“Losing to team GB is bad enough…but NZ?” This is the kind of headline that typically accompanies an Australian sporting defeat. Which makes me wonder whether we need to appeal to the competitive spirit of Australian men on a more important issue, and challenge them to move us ahead of New Zealand at closing the gender gap. Australia is ranked 24, on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2014, 11 places behind New Zealand, at 13. It’s #heforshe AU v NZ. Diving into the detail of the report, Australia is ranked equally 1st on educational attainment, however this does not translate into equal economic participation and opportunity, where we rank 14th, nor to political empowerment, where we disappointingly rank a lowly 53rd. Professor Schwab’s comments are consistent with Australian findings: Goldman Sachs Chief Economist, Tim Toohey estimates in his report Australia’s Hidden Resource: The Economic Case for Increasing Female Participation that closing the gender gap between female and male participation would increase economic activity here by $195billion.The economic business case makes sense. Yet there is a fork in the road; at the point when men and women are entering junior to middle management (25-34 years) 86% of men work on a full-time basis, compared with just 64% of women. Moreover, the gap widens as they age, with men maintaining 88% full-time employment while women reducing to around 53%. This results in a long-term social and economic penalty not just on the women who are not fully participating in the workforce, but on business. Corporate Australia suffers, as this talent – over 60% of bachelor, graduate diploma and post-graduate degrees are earned by women – drops out of the talent pipeline, and business continues to repeat the cycle of drawing 90% of leaders from just 50% of the workforce…the male half. Which is why in April 2010, Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick set about engaging the support of the most powerful and influential men in business and government in Australia, resulting in 22 Male Champions of Change (MMCs), including the Chief of the Defence Force and CEOs of banks and mining companies. The MCCs have publicly committed to ‘actively advancing gender equality across their business and to acting as public advocates’. They will act as role models and influence the workplace norms which prevent businesses from capitalizing on the full potential of women and ending the gender gap in Australian workplaces. They are investing in resources and programs, changing policies and procedures, and in many cases setting quotas for female representation at leadership levels: what gets measured is more likely to get done. As one MCC publicly announced, “In many cases, we have to change the rules. The rules have been invented by men for men.” Since the initiative began, Australia’s rank on economic participation has moved from 24th to 14th. But now is not the time to rest on our laurels for there is still a long way to go to achieve gender parity in the workplace: which won’t happen globally until 2095, according to World Economic Forum projections. And those projections are supported by our own data, highlighting the existence of what Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner refers to as “gender asbestos”: a toxic, lingering legacy. That is, despite being outlawed since 1984, gender equality strategies are too often undermined by a culture of pervasive discrimination and harassment:
- The equal pay gap stands at 18.2%
- 1 in 2 women report experiencing pregnancy related discrimination while pregnant, on maternity leave or on return to work; and
- 1 in 5 women over the age of 15 report experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace.