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The only way to fix gender inequality in the workplace

5th March 2019 12:00 AM

GENDER inequality in the workplace rears its ugly head in many forms.

Whether it's being passed over for an interview, job, promotion or pay rise, being excluded from meetings and after-work drinks or events, failing to secure flexible work arrangements after having children, being paid less than male colleagues for the same work, or being subjected to lewd comments and behaviour, workplace gender inequality is a major barrier for women in modern day Australia.

It has been 35 years since the Sex Discrimination Act came into force in Australia in 1984 making sexual discrimination and sexual harassment illegal. Along with social change, the Act helped provide women with opportunities in the workplace like never before.

In 1986 Janine Haines became the first woman to lead an Australian political party. A year later, Mary Gaudron became Australia's first high court judge. As the years went on, the country got its first female chief minister, premier, director of a national institution, governor-general and prime minister.

But despite the growing number of formidable female leaders over the past decades, Australia still has a long, long way to go when it comes to gender equality.

Woman working.
Australia still has a long way to go when it comes to gender equality. Contributed

In 2018, the World Economic Forum's annual Global Gender Gap report ranked Australia 39th for overall gender equality. It trailed far behind New Zealand in seventh place and the UK and Canada in 14th and 15th place respectively. Even worse, Australia ranked 73rd for wage equality for similar work and its overall position has been in steady decline for the past eight years.

Women are paid 15 per cent less on average than men starting as early as when they're graduates. In two decades the pay gap has barely shifted, meaning women are living on less, retiring with lower superannuation balances and facing higher rates of poverty in old age. 

Welcome to our Business Class series.
Welcome to our Business Class series. News Corp

The list of grim statistics goes on and on, and with the numbers stacked so heavily against those without the Y chromosome, the road towards gender equality in Australia is set to be a long one.

With the WEF estimating it will take 171 years for Australia to achieve gender equality, there is much work to be done.

In the lead-up to International Women's Day on March 8, we sought to find out just what the experts say needs to be done to close the gap and reduce discrimination sooner rather than later.

Griffith Business School department head, Professor Ruth McPhail, said we must start with the men and women in senior leadership roles.

"These individuals need training, support and resources to ensure they deliver what should be firm key performance indicators around the advancement of women," she said.

Tackling our unconscious biases and allowing flexibility in the workplace, especially for women with childcare responsibilities, is also a must.

"This extends to the expectation of unnecessary travel in a day and age where technology could easily reduce the time required and the risks involved," Prof McPhail said.

Michael Gottlieb, CEO BizCover. Contributed

At online business insurance broker BizCover, 43 per cent of employees are women and four of its eight executive positions are held by women. As for whether this has happened naturally or by design, founder and CEO Michael Gottlieb said, "I think it's both".

"Because we've always had an inclusive culture and been open to people having flexible work hours, we always look for the best person for the role," he said.

Where there are more male than female applicants for engineering roles at BizCover - a reflection of tertiary enrolments in the field - Mr Gottlieb said it was important to address society's biases and help correct them.


We need to get a lot more girls interested in STEM subjects at school and university so we can start to reverse the divide in areas like IT. 



"From our perspective, we think diversity is very important to the way people think, the way teams operate and the effectiveness and efficiency of teams, so we always try to balance teams with diversity and inclusivity whether around gender, race or religion," he said.

Having greater representation of women in leadership roles is one of the keys to closing the gender gap, according to Mr Gottlieb.

"We need to make sure we fast track females to senior levels because ultimately you need role models and success stories and you need to see it for other people to believe it and inspire the next generation of girls," he said.

"I have two daughters and for me, there's nothing more important than them seeing female role models, in business or politics or sports or anything else. The natural course of progression is too slow and therefore you need to make changes to see change," he said.

One of the women leading the way within BizCover is Sharon Kenny, Head of Marketing.

She highlighted that to make a change in the workforce, we had to intervene much earlier than that.

"We need to get a lot more girls interested in STEM subjects at school and university so we can start to reverse the divide in areas like IT," Ms Kenny said.

child plays in an astronaut costume and dreams of becoming a spaceman.
Encouraging our young girls to follow their dreams is one step towards achieving equality. Choreograph

Hope can also be found in the flexibility offered by advances in technology.

"The rise of the gig economy is going to change things for women a lot because it makes it much easier for someone to set up their own businesses or work on their terms when they have kids," she said.

In the future, Professor McPhail predicted more and more women would decide to bypass mainstream and typically difficult organisational structures and proactively either develop their own businesses or join those in which their talents will be recognised and supported.

"We need leadership from men and women, measurable performance targets, flexible workplaces, reduced travel, training, champions and allies, clear career paths, fair recruiting and promotion, inclusive networking and ongoing support to change the status quo," she said.

It's the only way to fix gender inequality in the work place.

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