Politicians and senior professionals have dragged their heels on workplace gender equality for decades. But a series of groundbreaking reports and policies in the past few years have seen the push to promote women at work gather pace.
Last year, a report by the Business Council of Australia (BCA), ‘Increasing The Number of Women In Senior Executive Positions’, made a radical recommendation that 50 per cent of jobs at all levels should be held by women in the next 10 years and asked its members to question, if not, why not?
Working towards representation
For years, organisations supporting women at work have been working towards at least 40 per cent female representation on company boards and in senior ranks.
Women currently hold around 10 per cent of key executive positions in ASX200 companies and only 17.1 per cent of positions on their boards. So why the sudden hike in aspirations?
“Our members said they had various gender diversity initiatives going on but they weren’t seeing any traction of women through to senior roles, hence the ambition of 50 per cent in a decade,” says the BCA’s deputy chief executive Maria Tarrant.
The report offers recommendations for best practice in recruitment, retention, appointment and promotion.
Positive discrimination campaign
The BCA’s positive discrimination campaign coincided with a government-funded move to make companies accountable for their gender diversity performance.
From May this year, all private Australian companies with 100 or more employees will be required to report to the Workplace Gender Equity Agency (WGEA) via a simple ‘yes’ and ‘no’ form that will collect data to help companies track their progress.
“Never before have we had this amount of information on this topic. It’s very powerful but only if people use it,” says the agency’s head of public affairs Yolanda Beattie.
Like the BCA, the WGEA has taken steps to improve the gender pay gap, which stands at 17.5 per cent and has remained fairly consistent for more than 20 years.
More needs to be done
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick says more needs to be done to address this. “Women often trade off money for family-friendly work conditions and then miss out on super, bonuses and promotions.
Some have argued that without the weight of men, the movement was doomed to stall. In a power-packed paper released last year, Accelerating the Advancement of Women In Leadership, the group of 21 senior businessmen outlined a 12-point plan to swell the number of women in their own ranks and put pressure on other companies to do the same.
Claire Braund, executive director of Women on Boards, says there is an increasing understanding that the issue needs to engage both sexes.
After all, the benefits of having greater gender diversity impacts men as well as women and includes better work-life balance, hiring the best managers for the job, and higher productivity.
“Aside from the fact that choosing from 100 per cent of the talent pool (rather than the white, under 50 male segment) will result in better appointment and promotions, the people who are trained to manage a more diverse and flexible workforce will also be more able,” says Helen Conway, director of WGEA.
The government’s proposed parental leave scheme, set to start next year, offers primary carers six months leave on full pay, up to an annual salary of $150,000, although this may be scaled down.
They currently get 18 weeks pay on the national minimum wage. But the low-income super contribution, in which those on salaries up to $37,000 can access a handout of up to $500 a year, may be scrapped, penalising many women, particularly as 72 per cent of part-time employees are female.
“We don’t support the government’s paid parental leave scheme, which will reduce workforce attachment and take away responsibility from companies to provide parental leave,” says Braund.
The Australian Defense Force
Despite the difficulties surrounding gender diversity, many organisations have adopted best practices or have already reached their goals.
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has been flying the flag for gender balance and flexibility following a series of sex discrimination scandals, after which ADF chief Lieutenant General David Morrison joined the Male Champions of Change.
It aims for 25 per cent women in the Air Force and Navy and 15 per cent in the Army in a decade and offers residential camps for girls to experience being a pilot.
“To increase the presentation of women overall you have to encourage them through two layers, a non-traditional employment choice and then a non-traditional job. That’s quite challenging,” says Dee Gibbon, Group Captain in the RAAF and director of the ADF Review into the Treatment of Women.