The very fabulous Dr Catherine Ball said ‘You have to see it, to be it‘ at a business lunch, and oh my gosh, it resonated with me.

With the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) this week announcing that 29.7% of all ASX200 board roles are now filled by women – very close to the 30% target set by the AICD in 2015 – there has been strong progress made in appointing women to boards.

Without this visibility, it is very hard for young women entering the workforce, or more established women in the workforce, to see it is possible to fill these strategic and governance roles.

Without this visibility, it is difficult to find women to mentor you, to find people with a similar experience to yours, a similar worldview and a similar story.

This gender diversity is one way to ensure better governance and representation – of the workforce, of the customer, of the broader population.

You have to see it, to be it.

There are countless studies that demonstrate this diversity is beneficial for companies. Diverse boards make better decisions. A.G. Lafley, who has served on a number of boards including Procter & Gamble, General Electric, and Legendary Entertainment, says women add an important perspective: “I believe the advantages of diversity and, more broadly, inclusion, are relatively well-known and for some of us confirmed by experience. More creativity, more innovation, more inquiry, more and broader experiences to draw on, better problem-solving, greater ability and willingness to suspend judgment and work together to find a better ‘third way.’ I have seen this not only on large public corporate boards, but also in small private startups and not-for-profits.”

In America, for example, almost all Fortune 500 companies now have one woman on the board, and an increasing number have two or more. This representation is an increase on previous years, but the story doesn’t end there.

There are three levels of board progression for women – getting on to the board, reaching the critical mass tipping point within the boardroom where they aren’t the ‘token’ woman and their voice is valued, and finally, increasing influence in board leadership positions like committee leadership and chair roles.

You have to see it, to be it.

The awkward piece in this whole proposition is, of course, that power is a zero-sum game. For women to gain power through board roles, it is necessary to replace a man in those roles.

Equality isn’t achieved magically – there has to be a transfer from the majority to the minority to facilitate equality. This is in everything from gender representation on boards to pay to emotional labour.

You have to see it, to be it.

As a footnote, this positioning also works when we think about the toxic masculinity frequently displayed in society at the moment – young men see this behaviour and mimic it, they see this behaviour and accept it as the status quo and perpetuate it, they see this behaviour and adopt it. 

Let’s build the things we want to see to make our workplaces, and our society, a place we want to be.