Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) Acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Narrm, the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present, and to Elders of all First Nations communities that visit MCEC.


Getting Real About Progress with Mary Lawson on International Women's Day

By Bree Pagliuso|

International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate women's achievements and push for gender equality. This year's UN theme 'Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress, urges us to break barriers so that women and girls everywhere can thrive economically. At MCEC, we believe in tangible progress backed by unwavering commitment. Our workplace policies actively support our employees' diverse needs and aspirations.

Flexibility isn't a buzzword for us; it's our guiding principle. Whether adjusting work hours, remote work options, or compressed schedules for better work-life balance, we empower our employees to take charge of their time and energy. 

But we don't stop there.

We recognise the unique challenges faced by women, particularly in shouldering the burdens of caregiving. That's why we go the extra mile, providing childcare and healthcare discounts to lighten the load. Our parental leave policy offers comprehensive support, and our special leave options cater to individual needs. MCEC's gender pay gap decreased from 7.8% in 2022 to 5.9% in 2023. During the same period, more women received internal secondments and higher duties compared to men (65% to 35%), highlighting a commitment to closing the gender pay gap and empowering women in leadership roles. 

Here we chat with Mary Lawson, Medical Educator, Asia-Pacific Lead at risr and a Club Melbourne Ambassador on her experiences navigating a male-dominated field, her invaluable advice, her hope for what International Women's Day can achieve, and much more. 

Mary contributes actively to Victoria by being part of the Club Melbourne Ambassador Program , led by MCEC. Club Melbourne connects influential thought leaders to elevate our city. Ambassadors like Mary play a crucial role in bringing international events to Melbourne. 

Talk us through your career, have you noticed gender trends? 

I started my career as a nurse, a field mostly filled with women. Back then, very few men were around. But surprisingly, within a few years, men were already taking up the majority of the top positions in nursing management.

Now, I work in medical education. While there are more women in education roles, men are still over-represented in leadership positions.

As the Chair of the Ottawa2024 Organising Committee a conference recently held at MCEC, can you speak to the changes you made to include more women across the scientific committees? 

Historically, women were not well represented on the scientific committee. Changing this became one of my main objectives. I wanted to make sure there was an equal number of men and women on all committees. I also wanted to address issues of seniority and bias.

Some people were not thrilled with these changes as they gave space to less experienced voices. But I believed it was necessary. I worked hard to support and mentor these new voices.

Despite these challenges, I felt more experienced members should be tasked to help newer ones. It took a lot of planning and effort, but I wouldn't change it.

Let's talk about... 

Being a woman and managing your own career 

It's been important for me to assert myself, advocate for my skills and contributions, and seek out growth opportunities. Additionally, finding a balance between assertiveness and maintaining authenticity has been crucial. 

The challenges

The challenges of being a woman in my field are multifaceted, from subtle biases in conversations to unequal opportunities compared to my male counterparts. I think it's important to have honest conversations, be open and talk about the lack of awareness around these issues so we can all work towards creating a more equitable environment.  

Being a woman who works in male-dominated arenas 

Working in male-dominated arenas has highlighted the disparities in opportunities and recognition between genders. While it's empowering to challenge norms and break barriers, it also comes with its share of frustrations. However, persisting, advocating for change, and supporting other women in similar situations is crucial. 

What do we need to achieve for greater gender equality?

We need to invest in women and accelerate their progress in various spaces, including financial literacy, economic opportunities, and equal pay for equal work. Awareness of subtle biases and discrimination is crucial. International Women's Day should aim to empower and support women, especially those facing practical challenges like domestic violence. 

And in the workplace, fostering mentorship and creating inclusive environments where women can thrive are crucial steps towards achieving gender equality. 

Best advice...

The best advice I've received and can pass on is the importance of support and mentorship. Having mentors, and not shying away from advocating for yourself and others. Working with those who have navigated similar challenges has been invaluable to me. They've helped me stay objective, provided perspective, and offered guidance on managing my career effectively even now as I enter a new phase of my career.

What should the day achieve? 

International Women's Day should serve as a platform for honest sharing of experiences, both to inform and empower women facing similar challenges. It should raise awareness about the continued struggles for gender equality and advocate for increased support, recognition, and resources for women, especially those facing issues like domestic violence. Additionally, the day should emphasise the importance of investing in women's financial literacy and economic empowerment, including achieving equal pay for equal work. 

What will you be doing on Friday 8 March? 

I will be attending the UN Women Australia’s IWD Lunch 2024 at the MCEC joining like-minded women in celebrating International Women's Day. This gathering provides an opportunity to stay informed and aware of my position and my responsibility to support others in the journey towards gender equality. 

What I wish I always knew… 

Looking back, I wish I had been more aware of gender dynamics and better equipped to navigate them. Having this awareness from the outset would have allowed me to navigate challenges more effectively and proactively without losing sight of the bigger picture. Additionally, I recognise the importance of mentorship, especially from other women who can provide nurturing and supportive guidance, helping to maintain perspective and objectivity amidst obstacles. 

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