Leadership | Diversity | Inclusion

Gender inequality is systemic problem

Economic security, violence against women and statistics of women in leadership are the three main areas where Australia is lagging in terms of gender equality, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has told a CEDA audience in Brisbane.

Ms Jenkins said gender inequality is driven by underlying and embedded systemic attitudinal barriers that keep delivering the same gender inequality outcomes.

“It’s not just a matter of changing the laws and it’s not going to be just fixed by waiting for the next generation to be born,” she said.

“What we are actually aiming for now is substantive equality, not simply equal opportunity.”

On the income and retirement savings gap, Ms Jenkins said disadvantage accumulates over time.

“No matter what industry you choose, you’re likely to lose out on the gender pay gap which means women on average earn 16.2 per cent less than men,” she said.

Ms Jenkins said maternity leave is often taken at the most important time for accumulating superannuation savings and retirement earnings.

“Our one advantage that we live longer turns into a financial burden as we must stretch our lower retirement savings for more years,” she said.

Single elderly female houses experienced higher incidences of poverty between 2000 and 2005 compared to other types of households, she said.

“This isn’t just a matter of one employer saying let’s pay her less but an accumulation over a lifetime of every moment in time,” she said.

“There’s this idea that discrimination is caused by bad people but actually it’s really embedded in our system.”

Despite these issues, Ms Jenkins said the new WGEA results do show progress in lowering pay gaps and getting women into management roles.

Ms Jenkins also said while Australia is number one in world economies for education it is 46 for female economic participation and this must change.

Griffith University Deputy Vice Chancellor (Engagement), Professor Martin Betts said the starting point for gender inequality and violence against women on campus is to recognise there is a problem and respond to the issue.

“This is a problem that is a problem for all of us,” he said.

“It’s a societal problem, it’s a problem for all of our organisations.”

Professor Betts said the we will have more effective organisations if we address gender equality issues as a whole of institution problem.

Also speaking at the event, ConocoPhillips Australia East President, Warwick King said there are companies that take gender equality seriously and there are still places where that doesn’t happen.

Mr King said that it is important for parents, for teachers and everyone to help women understand what choices they have and be open to people trying different things.

“We all play a role from the start of what we think is important,” he said.