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Changing the trajectory of young women – the important questions we need to ask

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By Misha Kaur, Senior Manager, Reason Group

I believe that we, as a collective, need to work together to change the trajectory of young women and girls as early as possible. While there are barriers and challenges, both at the individual and societal level, the future presents many opportunities and we need to do our best to support women to exploit these.

It’s clear women have what it takes. In the early teenage years, girls are more financially literate than boys and young women have higher rates of attaining bachelor degrees than men. Going forward, women have the upper edge to harness the changing nature of work and jobs the future presents too.

The skills required in this future, are not what I like to call “soft skills”, but human skills. Women innately have these essentials – an ability to foster relationships, communication, an ability to adapt to change, empathy and emotional intelligence.

And technology means that, going forward, we can increasingly build work more effectively around our life, our children and our family, also allowing women to do work that truly inspires them. Yet another example – growth in STEM offers new opportunities for women in industries that have previously been male dominated. The list of opportunities is endless.

But how do we shift mindsets to foster a society that supports women to exploit these opportunities and be recognised and rewarded for what each woman is worth? There are many questions worth considering and finding answers to, in a bid to create real change in this space.

Of course, we should never lose focus of housing services and crisis support – we need to have that safety net – but with a holistic approach there is huge potential in focusing on strategies that result in preventing women from entering the system in the first place as well as better supporting them to leave the system, permanently.

How can we shift mindsets at an individual level and instil financial independence?

How do we inspire a sense of purpose and belief of the value of each woman, and through this, foster the importance of financial literacy and independence?  Perhaps this turns the usual thinking upside down but without the right mindset, financial literacy is irrelevant to people.  But financial literacy is so important so women can stand on our own two feet and understand how to find their own purpose, gain meaningful employment, invest wisely and feel self-supported with their own sense of financial independence.

With strong financial foundations, women can better bounce back from setbacks or relationship separations, building the skills we need to flourish, and in ensuring we are recognised for our value and treated with respect.

First, we must help women understand the value they bring, help them see a future, help them want a future.

How do we build communities as a source of trust and support?

Not all young girls and women have family who can help them with mindset and overcoming barriers – so how can we bring on others to help, such as friends, trusted persons, educational institutions and peers?

I love some of the current strategies of really fostering community-based housing responses – where we bring back our human nature of a sense of community where everyone supports each other. In addition, many of these responses provide a wide a range of support services that focus on a woman as a whole, and helps to address barriers and improve employability. With a community-based response, we can really focus on a long-term goal to help people permanently leave the homelessness system and thrive in life.

How do we create a society and environment that’s conducive for women to exploit the many opportunities of the future of work?

There’s still much work to be done when it comes to shifting the social norms of gender – for example, what ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ work is, or the gender pay gap. How do we shift the mindsets of employers and society in general to actually value and understand the benefits of diversity, rather than simply aiming for the idea of gender equity?

Things have improved in this space, but there are still barriers and gaps for women in the workplace and we need to keep our foot on the pedal.

As our future changes and new types of opportunities arise, how do we instil excitement of all children in the growing STEM fields early, and instil creativity and business mindset for young girls and women?  How do we create an environment where we shift employer attitudes, but also the labour market environment, so employers can give people a go where they otherwise may not have? And how do we make it easier for women to pursue entrepreneurial activity – to innovate or be a small start-up or business in Australia

Australia is known for having a very difficult small business regulatory environment that is hard to navigate, and for at risk people such as those from diverse backgrounds this can be even harder.

We need to think innovatively about broader shifts to policies and the system to help women exploit the opportunities of the future.

How can we work together to understand the real barriers, and leverage shared knowledge to create real, lasting change?

In a tightening fiscal environment, we need community, trusted persons, friends and mentors, education, health and community sectors to collaborate and work together. Allow our historical assumptions to be challenged.

We need to understand the needs and the barriers of women at risk and consider them as whole individuals, not just from the sector we work in. It is a complex world, and one moving part affects the other, so we need to understand where we show up but understand that anything we do has broader effects, and for government, consider broader policies in this way.

We say we want to innovate but are we really ready to do this? It might mean letting go of power and harnessing the wisdom of the crowd, and sharing decision-making. It might also mean letting go of any individual agendas to ensure that together we are greater than the sum of our parts.

This is the reason I invest so much of my time and energy in trying to shift the mindset of government and policymakers – to adopt more human-centred and more holistic practices and better understand the needs of women, the community, employers.

It is often things the things we don’t jump to first that are the real barriers to making progress and we need to leverage knowledge of those around us to help us.

It is why I work with government to in shift their role – from the central decision maker to a broker of partnerships –  and devolve some of the responsibility, ownership, and power of decision-making to others. It is also why I work with government and organisations to shift their mindsets so we can actually succeed in innovating and collaborating.

A positive future where women succeed is possible.  We will see it, when we believe it. With that, I challenge us all, to consider how we shift our own mindsets, to let go and work together, to allow innovation to occur, and to change the trajectory of young girls and women so they can harness the opportunities of the future.

Misha Kaur is a strategist and thought leader who helps governments and large organisations communicate, design and execute meaningful policies and design-led thinking.