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7 January 2021updated 08 Sep 2021 7:20am

Why my generation will fight for gender justice at work

Representation at the top is meaningless if the lowest-paid women are ignored. 

By Larissa Kennedy

My generation will expect workplaces to go beyond diversity; we expect gender justice and we will fight for it. As students, we are constantly being told that so many of the roles we will take on in the future don’t yet exist. So, we ask the question: why can’t gender roles change at the same pace?

As we study, graduate, search for and find jobs, it will be all the more commonplace to demand gender justice at work, with a rejection of empty platitudes that merely attempt to mask sexist practices.

There is, and will continue to be, increasing pressure to implement systemic changes that redress the historical exploitation and erasure of women and non-binary people.

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We know that tinkering around the edges of change will never serve the most marginalised communities, and this surface-level appeasement does not interest us. A company whose viability depends on paying poverty wages to women of colour in the global South cannot quell us with an advertisement showcasing women “looking empowered”. That is not gender justice. Nor is the existence of a lone woman on a board; representation at the top is meaningless if the lowest-paid women in an organisation are ignored.

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This generation has grown up seeing the power of collective organising, whether on the Women’s March or marching for Black Lives Matter. We know that change is well within our reach. We will not be absorbed by the neoliberal individualism to which older generations have been conditioned, nor by its delayed and diluted advancement. We know that our collective power can, has, and will continue to transform the world.

Some would say that our education system is supposed to prepare us for the world of work, but what we are learning now will drive us to be the workplace trade union reps of the future. We have taken our organising might from our school strikes for climate to our university rent strikes and we, too, will organise in our workplaces.

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Students fighting for equitable access to Stem courses today will be those fighting for gender justice in the workplace tomorrow, and all of this will take on an intersectional lens. In forcing workplaces to go beyond empty platitudes, we will push companies to publish disaggregated data on the pay gap, not only looking at gender divides but highlighting how this impacts women and non-binary folks at the margins – those of colour, those who are disabled and those who are LGBTQ+.

We will pick up the baton of the fight against sexual harassment in the workplace, the campaign against anti-black dress-code policies with hair requirements steeped in misogynoir, and more. Where our aims cannot be realised within the workplaces available to us, we will create our own.

Living through the era of the Black Lives Matter movement, the climate justice movement and more, we are not only students of our courses, we are taking a crash course in organising for justice and liberation. These values will follow us to any job or workplace; wherever life takes us.

Larissa Kennedy is president of the National Union of Students.