This feature is dedicated to our #NoChangeNoFuture initiative. From the Women's March, to Australia voting yes to same sex marriage, and the #MeToo movement, 2017 taught us to look beyond ourselves and come together as a collective of powerful women who are writing our own history. Join us as we cancel setting one-dimensional personal resolutions this January and commit to being the change we want to see. Because without change, there is no future.
Shivani Gopal is a remarkable woman. The Indian-Fijian entrepreneur from Sydney is leading the charge on women's equality with her aptly named company, The Remarkable Woman, and today, on International Women's Day, she pulled some of Australia's most inspiring females onstage for a forum on all things progress.
To celebrate IWD — and all the f*cking awesome females around the world — we sat down with Shivani to find out exactly how she's #pressingforprogress in a #MeToo- and #TimesUp-driven world.
POPSUGAR Australia: Tell me about The Remarkable Woman and how it started.
Shivani Gopal: The Remarkable Woman is an empowerment platform and we exist to empower women personally, professionally and financially. I say those three pillars really consciously because I feel, with my business experience and my finance experience, if we can empower women personally it will translate to professional success, and she'll be empowered professionally. If we can empower her professionally, it will translate to a financial benefit. And more importantly, if we can empower her financially of course what you have is "the girl effect," which means that not only does she benefit, but her family benefits, the community benefits, and Australia's entire economy benefits. It's a big interest [for everyone] to empower women.
"We exist to empower women personally, professionally and financially."
PS: How did you become involved in this kind of work? Was it a passion project that has developed into something more, or was it always on the cards?
SG: I guess my life journey sort of brought me to this point. To me, it's a very personal thing. I didn't really wake up one day and go, "I'm going to create this platform for women."
I had an early-adult arranged marriage to my high school boyfriend. It certainly wasn't forced — of course, I knew him and loved him at the time, but I didn't have a choice in when I married him. It was very much arranged in that sense. In fighting for my freedom four years after and just really wanting my own equality, the right to make my own life, the only thing that got me through was the fact that I'm a financial planner by trade. The one thing that got me through was the fact that I was financially independent and I could survive — financially.
"You don't get divorced in Indian culture. It was a huge taboo and I genuinely did think I was going to lose everyone that I cared about by choosing me."
I was telling a girlfriend this when I was crying on the bus to her one day. I was saying, "Look, I'm so unhappy. I feel like I'm gonna lose my family, my community," because you don't get divorced in Indian culture. It was a huge taboo and I genuinely did think I was going to lose everyone that I cared about by choosing me. She naively added, "And you're going to have no money and you're going to be left financially destitute." And I went, "What? That's not one of my problems." [Laughs] Like, can we speak to the real issues here?
We can laugh at it now, but you and I both know that's not the case for so many women out there. If you don't have financial freedom you don't get to make your own choices. And having choices, the ability to make these choices is empowering. So, I built The Remarkable Woman so that every woman out there doesn't have to play small. She can access the resources. What we do is we give women on-demand access to mentors when they need them. We give women access to short courses, so they can develop their core skills or their peripheral skills, and eventually get better at their careers, at their hobbies, at their projects — but most importantly so they can demand more money because they feel confident enough to do so.
"I built The Remarkable Woman so that every woman out there doesn't have to play small."
I built it because I felt that there was a little problem that needed to be solved. Not just a problem around empowering women and closing the gender pay gap, which is a huge problem nationally and globally, but also that there is no outlet for professional women like you and I. Previously there has been no outlet where we can go, "You know what? I really think I need to improve my network skills, and probably my Excel skills, and probably a couple of other things here and there," and then just go and get that in one platform and get some mentoring alongside. There hasn't been that ability. It was important to me to create something that truly enriched women's lives.
PS: I want to talk to you about the idea of a meritocracy in Australia and how it actually perpetuates the wage gap between men and women. At first thought, people might assume a meritocracy would assist with gender equality — is that not the case?
SG: Meritocracy by its very definition suggests that people are hired based on their merit. Not because of their gender, not because of their weight, not because of their culture. They're hired on merit, they're hired on their skills, their education and their overall qualifications. But meritocracy is actually goes against gender equality — not consciously, but unconsciously.
"There's a huge bamboo ceiling on top of the glass ceiling."
The reason I say that is because if we truly were a meritocracy in Australia, if companies truly were a meritocracy then organically we would have a diverse mix of people at the top. We would have men and women at the top. We would have older people and younger people at the top. And we would have women from diverse cultural backgrounds there as well, but we don't. There's a huge bamboo ceiling on top of the glass ceiling. We have the standard middle-aged white men that are the absolute majority of leadership roles and business owners today.
We clearly don't have a meritocracy, and saying that we do works against us because suddenly we're blinding ourselves from what's actually happening. We're blinding ourselves from the unconscious biases that go around by saying, "We're gonna hire someone based on their aptitude." But the thing is that not everyone has equal access to promotions and networking.
So let's just say in a business there are three roles going. Of course, everyone there has the ability to fight for it, but at the same time does everyone have equal ability to network with the decision makers? Does everyone have equal ability to be heard? How often did everyone have that ability to attend those networking social events, or take up additional projects? That's where meritocracy works against you.
PS: OK, that's interesting. So we flippantly say, "Oh, we're in a meritocracy," but actually it's not happening. And by perpetuating that claim, we're doing ourselves a disservice?
SG: Yes. That is exactly right. To say that we believe in meritocracy means to ignore the fact that the unconscious bias actually exists and works against you.
PS: What are the biggest issues Australian women face in business and, more broadly, socially?
SG: The two big issues we've got in Australia: one is the notion of meritocracy without acknowledging the unconscious bias that exists in the decision-making process. The second big thing we've called time's up on in Australia is the gender pay gap. It's been going on for far too long and it will continue to go on for over 100 years unless we really collectively do something about it.
PS: Do you see a way to close the gap?
SG: Through absolute transparency. If companies were transparent around what they're paying men versus women in similar roles, you wouldn't be able to hide from the fact. Numbers don't lie.
There's this government institution called WGEA, it stands for Workplace Gender Equality Agency — and there are a number of companies that report into the Workplace Gender Equality Agency and actually track these numbers. According to the numbers they're tracking, we're still sitting at about 16-17 percent gender pay gap — even though we've got companies that are measuring the pay gap and extending this data. So we need companies to embrace it from the top down and have this entire culture shift like, "We will truly spend time finding out the right amount of funds to pay someone, regardless of gender."
"If companies were transparent around what they're paying men versus women in similar roles, you wouldn't be able to hide from the fact. Numbers don't lie."
The only way you can do that [without unconscious bias coming into it] is to have a way to give people salaries via a checklist, where you don't have the person's name and gender on the paper. And that way you're able to remove bias and you're able to remove what we call the male breadwinner bias, which is just an innate sense that people tend to pay men more because they think they've got to provide.
PS: Salaries have traditionally been relatively private. Do you think society is shifting from that secrecy?
SG: Yeah, society is changing and we are now very open about how much people make. I mean, you can pretty much Google how much anyone makes nowadays. I think that transparency will lead to higher performance across all industries — so it would be a really good thing to make it happen.