According to the World Economic Forum, Australia is among the few developed nations that does not actively set targets for gender equality and measure progress towards nationally agreed goals. As a result, we’re falling behind.
By Jessica Miles, Country Manager, ANZ at IAS
The pandemic caused lockdowns around the globe—Australia was not spared.
We lived in a world where we were confined to our homes, parents worked harder than before, managing new work situations, household chores, and home schooling kids. Families had to pull together to get through it with both parents shouldering responsibilities of work and family.
The question is if we’ve been able to shoulder the work-home responsibilities equally during such a challenging and unexpected year, can we learn from this to pave a better future for children? There’s no dearth of research that proves the lack of gender equality when it comes to shouldering equal responsibility at home or getting equal pay for equal work at workplaces. It has been and continues to still be a double whammy for women.
According to research, Australia is one of the few developed nations that does not actively set targets for gender equality and measure progress towards nationally agreed goals. As a result, we are falling behind—over the last 12 years, Australia has fallen from a rank of 15th to 44th on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index.
The report tracks the life cycle of Australian women from early childhood, through education, employment, unpaid work, parenting, and care, to retirement and old age, identifying the points at which women fall behind men in terms of their social and economic power. The report brings together all the factors contributing to the gender equality gap.
This includes investigating the impact of violence on women’s security and wellbeing, the unequal treatment women receive in the health system, the way women are represented in society, and how they fare in leadership roles.
This IWD let’s #ChooseToChallenge the lack of flexible and progressive work environments.
I personally know so many supportive husbands and partners that advocate for the careers of the women in their lives. We are also witnessing the shedding of stereotypes in every younger generation, the acceptance of shared household and family responsibilities. Despite this, especially globally, stereotypes still hold women back.
According to a McKinsey study, women do an average of 75 per cent of the world’s total unpaid-care work, including childcare, caring for the elderly, cooking, and cleaning. In some regions, such as South Asia and the Middle East, and North Africa (MENA), women’s share of unpaid care work is as high as 80 to 90 per cent.
However, even if we ignore stereotypes for the moment, the reality of the ‘motherhood penalty’ is still evident in Australia and especially in our fast-paced industry. Mothers should have the ability to choose whether they want to dedicate themselves to the full-time care of their children or whether they want to have a career alongside being a mum.
The ‘motherhood penalty’ shows that having a career while being a mother is difficult. Childcare is expensive, current parental leave policies are unequal and flexibility to work from home, pre-pandemic, was difficult to secure. In fact, the gender pay gap increases significantly after women take time out to have children. Their earning capacity and potential career progression are also diminished once they return to their career.
On the flip side, the lack of equitable parental leave means that dads do not get the opportunity to take time off to support new mothers and spend as much time with their family.
We are in a pivotal moment in our society, having undergone the biggest work from home experiment the world has ever experienced. In Australia, we’ve been fortunate enough to experience a steadier return to the office than other parts of the world and I encourage employers to take this time to think about how they can equally support both men and women as we return to the office.
The following steps by businesses and lawmakers will pave the way for more equal rights and representation for women and a better, more equitable future for our children.
Equal opportunity workplaces for women and men: Laws and regulations that promote equality and establish that women and men have equal rights, equal pay, equal opportunities. Evidence shows that lifting such gender barriers is good for society, the economy as well as businesses. It has a positive effect on the participation of women in the workplace.
Progressive work environments: Discriminatory practices in employment, remuneration, career advancements must be removed. A poor culture with unfair treatment, abuse, harassment, and discrimination, is among the top three challenges facing working women, especially young women between the ages of 15 and 29 according to the International Labour organisation report. Removing toxic environments through the help of business leadership, regulations, and the law will share a better future of work with gender equality.
Making time to care: A growing number of countries have increased their maternity leave schemes and some have taken steps to cover women during the times of most intense caregiving. Paternity and parental leave policies are also an integral component in advancing women’s careers and longevity in the workforce.
Embrace flexible work-life: Reports suggest that men working from home during the pandemic are more likely to appreciate women’s work-family experiences, understand the value of flexible work arrangements, appreciate the benefits of relationships with work colleagues, and role model more equitable work-family gender roles for their children. Now that we live in a world where we have the opportunity to embrace a flexible work-life we can use this to build greater equity in the workplace as well as in homes.
According to the UN, gender equality achieves peaceful societies that enable full human potential and sustainable development. In other research, businesses with at least 30 per cent of women in leadership positions are 15 per cent more profitable and Australia’s GDP would increase by 11 per cent if the gender employment gap was closed. There is also a plethora of research that spouts the benefits of gender equality in all aspects of society.
Gender bias and equity continue to be a focus for IAS. We have a robust set of programs and initiatives to highlight our talented Women leaders throughout the organisation. But, programs and initiatives are not enough—our actions are what really counts. We have a population of 56 per cent men and 44 per cent women at all levels. We have challenged ourselves at IAS to bridge that and reach a 50/50 ratio by the end of 2021.
For the industry to be successful it will require fundamental structural changes that provide equal access to welfare to both men and women. Businesses should be deliberate in building out inclusive marketing strategies and considering what internal and external-facing pledges or campaigns they can promote to help normalise the return of caregivers to the workforce and cultivate meaningful dialogue about gender equity.
Working mums are always asked, how do you manage your career and your family? Let’s build a society where this question isn’t the norm.
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