supportive community.