Opinion //

Male champions of corporate feminism

Anna Hush and Subeta Vimalarajah don’t think Michael Spence is a champion of anything

Anna Hush and Subeta Vimalarajah don't think Michael Spence is a champion of anything

You would think the Male Champions of Change (MCC) website is some sort of parody, akin to rentaminority.com (check it out, it’s good value). Far from that, it was actually developed by Elizabeth Broderick, the former Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

When you enter the website, the lurid USyd orange confronts you (co-incidence?) as the sharp, deafening sound of corporate “feminism” silences your every radical inclination. It’s the online equivalent of walking into a Goldman Sachs lobby.

The list of “champions” could easily be mistaken for the Australian High Court bench of 1920. Pictured are the gatekeepers of capitalism – from the Group Executive of Rio Tinto, to the CEO of ANZ – and they are being lauded for their decision to “accelerate” their impact to create a “gender equal world.”

Amongst these men, there are undoubtedly some who deserve praise, like the 2016 Australian of the Year, David Morrison. As former Chief of the Army, Morrison provoked rapid cultural change through a firm, no tolerance approach to sexism. Perversely, Broderick – who worked closely with Morrison in implementing said reform – was beaten to the award by him, despite also being a national finalist.

In the best case, MCCs are lauded above the women who enable and craft their platform. In the worst case, they get a pat on the back, but for having done nothing at all.

First in that category goes to our very own Vice Chancellor, Dr. Michael Spence.

Even if we wanted to pay respect to Spence’s contributions as a MCC, we literally could not find them. On his profile there is a list of his academic achievements, but under “resources”, where other “champions” have information about their work, Spence’s page just says “coming soon”.

In all fairness, it would be an insult to say that Spence has done nothing for gender inequality. In fact, he has done a lot to entrench it.

For years, Spence has been a vocal advocate for fee deregulation. While he claimed in an interview to the ABC that the policy change would “improve equity and access”, we know from countries like the United States, that fee hikes have the opposite effect.

No doubt disgruntled by the failure of deregulation to pass, Spence has led the push to radically restructure the University of Sydney. The proposal to slash the number of degrees from 122 to 20 generic bachelor programs would mean that students are forced to undertake specialised graduate and postgraduate study to compete in the job market.

Like deregulation, this creates more debt and more long-term financial stress for students, and women shoulder this burden disproportionately. Over their lifetime, women with bachelor degrees earn only 58 per cent of what their male counterparts do, and often take unpaid leave to care for children, meaning HECS debts take far longer to repay.

Whether this leads to women opting out of university study altogether, or spending decades paying off mammoth debts, it seems ridiculous to laud Spence for championing the cause of gender equality when the restructure only deepens the economic burdens placed on the most disadvantaged women.

If Spence wants to adopt a “disruptive approach”, as the website claims MCCs strive to, he would oppose any moves to make university less accessible to women students.

That said, the claim that any of the MCCs take a truly “disruptive approach” to gender equity is specious. “Feminism” that lauds male CEOs for moving their white, wealthy, female counterparts up in the ranks still enables the disenfranchisement of the poorest women.

MCC Greg Lilleyman for example, is the Managing Director of Rio Tinto’s mining
operations in the Pilbara region. Mining activity in Western Australia is a primary motivating factor for the proposed closure of Aboriginal communities, which will displace thousands of Indigenous women from their homelands and force them into desolate fringe camps.

Male Champions of Change rewards a group of unspeakably wealthy white men for merely accommodating their wealthy, white female counterparts. CEOs like Spence, who takes home an annual pay packet of $1.3 million, are not the solution to the problem. They are the problem.