Making Workplace Equality Equal

Here’s an article that I recently wrote for The Adelaide Review that was published in their print edition.

“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 they have come and how much further they need to go to achieve equality. It is also hard to hear when women are always 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 is the Chief Executive of Bank SA and was one of the founding members of the Chiefs of Gender Equity, an initiative within the Equal Opportunity Commission. He believes it is actually men who need to do more.

“I think you know 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) where if it wasn’t for the moral leaders standing up and saying this is not acceptable, when diversity is just important, whether it’s diversity of thought or background or gender or whatever. I mean we’ve 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 with their career aspirations. He believes while mentoring is a great concept what women need are more doers.

“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 something 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, irrespective of the role have an equitable working environment,” he implores. “So that means renumeration, that means reward for effort, that means recognition of contribution to the organisation whatever that organisation may be.” 

South Australia has over 143,000 businesses classed as Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs). They make up the majority of our business sector yet they are facing a slow down 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,” argues Haese. “You’ve got growth aspirations on limited resources. So I would then look at it the other way and I would say okay 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, see what that’s doing for their business performance.”

According to Reade embedded systems and processes achieve equality in the workplace with little to no risk. His leadership team is over 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 and it’s a branch manager or a customer service specialist or a business banker or it doesn’t matter what the role is. If you have that role, the pay is that and that supersedes anything else” says Reade. “So it’s just focus and discipline and hard wired systems and processes that make it work.”

Diarmid Lee’s company Leed Consulting, which he operates with his sister Anna, focuses on changing corporate culture so that organisations can achieve equity for everyone. 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 seems to 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. So you know greater leave for dads after the birth of the 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 will take it up.

“Men would 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 percent of men take them up.”

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

“More and more perhaps again there are pockets not of a resistance but more not being fully aware and a little bit traditional in their thinking and haven’t embraced it perhaps as much,” he says. “But it’s definitely on the rise and flexibility as a general concept, more than just specific to families or whatever it is.”

However Lee argues despite all the efforts we put in to working flexibly until men are prepared to take on more domestic duties this will have minimal shift in impacting women’s ability to participate equally in the workforce. He argues we need to recognise women carry a greater cognitive load.

“My example is from a stereotypical male, you know a full time role. His thought about dinner is ‘what’s for dinner?’” he 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 the load is much much greater.

“So to me 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 as well. We won’t achieve gender equality in the workplace until culturally gender equality in the home actually starts to change as well.”