Just like a tiny seed blossoms into a mighty tree, we all have the power within us to make an impact. Every little thing each one of us does matters. Sometimes the impact is far away, and other times the impact can increase over time.

On a Thursday evening, like-minded people within the Lean In Melbourne community gathered to discuss why generational inequality exists in the first place and how we all can make systemic changes in the workplace and beyond.

Moderated by Sonali Shah, Founder of Melbourne Lean In, the participating panelists were:

  • Leah Ruppanner, Associate Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of The Policy Lab at the University of Melbourne
  • Fabian Dattner, CEO  of Dattner Group & Homeward Bound.

After an inspiring start with the speaker’s introduction, Sonali opened up the panel discussion by getting our panelists’ thoughts and some of the conversations that should be taking place around what gender equality should look like; and what impact we can all make to progressively bring about change.


How we can be coordinated in creating a sisterhood and be strategic about creating influence for impactful change?

Leah, whose research investigates gender and its intersection to inequalities, technologies and policies, pointed out that there is a critical role for men to play. She encourages men to share their power of influence and open up the space for women to step in. “For women to ascend, some people are going to have to step out”, she said.

Leah also encourages us to celebrate that there is a sisterhood today, as the process has taken a long time. She elaborated how she puts this into practice in her daily work – ensuring that she is not benchmarking the work of others based on herself because she believes that everyone has a different experience. “Thank you”, she said, as she expressed her gratitude towards her coworkers for the diverse experience and skill sets that they bring to the table.

As a student of revolution, Fabian emphasised the importance of self-awareness in affecting change, including knowing oneself fundamentally along with one’s strengths and triggers.
Anchoring on her experience working with women from all walks of life, Fabian suggested women to be mindful of the stories that they tell themselves. Stemming from thousands of years of conditioning that women are not strong nor powerful enough, women inadvertently have a lot of self-doubt and internal critics. She empowered women, suggesting that women are an important asset towards sustainability. “We are stronger together”, she said.

“Don’t underestimate, for a moment, your voice.”
– Fabian Dattner


How do we initiate a change through a bottom-up approach?

Some of the the practical advice given by our panelists included:

  • Articulate your intention and purpose clearly and concisely
  • Find like-minded individuals to evolve the idea and focus on influencing the domain where we have control
  • Find people with diverse skills and preferably different from ours to test and experiment the idea
  • Have the courage to follow through with senior leaders to have an impact

“The power lies in the hand of the people”, said Fabian, further iterating the importance of creating change with where we are, with what we have.


How can we shift the conversation to include societal perceptions of what role man should play and how that affects gender equality in our homes, social settings but also in hiring?

Leah pointed out that the norms are changing. While we are not there yet, we are moving towards it and it is worth celebrating. Leah offered great insights when she shared that traditional norms are bad for men too as they face the pressure of breadwinning and men do want to step into caregiving roles. “They want it but they don’t act it”, she added.

This suggests an institutional problem, stemming from the fear that men face with regards to their career. Leah stated that COVID was a “catalyst moment” as we observed men slowly stepping into caregiving roles. “It will be problematic if flexible work is only adopted by females”, she added, further elaborating on the need for a system that accommodates both men and women.

Fabian responded to this question by affirming that it all comes from the inner work that needs to be done. “Change the perception in your own head,” she continued. Her suggestion was for women to listen to other women around them, instead of competing with other women. She also brought up that women need to pay attention to what is happening to the planet, putting a spin on how we need more women leaders in future, further pointing to the success of countries led by women during COVID-19. She concluded her answer by advising women to seek for the help and resources required for them to amplify their voice and ideas, and to take one small step at a time.

Sonali concluded the panel and opened up the forum for the members to ask questions.

One of the questions raised was, “What can women from the bottom do when their position in an organization is vulnerable. How can one initiate change without risking one’s job?”.

Using her many years of research experience, Leah validated that it is sometimes challenging for young people to make systemic change when we are living in an economy where jobs are disposable and hard to get. Instead, she encouraged women to advocate for change in situations outside their organisations when there is less fear and risk. She added that women who are in senior leadership positions should always encourage younger women to bring their issues to them.

“In figuring your crew, you are also figuring out what type of leader you want to be in the future.”
– Leah Ruppanner

A point made by Fabian was that the one way to solve a complex problem is to face it. She mentioned that it is important to find advocates and partner with them, without getting restricted by the age difference. Leah chimed in, expressing the importance for women to harness the insight that they have gained through time and exercise the power when they reach the top.

Sonali lent some insight to this subject by sharing case studies from AMP and Bumble, where women took the courageous steps to call out actions that were not appropriate.


The overarching message during this panel was that when it comes to creating systemic change, especially in driving gender equality, there are actions that one can take at an individual level, and that there are also actions that need to be taken collectively.

We want to thank our panelists for this insightful discussion and look forward to learning how to make a difference each time!

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