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5 steps towards gender equality in your workplace

Gender equity in the workplace. It’s a concept we often talk about, but can sometimes be difficult to put into practice.

You might have wondered whether your own business provides equal pay or equal opportunities for your female employees. You might also wonder what changes you could make to close the gender pay gap.

There is clear economic incentive to start thinking this way. Closing Australia’s gender employment gap would boost GDP by around 11 per cent. And the productivity gap, meaning when women’s pay is improved, workplace productivity will be improved all around, is predicted to increase by 20 per cent.

There is also a strong moral case for improving gender equity in your workplace. For example, one in two mothers reported experiencing workplace discrimination because of their pregnancy, parental leave or on return to work. In another example, in 2015-16, the average superannuation balances for women aged 60-64 years were 58 per cent lower than those of men the same age, or on average $113,660 less. And while Australia’s gender pay gap is 14.1 per cent, Victorian women are doing 63 per cent of the state’s unpaid work. These statistics illustrate just how unfair the situation currently is.

But there is good news.

There are things you can do to help address the issue right now in your workplace. Here are five steps you can take towards building gender equality in your business.

1 Commit to gender pay equity and assess what you are paying your female workers

Take stock of who you are employing within your business and the types of work you are employing people to do. Then cross check that against the gender of your employees.

Is there an unfair difference in what men and women are being paid to do the same or similar work? Or are there a disproportionate number of women carrying out lower-paid work while men dominate in the higher-paid jobs?

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency has tools and guides that can help you tackle these questions, including a gender pay gap calculator.

2 Implement a flexible work policy

This is a simple and beneficial way to make your workplace a fairer place to work – not only for women but for all your employees.

The Victorian Government commissioned a report that shows how organisations save on costs by implementing flexible work practices. So, flexibility is good for budgets and good for making workplaces fairer.

To find out how much your organisation could save by implementing flexible working arrangements, you could:

• use the FlexiWork Calculator or
• access the Excel version of the savings calculator.

Think about whether the tasks in your company really need to be done within certain hours or at a specific place. If not, could you implement a more flexible work policy?

Times are changing, but women still take on more caring responsibilities than men and they do more unpaid work than men. They might care for children or for elderly family members, and spend more time running households.

Many of these women need to manage these responsibilities alongside their paid job. Sometimes this means they pass up opportunities for additional paid work, or for advancement or personal development. Options to work more flexibly can make all the difference for these workers.

The Flexible Work Report 2018 has more on this subject.

3 Support a safe and respectful workplace

Take some time to think about whether your business is a great place for all your employees to work. Research shows it is difficult to attract or retain workers in workplaces or industries where they do not feel included or respected.

Take construction as an example. Only two per cent of construction workers are women. And some of the two per cent who do work in the industry report that they experience violence, hostility and harassment in their workplace. A perceived lack of respect for women in construction means women do not consider it as a career option. So, they are missing out on well-paid, skilled jobs and the industry is missing out on valuable, much-needed workers.

One way to support a safe and respectful workplace for women is to celebrate International Women’s Day. By celebrating a day that promotes women, it sends a message to employees that the business stands for equality and will not tolerate discrimination.

4 Implement a family violence leave policy

All employees (including part-time and casual employees) are entitled to five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave each year. This should be included in your workplace policies and all your employees should be aware that they can access this entitlement if they need to.

While both men and women can be victims and perpetrators of family violence, most of the violence is carried out by men against women.  While it might not seem to be, family violence is a workplace gender equity issue because women are more likely to need time away from work as a result of family violence.

5 Support progression and leadership opportunities for women

Often when we talk about supporting progression for women, the conversation turns into a debate about positive discrimination versus promotion based on merit. But regardless of your views on this issue, there are ways to provide a working environment in which women have an equal chance to thrive.

Some of the points mentioned above would help you to achieve this.

Is the leadership role flexible, so that someone with caring responsibilities could do it? Is your workplace respectful of women leaders? What is holding women back from leadership in your business?

In November 2018, the Business Council of Australia, McKinsey & Company and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency teamed up to undertake a study using three years of WGEA data and more than 40 interviews. The result, Women in Leadership: Lessons from Australian companies leading the way, provides an evidence-based recipe for dismantling the barriers to participation at senior levels that women face. The report also shows a correlation between representation of women in senior roles and the practice of normalising flexible work in workplaces.

Leading by example

The Victorian Government’s Gender Equality Act 2019 is a landmark step in breaking down discrimination and gender barriers in the workplace.

The Bill requires public sector organisations, universities and local councils to develop and implement Gender Equality Action Plans every four years. They must assess the state of gender equality in their organisation and develop strategies for achieving workplace gender equality.

They will report on their efforts every two years, and the results will be made public.

These reports will hopefully provide a thorough source of information and inspiration for private businesses to follow.

Next steps

So, you want to take action to bring about a more equal workplace but don’t know where to start? That’s ok. The important thing is that you start somewhere.

Pick a couple of things from the list above that you think you can work on and give them a go.

Better still, write a plan with milestones of what you want to achieve by when, and hold yourself and your business accountable to it.

Good luck! Remember that when we achieve equality, we will all reap the rewards.

Liberty Sanger

Chair | Equal Workplaces Advisory Council

Liberty is Principal, Director and a member of the Executive Board at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers. She is also Chair of the Victorian Government’s Equal Workplaces Advisory Council which enables her to drive positive change for women.