Speaking at a CEDA Women in Leadership event in Adelaide, Ms Pickering said that leaders of organisations have a moral responsibility to ensure they support flexibility and that recruitment and promotion progresses support gender equality.
“I’m always perplexed by the merit argument,” Ms Pickering said.
“Women are not being provided the opportunity to even be able to demonstrate their merit, women are not being able to even get to the point of being able to apply for the roles.
“Creating respectful workplaces is one step that we can take to create environments that women want to work in.
“We need to ensure that diversity is valued and it’s not just a numbers game.”
Ms Pickering said that “clearly things need to change”, with the World Economic Forum’s 2017 gender pay gap report revealing that it would take 217 years on current trends to close the gender pay gap. This is up from 170 years in 2016.
“The #MeToo movement, the violence against women movements are all part of the debate, they’re not separate,” she said.
“They’re actually part of the reasons why women haven’t got gender equity in all parts of society.
“Strong action at a very local level is really important and can actually make really important differences to the way policy is set.
“I work in a female dominated sector of aged care, our workforce is 82 per cent women, but less than 10 per cent of CEOs across the country are women for aged care organisations.”
SA Department of Treasury and Finance Chief Executive, David Reynolds, said ensuring organisations achieve gender equality should be part of core business.
“There are always two motivators to people when you want to talk about progressing an agenda,” Mr Reynolds said.
“Intrinsic motivators, that is people doing things because they want to, and then of course those external incentives that you can bring to any agenda.
“So far debate has largely been around those intrinsic motivators.
“But have we lost that momentum? Are we getting there quick enough?
“If we’re not getting there with encouraging, with education, what are the external forces that we can bring on to people to say it’s time to make another step change in the way we do it?”
Mr Reynolds said that regulating quotas in the workforce may be a necessary step to achieving gender equality.
“It’s not my preference ever to add red tape to any business, in fact I would prefer the reverse, but at some point you say is that an issue which we need to consider in this area?”
Pointing to Australia’s $2.5 trillion worth of superannuation money, he also said that were super funds to invest in businesses working harder to achieve gender equality, that could lead to very powerful changes.
“Nothing like $2.5 trillion worth of incentives for business to think this is a good idea,” he said.
“AustralianSuper is an example of a superannuation company who has made a difference.
“If your company is interested in diversity then they are more likely to invest with you as an entity, that creates some financial incentive to do it.”
Mr Reynolds also said that were the Federal Government to reduce company taxes for those achieving gender equality, “it would fix the issue overnight”.
WSP Director SA/NT, Matthew Salisbury, said engineering was one industry that has a long history of a distinct lack of females.
“Things are changing but there is still a disparity in terms of the balance that we have, particularly more so in leadership and board positions and management positions,” Mr Salisbury said.
“In very similar ways to the IT industry we have a low representation of women, but what’s more concerning also is that when women do join the profession they don’t tend to stay very long.
“The other thing I’ve noticed in our industry is that the balance of women at various different levels changes depending on what roles they have.
“We have many women involved in HR and then in probably the soft people side of business, administration as well, so we lack the pipeline into that technical area and obviously that flows into the management areas” he said.
Mr Salisbury said that flexible work arrangements in an increasing number of organisations and industries was one of the small changes helping to keep momentum towards gender equality going.
“If we offer more flexible options to people they can balance their work life, stresses and time management and all those external factors in managing their positions and increasing their continuance in our industries,” he said.
“Workplaces that are embracing flexibility are thriving.
“We need men to also embrace that more, we need more men to actually get involved in embracing flexibility so we need to share the care.
“Is there enough momentum?
“The Chiefs for Gender Equity and many others have developed tools and they’re available on our website.
“Please embrace these tools, learn from them and we need to keep continuing this momentum collectively to assist in managing this issue moving forward.
“I guarantee that you’ll see the benefit once you start to engage and have these conversations.”