Progress on gender equality has ‘stalled’, new advocacy group argues
By 1911, every state and federal jurisdiction had granted women suffrage. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the federal parliament legislated equal pay for women. And, in the half a century since then, many believe further progress toward gender equality has stalled.
Women still earn 23 per cent less than men, one-in-five women experience sexual violence after the age of 15, women retire with 42 per cent less superannuation than men and one-in-two women are discriminated against at work for being mothers.
For three decades women have been graduating from university in larger numbers than men, but men still run 95 per cent of Australia’s top companies.
These are statistics released by the Australian Gender Equality Council (AGEC), and which have inspired its formation and launch this week.
AGEC brings together 17 industry groups under one banner to pool resources and efforts to bring on the next wave of women’s rights.
The new group takes in the likes of Women in Aviation, Women in Banking and Finance, the Alliance of Girls Schools Australasia, Australian Women Lawyers, National Rural Women’s Coalition, Women in Technology, the National Association of Women in Construction and the Australian Centre for Leadership for Women.
Australia only ranks 35th on the World Economic Forum’s gender gap analysis. (ABC News: Alistair Kroie)
Former Westpac executive and veteran company director Victoria Weekes is the AGEC’s chairman.
She is concerned that too much time has been spent blaming women for not getting ahead in corporate Australia and in our parliaments.
Ms Weekes said women do not need to “lean in” or be given specific mentoring programs and training courses.
“I am unapologetically a believer in quotas,” she said.
“They’re misunderstood as not involving merit. If we didn’t believe there was merit in the other half of society we’d actually be saying women aren’t as significant or can’t make as good a contribution as men. That has got to be incorrect.”
‘Facts say there is a problem’
In 2014, Ms Weekes was one business leader defending the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) and its mandatory reporting requirements, despite calls from some business groups for these to be wound back.
“Without measuring something and reporting against it, you don’t usually get people to make big change,” Ms Weekes said.
“With the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, we were going to have consistent workforce reporting for the first time.
“Without those facts, people can always debate and be naysayers and say there’s not a problem. The facts say there is a problem and that was critical.”
Terrance Fitzsimmons is the managing director of the new AGEC. He has a PhD in leadership and lectures at the University of Queensland’s Business School.
“It’s absolutely critical to have the data from the two government agencies (WGEA and the Sex Discrimination Commissioner),” he argued.
“I think one of the mistakes you can make in this space is just using opinion. I think it’s really important that we rely on statistics and empirical evidence when we’re putting the case for gender equality.”
Change should begin at home
Dr Fitzsimmons’s PhD thesis was titled, “Navigating CEO appointments: Do Australia’s top male and female CEOs differ in how they made it to the top?”
His work involved forensic interviews with 120 female CEOs. Almost without exception, they listed childcare as the number one impediment on their road to success.
The average cost of having one child in childcare in Australia is now $512 a week. Having two children in childcare now costs almost the equivalent of a woman’s average weekly after tax income, with just $60 leftover.
Typical childcare costs take up half an average weekly income after tax. (ABC News: Alistair Kroie)
Dr Fitzsimmons said it is a wicked problem.
“If you’re asking questions about whether you should stay at home, or who should stay at home, given there’s already a gender pay gap in favour of men, then often the choice is that the woman will stay at home because it’s simply not worth going to work,” he said.
Dr Fitzsimmons said the availability, quality and affordability of childcare should be the single most important focus of policymakers given the economic dividends that would flow from attracting more women to the workforce.
The University of Queensland, using 2009 figures from Goldman Sachs, calculated that lifting female workforce participation to the same level as men’s would result in a 20 per cent increase in GDP, which translates to a $305 billion boost to the Australian economy.
Goldman Sachs estimated in 2009 that equal workforce participation for women would add 20 per cent to GDP. (ABC News: Alistair Kroie)
The gender pay gap exists at every level, in every industry and in workplaces where men and women are performing the same roles and working the same number of hours.
The pay gap starts as early as childhood where, according to research by Westpac, girls do more household chores but boys get paid 35 per cent more.
A recent Westpac study found boys received around a third more pocket money than girls. (ABC News: Alistair Kroie)
“For no logical reason, boys are given outside chores and girls do the inside jobs,” Dr Fitzsimmons explained.
“The outside chores are considered more valuable and, therefore, deserving of a higher pay.”
It also entrenches the notion that household work is woman’s work.
A recent ABS study found that women do almost double the housework and spend nearly three times as much time caring for children compared to men.
“I honestly think a lot of the things we need to address start in the home, whether it’s around equal care of children or equal participation around domestic labour,” Dr Fitzsimmons argued.
“We don’t need governments or our organisations to do that. That’s something we can fix right now.”