In a sector in which women are more highly represented, we are perhaps somewhat protected from issues related to gender inequity in terms of our day to day professional workplace experience.
For our clients, we see disadvantage through poverty, violence, sexual assault, separation and solo parenting, and financial problems. We can see this as a result of family crisis rather than tune into the way that the very construction of power and gender plays out in society and enables all these events to happen.
Last week this was quite a big topic at the Australian Institute of Company Director’s conference that I attended. They talked at length about how women represented under a third of all board appointments, and that white male connections dominated the way people secured positions, with a “tap on the shoulder” the main door opener. There were a few throw away lines about “and we can’t even get to discussions about other groups such as culturally and linguistically diverse people”.
It was a good reminder of the structural inequities that continue to play out around corporate Australia. Indeed some relevant statistics in Australia from the Census are that
- Women and girls make up just over half (50.7 per cent) of the Australian population.
- While women comprise roughly 47 per cent of all employees in Australia, they take home on average $251.20 less than men each week (full-time adult ordinary earnings). The national gender “pay gap” is 15.3 per cent and it has remained stuck between 15 per cent and 19 per cent for the past two decades]
- Australian women account for 68% of primary carers for older people and people with disability.
95% of primary parental leave (outside of the public-sector) is taken by women and women spend almost three times as much time taking care of children each day, compared to men
- In 2017, Australia was ranked 35th on a global index measuring gender equality, slipping from a high point of 15th in 2006. While Australia scores very highly in the area of educational attainment, there is still a lot of progress to be made in the areas of economic participation and opportunity and political empowerment
The feminist and author Germaine Greer has said that aiming for equality is a “profoundly conservative goal” for women and that it is wrong to accept an idea of “equality feminism”. She reminds us that within groups of women, there are more extreme disadvantages, such as the population of older women and the aged. I am also mindful of the women without English – refugees and new arrivals – women who are isolated, have a disability or working shift work, who also have less access and greater vulnerabilities. How can we reach them?
Of course there is also significant progress to celebrate. Indeed young women can sometimes wonder what all the fuss is about – including, to my consternation, my 15 year old daughter at times!
You will have your own stories of course, and now is a chance to bring these stories to life. There might be time for you to reflect on your experience, as women and men, on issues of power and gender, and what place International Women’s Day holds at this point in our lives and work. How does RANSW seek to progress inequity? How might we advocate? How is our own workplace fostering equality and fairness, inclusion and diversity?
Elisabeth Shaw, CEO Relationships Australia NSW