Tackling Australia’s biggest workplace failure

Gender Gap

Written By: Victoria Thieberger 31/7/15

Almost everywhere you look this week, gender equality is an issue.

On Wednesday, ANZ’s head Mike Smith and chief executive of global wealth Joyce Phillips released a report detailing still disgraceful statistics about the gender pay gap. It found that full-time female workers are paid on average $15,000 a year less than men, adding up to about $700,000 over their working lives and leading to a far greater proportion of older women retiring in poverty.

The report found the main reason many women continue to earn lower wages than men for similar work was simply because of their gender.

On Thursday, the female chief executives of Microsoft Australia, REA Group and Twitter Australia told a business lunch in Melbourne the next generation will simply not accept pay gaps, while carers’ leave will soon dwarf maternity leave as an issue in workplaces.

On Friday, South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill fronted a forum of state government executives in Adelaide to discuss research that shows organisations that are more diverse also perform better financially and are more innovative and productive.

Typically, men think that gender equality in the workplace is about them, says visiting American author and professor at New York’s Stony Brook University Michael Kimmel.

“A lot of guys think, ‘It’s be nice to the ladies week’,” Kimmel says in an interview. Men in senior corporate roles can get defensive and see equity as a zero-sum game in which if women advance, they lose out.

Instead, Kimmel, who has spent nearly four decades studying gender inequality and spends about half his time travelling to give workshops and lectures, says the business case needs to be made that diversity is beneficial to men and in their interests.

He is touring Australia to speak at business schools and meet with senior executives and human resources managers.

There is already an array of studies such as the one by Credit Suisse that shows companies with greater gender diversity in senior management and at board level perform 26 per cent better financially. Those firms also did better in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

Younger male workers, Gen X and Y, assume they are going to be in dual-career families, Kimmel says, and want the flexibility at work to allow for a work-life balance.

“Have the institutions begun to change enough so that those companies can not only recruit but retain the best talent? If they don’t adapt to what young workers want, they will lose them,” says Kimmel.

That would require substantial cultural change where it will no longer be unusual for a male employee to leave the office early to pick up the kids, or take paternity leave, telecommute, or work reduced hours when babies are born or ageing parents need care.

“The biggest productivity lever we can pull in Australia is gender diversity and improved female workforce participation,” Diane Smith-Gander, the president of Chief Executive Women, says in the ANZ report.

What about getting this message through to the Boomer generation of men, who still by and large run Australia’s corporations and dominate company boards?

“Most of the older men who are at the top of their organisations now have grown children, and well over half will have a daughter in the workplace.

“And if you ask them if they would be OK with their daughter being discriminated against, being overlooked for promotion, they wouldn’t put up with it for a minute,” says Kimmel.

He believes convincing senior executives requires not only making the business case, but appealing to them in their relationships as fathers.

Jay Weatherill has two daughters, and Mike Smith, one of the leaders of the Male Champions of Change, has one, so perhaps there’s something to that theory.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency says leaders who’ve taken action on gender equality often talk about a light bulb moment that helped them see gender equality issues in a different light. For many, this moment involved having a daughter.

Indeed, international research backs it up, showing that when CEOs have a daughter, the pay gap shrinks in their organisation, the agency says.

Yet 73.7 per cent of Australian employers have never done a gender pay gap analysis, according to a survey by the federal agency last year of 3,500 organisations. Most gave the reason that they paid “market rates”.

We’ve come a long way from the offices of the Mad Men era, yet it is still considered unusual for three female CEOs to share a stage. Welcome to 2015.

Source: Productivity Spectator



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