International Women's Day (IWD) marks the global celebration of women’s achievements, raises awareness about women’s rights, and lobbies for gender and racial parity. This year’s (IWD) theme, ‘Break the bias’, is about taking action to forge women’s equality. Whether deliberate or unconscious, the bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead.

Melbourne is home to the world’s brightest minds who day to day inspire, innovate and deliver big impact. Melbourne Convention Bureau (MCB) is privileged to have the opportunity to work with these women who are passionate about the work they do and dedicate time to advancing in their field. Ahead of this year’s IWD, we asked female leaders in the business events space in Melbourne on what breaking the bias means for them.

Julia Swanson - CEO, Melbourne Convention Bureau

I am proud to say last year MCB welcomed our first female Chair in over a decade and achieved 50/50 gender balance across the MCB Board. This achievement should be celebrated, yet we are aware that this achievement is fragile across many workplaces. Addressing the issue of continued under-representation of women in key leadership roles has always been a longer-term and more complex challenge.

Australia is one of only three countries in the world to ‘break the glass ceiling’ and exceed 30 per cent of women on top-listed company boards without legislated quotas. The board plays a key role in setting the tone for inclusion within an organisation, and through their own modelling of diversity can play an influential role in inspiring and supporting women into management.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp, City of Melbourne

All of us have unconscious bias which skews our vision. Once we recognise that, we can put processes in place that give us a diversity of views that overcome bias. One of the ways we do that at the City of Melbourne is create diverse interview panels that are not made up of one gender, or one age bracket. Breaking the bias is what helps us question and unpack the bigger issues, and ensure we are creating a welcoming environment that all our staff feel safe in.

Anne Jamieson, Chief Executive Officer, Saxton Speakers Bureau

International Woman’s Day is an incredibly busy time for our business as the community celebrates and champions women and girls while having crucial conversations around building a more gender-equal world.

While raising awareness through landmark events is important it is critical that momentum continues throughout the year and we make diversity and inclusion a key strategic focus across all businesses.

Melissa Sweetland - Chief Commercial Officer, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC)

As a professional woman born overseas, a farmer’s wife and the mother of two teenage girls international women’s day has never been more important to me. But I am not after seats at the table, I want voices at the table.  And I want the diverse voices to be not just listened to but to be understood.  I want people to appreciate life from many aspects – and I too want to learn from those with diverse insights

“Break the bias” reminds us all of the complexity and challenge in driving change and how incredible those that have gone before us have been to be able to drive change.  It’s really clever. Then there is unconscious bias – how can we change what we don’t even realise exists?  It is only through providing psychological safety that we ensure voices can be heard and from there we can each begin our journey to understand.

At MCEC we are so fortunate to have an exceptional, yet humble leader in Peter King.  I doubt there is a person in the organisation who would feel uncomfortable reaching out to him. Here at MCEC, diverse views are valued, change is embraced, and Peter King gently encourages respectful debate.  It is only through such a culture that we can start to learn of the unconscious bias impacting our team and take steps forward.   

Kate Smith, Managing Director, Waldron Smith Management

As leaders in our organisations and industry, we have the opportunity to change the landscape moving forward and ‘break the bias’ of any nature.

Undoubtedly inclusivity and diversity make for much more insightful, informed dialogue, and well-rounded outcomes as a result.

We have an opportunity, and in many ways responsibility, to challenge long held views or traditions and consider how much richer the outcomes could be when viewed through the lenses of inclusivity and diversity – whether it be in our own daily interactions, the teams we create in our workplace or the conference programs we design with our clients.  It’s a mindset we have to adopt in our day to day engagement if we are to bring about positive change.

Abi Napper, Head of Sales and Business Development, Showtime Event Group

Wherever we travel we all encounter partisanship, and those of us who work in international events meet a wide and interesting range of people. I always endeavour to understand as many opinions as possible but remember never to give credence to those which are destructive. If you are as lucky as I am to work with a diverse group of strong and creative people, you’ll find satisfaction in the journey together. If you can’t break the bias, just walk around it.

Melbourne Convention Bureau supports a world that diverse, equitable and inclusive. Collectively we can all break the bias.