It was just another day on the job for Larissa Waters that happened to end in internationally breaking news: The senator was the first member of Australian parliament to breastfeed (an act that occurs 8 to 12 times a day by the millions of new mothers around the world) while in session--and it became viral.
Waters took to Twitter to react to the media's response, saying, “we need family-friendly and flexible workplaces for all so this isn't news anymore." Waters, who takes is also co-deputy leader of the Australian Greens, is working to equalize rights across the board for all new parents, both in Australia and beyond.
Larissa Waters. Photo courtesy of ABC
As effective as Waters' breastfeeding image was at generating social buzz, it is also a reminder of the type of trending news that falls by the wayside just as quickly as it peaks--making it more difficult for these practices to stay relevant, in order to be implemented.
As is showcased in the cases of past headliners, Spain's Carolina Bescansa and Italy's Licia Ronzulli, who brought their newborn's to parliament, and Iceland's Unnur Brá Konráðsdóttir who made history last year, when she breastfed her baby during a debate. Each had her five minutes of fame, while the larger conversation was avoided.
It may have been Waters who resurfaced the discussion this week, but the conversation will once again revert to behind-closed-doors until the next issue surrounding the topic of mothers at work, and the overall treatment of parents in the workforce.
So, in order to keep the discussions relevant. SWAAY was curious about who Larissa Waters was outside the headlines. We wanted to what she stands for
Waters is the first Greens senator for Queensland. She stands behind The Greens' strong beliefs of representing women throughout Australia. Since her 2011 election to senate, and 2016 reelection, Waters has dedicated her time to achieving equality for all, through “creating a fairer society and achieving gender equality."
Along with The Greens' group beliefs, Waters' personal beliefs have been a lead factor in stimulating action for women in the workforce, particularly around equal pay and family-friendly workplaces. She played a large role in the Australian Parliament's 'family friendly' rule changes last year, most notably the passing of law that permits female politicians to nurse in the chamber--influencing the law and being the first to act on it, seemingly brought her work full circle. In leading up to the rule change, Waters said, “If we want more young women in Parliament, we must make the rules more family friendly to allow new mothers and new fathers to balance their parliamentary and parental duties."
Waters also firmly stands behind The Greens' message of inclusivity. “There is no place for gender discrimination in our society," she has said. "We will continue to fight it in all its forms and stand up for gender equality against outdated conservative attitudes." Waters reinforced her support on this stance when she posted on Instagram to recognize her daughter's birth, which incidentally coincided with International Women's Day.
A snippet from her post reads,
“I'll be having a few more weeks off but will soon be back in parliament with this little one in tow. She is even more inspiration for continuing our work to address gender inequality and stem dangerous climate change. (And yes, if she's hungry, she will be breastfed in the Senate chamber). Happy International Women's Day to everyone working for a more equal future! #IWD2017"
To further her support of women's rights, Waters has also been a prominent force in addressing Australia's domestic violence crisis, where according to The Greens' site, “more than one woman per week is dying at the hands of a current or former partner." With underfunded front line services, Waters took action to establish a Senate inquiry on domestic violence, which overturned existing funding cuts to these critical shelters and protective services.
Aside from her campaigns surrounding women and parents, Waters and her co-deputy, Scott Ludlam, are also taking action for Australia's tourism, mining and resources, environment and biodiversity, as well as gambling reform.
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."