Prue Gilbert: A leading role in bringing equality to the workplace

Ms Gilbert does not credit Grace Papers’ success to herself alone. Ben Gilbert, her husband, is the business’s director. Pictures: Grace Papers

By LAURA PLACELLA

“If it was easy, we’d be there.”

According to Grace Papers CEO Prue Gilbert, a 2018 AFR Woman of Influence, “there” is the point in time when gender equality will exist in our workplaces.

Or, in other words, the point in time a woman does not feel like she has to choose between having a child and pursuing a career.

Ms Gilbert, whose business delivers programs and services that drive gender equality, says that while it is extremely difficult to get to this point, “we are seeing progress”.

One of the issues that Grace Papers, winner of the Australian Human Rights Business Award in 2014, tackles head on, is pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

Ms Gilbert says that, in her time as a general counsel at Corporate Express, the company started losing senior women when they were having babies.

The remaining women encouraged her to use her position to look into Corporate Express’s paid parental leave policy. She built a business case and used it to bring about real change. 

Ms Gilbert visits companies and facilitates workshops that focus on overcoming gender inequality.

“We very quickly realised that it’s not just about a paid parental leave policy, it’s all the support you put in place around that,” she says.

Ms Gilbert says this was the catalyst for her establishing Grace Papers in 2010. The name is loaded with meaning, with “Grace” representing the idea of adding grace to one’s leadership style and “Papers” representing “the evolution of women’s rights”.

One of the business’s initiatives is its program For Mums, which comprises six modules that coach mums-to-be through what can be a daunting time.

The modules provide expert advice and guidance on “how to tell your boss you’re pregnant, all the way through to how to hand over your work to someone else”.

But, Grace Papers is not just about mums. There is also the program For Dads because, obviously, it is not only mothers who need advice on parenthood.

High-profile companies are also contacting Grace Papers to “help them dismantle the traditional stereotype”.

“We absolutely advocate for our clients to look at how they can create gender neutral parental leave policies that give dads access to parental leave as well.

“A great example is Ernst & Young. Over the past three years, they have been supported to increase the number of men taking parental leave from 6 per cent to 22 per cent,” she says.

University students looking to get a job can also help to combat gender inequality in the workplace. 

“Start to ask employers to reveal publicly any gender pay gaps of graduates,” she says.