Making workplace equality equal

What progress have we made in achieving gender equality in the workplace, and how can male allies can show they mean business?

“We want to see women rise. But we don’t want to see women rise only on the basis of others doing worse.”It was Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s first International Women’s Day speech as leader and he was delivering it to the Chamber of Minerals and Energy in Western Australia.

It was not an overly encouraging speech and not what a lot of women wanted to hear on a day we reflect on how far things have come and how much further they need to go to achieve equality. It was also hard to hear when women are being told to be more confident, to ‘lean in’ and be better negotiators if they want workplace equality. This puts the onus back on women to close the average pay gap of 14.1 per cent.

Nick Reade, chief executive of Bank SA and one of the founding members of the Chiefs of Gender Equity, an initiative of the Equal Opportunity Commission, believes it is men who need to do more.

“It’s upon us to create the environment, the culture, where we make it important and we put in place those things that make a difference,” says Reade. “Business banking is a good (example). If it wasn’t for the moral leaders standing up and saying this is not acceptable, that diversity is just important, whether it’s diversity of thought or background or gender or whatever. I mean we’ve all learned over time that the richer the diversity of your team the better you perform.”

For Reade, achieving equality should include how you support women’s career aspirations. He believes while mentoring is a great concept, what women need is more action.

“You need an advocate. You need someone who’s going to make something happen for you,” he says. “Mentors are great for advice, direction. I think you need a bit more.”

Martin Haese is new the head of Business SA and he agrees.

“If it’s a male in the leadership position there’s an incumbency upon that person to ensure that all employees with the organisation, from the top to the bottom and irrespective of the role, have an equitable working environment,” he says. “So that means remuneration, that means reward for effort, that means recognition of contribution to the organisation.”

South Australia has more than 143,000 businesses classed as Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs). They make up the majority of our business sector yet they face a slowdown in household income and economic growth, making closing any gender pay gap difficult in the next few years.

“Being an SME is a challenging endeavour and that’s not unique to 2019,” says Haese. “You’ve got growth aspirations on limited resources. So I would then look at it the other way and say to achieve your growth aspirations as an SME, work with the likes of Business SA, learn from your peers, look to those who are adopting new practices and see what that’s doing for their company culture, their business performance.”

According to Reade, embedded systems and processes achieve equality in the workplace with little or no risk. His leadership team is more than 60 per cent women from executives to branch managers and, because of this, their gender pay gap is slightly skewed towards women. This is impressive considering the Workplace Gender Equality Agency has the financial sector pay gap at 26.9 per cent.

“If you’ve got a job, a branch manager or a customer service specialist or a business banker – it doesn’t matter what the role is. If you have that role, the pay is that and that supersedes anything else,” says Reade. “It’s hardwired systems and processes that make it work.”

liveable-prosperous-martin-haese-adelaide-review
Former Lord Mayor and Business SA CEO Martin Haese

Diarmid Lee’s company, Leed Consulting, which he operates with his sister Anna, focuses on changing corporate culture so that organisations can achieve equity. Over the past five years he has not seen a shift for women. He believes this will only happen when we stop trying to fix women and acknowledge our very masculine corporate culture.

“That takes a lot of change but it is why you need some kind of process that [can] mitigate the impact of that when we’re talking about remuneration and pay reviews,” says Lee.

“What we tend to see is that some organisations are further ahead than others and so are starting to implement policies and approaches that encourage inclusion… greater leave for dads after the birth of a child or moving to flexible working arrangements.”

While flexible working is open to both women and men in the workplace only a minority of men take it up.

“Men say they would like to have more flexibility in their work to allow them to take up caring responsibilities or home duties,” he says. “But in organisations where those policies are actually put in place less than 10 per cent of men take them up.”

He believes, that just as women have been judged negatively for balancing family and work so too are men, and Reade agrees.

He believes there are pockets not of resistance but of people not being fully aware or being a little bit traditional in their thinking.

Lee says that despite all the effort put in to working flexibly, until men are prepared to take on more domestic duties this will have minimal impact on women’s ability to participate equally in the workforce. He says we need to recognise that women carry a greater cognitive load.

“My example is from a stereotypical male, a full-time role. His thought about dinner is ‘what’s for dinner?’” Lee explains. “For a woman, often it’s about ‘what am I cooking for dinner?’ ‘Have I got all the ingredients?’ ‘Are my kids going to like it?’ And so the cognitive load is much greater.

“It is where we start to encourage men to take up some of that cognitive load that actually frees women up to fully engage with the work that they need to be doing. We won’t achieve gender equality in the workplace until gender equality in the home starts to change as well.”

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