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Equality for Women in the Workforce

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Equality for Women in the Workforce

The Daily Telegragh, a well-known Australian tabloid, published a twenty one photo gallery on the many hair styles of Julia Gillard on their website. There was no mention of her political prowess or the fact she was the most powerful women in Australia, the focus was squarely on her appearance (News Ltd, 2014). This is just one of the many obstacles women face when striving for equality in the workplace. This paper will explore the disadvantages women face in the workplace, including the gender pay gap, the under representation of women in senior leadership roles and sexual harassment. A plan to address these disadvantages will be outlined and justification of why it will work will be provided.

At the outbreak of world war one far fewer women than men participated in work, and they tended to be lower-paid domestic occupations, as the women’s main role was seen to be in the home. The withdrawal of approximately half a million men, most of who had been in the workforce, still did not result in their direct replacement with women. Women’s contribution to the workforce rose, but the increase was in traditional areas of women work, for example in the clothing and footwear industry. Unions were unwilling to let women join the workforce in greater numbers in traditional male roles as they feared it would lead to a lowering of wages (Adam-Smith, 1996). Since the early 1900’s the country has come a long way and developed at a rate faster than anyone expected, take for example technology, people are walking around with the computing power that put a man on the moon in their pocket, yet in 2014 there is still gender inequality in the workplace. Lack of pay equity and equal opportunities is an issue for every women in the Australian workforce, and sex inequality at work is so pervasive and persistent that it is taken for granted and is seen to be virtually unchangeable as its assumed “natural” (Oxfam Australia, 2014).

Women face many obstacles and disadvantages in the workplace, the most publicised of these, the gender pay gap. The UK Equal Opportunities Commission dramatically highlighted the fundamental unfairness facing women at work by releasing a poster with the slogan “prepare your daughter for the workforce: give her less pocket money than your son” (Gaze, 2012). This may appear to be an extreme view, however figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that in 2014, on average, full-time working women’s earning are 17.1% less per week that full-time working men’s earnings (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014). Over the last two decades the national gender pay gap has hovered between 15% and 18%, this is influenced by a number of factors including; industrial and occupational segregation, a lack of women in leadership, the fact that women still do most of society’s unpaid caring and a lack of senior part-time and flexible roles. It is concerning that the pay gap favours men in every industry and despite how society has evolved over the last twenty years there is no evidence of a downward trend (Work Place Gender Equality Agency, 2013).

Contributing to the gender pay gap is the fact that women are highly under-represented in corporate management and senior leadership roles. A report released by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia showed that in 2012 just 3.5% of chief executive officers were female (CEDA, 2014). The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency has also released a report by Macquarie University which highlights the hurdles that women in the workplace continue to face. It shows for every female board director, there are about 12 men in board director positions, women at the executive manager level are either funnelled into support roles of fare badly in the wage stakes compared to their male counterparts (Statham, 2009). These figures are despite the fact that Australia has the number one level of female university graduates. Society stereotypes women as the carer and that they are split focused on their family and it’s this deeply ingrained societal and cultural belief surrounding the role of women that contributes to the absence of women in top positions (Shying, 2013).

Australia has had laws against sex discrimination since 1977. However, despite providing a remedy in individual cases of discrimination or sexual harassment after it has occurred they have not challenged they the norms in the workplace that create an environment which enables the disadvantage of women to continue (Gaze, 2012). Further steps have been taken over the years to strengthen protections against sexual harassment, for example, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (cth) was amended in 2011 and then again in 2013. Yet, according to the Human Right Commission’s 2012 telephone survey, 21% of people aged fifteen years and older had been affected by workplace sexual harassment (Australian Human Rights Commission). Many employers have worked over the years to combat this serious business problem by developing and implementing policies and procedures to encourage a change in the workplace culture to prevent cases of sexual harassment, however there is still a significant stigma around reporting instances of sexual harassment. Going through the process of making a complaint can be damaging to the complainants career and quite often they will be forced to accept a settlement as they don’t have the resources to take the claim further (Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2013).

Diversity in the workplace does not necessarily mean having equal number of men to women, it means removing gender from the equation and having the best and most appropriate person in the position. Attracting, developing and retaining women at all levels and affording women the same opportunities as men is incredibly important and must be embedded in all processes of an organisation (Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2013). The plan to address the disadvantages of the gender pay gap, lack of women in senior leadership positions and sexual harassment will be developed by exploring a number of strategies to ensure fair and equal treatment and opportunities.

Firstly the gender pay gap, the objective is to ensure equitable condition of service for staff by developing a comprehensive gender equality workforce profile including a pay equity audit and an analysis of career progression. Part of this strategy is to analyse the pay equity audit and investigate possible actions to address any inequalities that arise from such analysis (Citigroup Inc., 2014). In this process it is also important to review the number of discretionary payments, for example, allowances, performance payments, merit payments and bonus payments to ensure there is equal opportunity and comparable circumstances for all staff to access or earn these payments (Administrative Appeals Tribunal, 2014). In order to achieve pay equality it is also vital to retain or establish a high quality paid parental leave entitlements scheme. Maintaining communication with staff on extended maternity or family leave should also be a priority in order to support their return to work (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2011). To enable their successful return to work it is also essential to respond to the growing demand for flexible work hours to support all employees with family or caring responsibilities (Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2013).

In the analysis of career progression, the issue of a lack of women in senior leadership positions is addressed which also contributes to the gender pay gap. To ensure equality selection and recruitment must be merit-based. In order to achieve equality in recruitment there should be continuing monitoring of recruitment trends and investigation into low female recruitment rates and strategies developed to rectify poor rates (Administration Appeals Tribunal, 2014). It is also necessary to identify new strategies to develop a stronger culture of support for women aspiring to senior management roles. In the selection process, selection panels should contain a gender balance as well as the development of people and culture policies and procedures for gender representation on recruitment selection committees. Ensuring staff involved in the recruitment, selection and promotion processes have an awareness of how to avoid unconscious bias in their deliberations is also crucial (Citigroup Inc. 2014).

Increased representation of women in senior positions should be encouraged by developing and implementing programs which support the development of women as well as an organisational culture that not only attracts but retains women. This may involve flexible working hours for senior leadership roles and greater access to childcare. It is also important to create an organisational culture that promotes a healthy work life balance in order to not disadvantage any person who is unable to work the long hours due to family commitments. A healthy work life balance is also important in maintaining productivity and the retention of employees (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2011).

The aim in every workplace is to decrease the possibility of sexual harassment however if and when it does occur there must be adequate measures for dealing with it. Prevention is also the best option and increased participation in equality and diversity awareness training would help raise the awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace. The training would be completed as a group as to not single any one member of the workplace out, but to bring a greater awareness of what is considered sexual harassment. It is also necessary to monitor and report harassment complaints by gender to track any apparent trends that may need to be addressed (NSW Government Education and Communities, 2012).

In the event of sexual harassment it is imperative that the harassment and discrimination officer network is maintained and that clear processes and procedures are established as to how a complaint can be made. In many organisations there is a stigma attached to reporting sexual harassment and can quite often lead to detrimental effects on the complainants’ career. In order to remove this stigma throughout the process the complainant must be treated with dignity and respect and confidentiality maintained at all times. In order to stop sexual harassment women or men need to be able to report it without fear of repercussions. In many cases of sexual harassment complainants are often forced to accept a settlement as they do not have the resources to take their claim further. This creates a culture where people feel they can buy their way out of any situation and therefore have a belief that they are above the rules. It is important to establish a fair process where complainants are given every opportunity to have their case heard regardless of either parties’ resources (Australian Human Rights Commission).
The plan outlined will work to increase diversity and decrease disadvantage to women in the workplace as it is all interconnected and has a snowball effect. By encouraging and supporting the development of women into senior leadership roles it is contributing to the decrease of the gender pay gap. With a greater gender balance in upper management and executive roles of an organisation comes an increased awareness and respect of gender sensitivities and a greater understanding of proper and appropriate behaviour. This in turn would lead to a decrease in the likelihood of sexual harassment. This may be a simplistic view of reality, however whatever structure of an organisation the essence of achieving gender equality is to de-gender roles and work to create a culture in both workplaces and society in general that is not embedded with the belief that childcare and family responsibilities are a female’s domain.

List of References

Adam-smith, P 1996, Australian Women at War, Penguin Books, Australia.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal 2014, Workplace Diversity Plan, viewed 11 September 2014, .

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014, viewed 5 September 2014, .

Australian Human Rights Commission, Ending workplace sexual harassment, viewed 4 September 2014, .

CEDA 2014, viewed 4 September 2014, .

Citigroup Inc. 2014, Citi Diversity, viewed 4 September 2014, .

Department of Immigration and Citizenship 2011, Workplace Diversity Strategy, viewed 7 September 2014, .

Gaze, B 2012, The workplace gender equality act – reducing women’s disadvantages at work?, viewed 5 September, .

News Ltd 2014, The Daily Telegraph, viewed 5 September 2014, .

NSW Government Education & Communities 2012, Workforce Diversity Plan, viewed 7 September 2014, .

Oxfam Australia n.d., viewed 5 Semptember 2014, .

Shying, O 2013, “Women under-represented in workplace leadership positions: report”, The Smart Company Private Media, 7 June 2013, viewed 5 September 2014, .

Statham, L 2009, “Women disadvantaged in workplace: study”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 June 2009, viewed 6 September 2014, .

Workplace Gender Equality Agency 2013, viewed 4 September 2014, .

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