Leadership | Diversity | Inclusion

Triple glazed glass ceiling will crack with cultural revolution

Achieving gender equality in Australia will require a cultural revolution, author and media personality, Tracey Spicer said at a CEDA Western Australia event on women in leadership.

“There’s an old saying in business that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’,” she said.

“Over the past quarter century companies, governments and lobby groups have developed strategies to break down segregation, close the gap and crack that glass ceiling, which seems to be double or triple glazed.

“What I’m calling for today is nothing short of a revolution.

“It’s a revolution that extends beyond business and parliament, into the arts, media, schools and crucially the domestic sphere.”

Ms Spicer said that women are still far from achieving equal representation in leadership and Australia is one of the worst countries for this.

“We have been in the workplace in almost equal numbers for decades now and yet there’s still only 15 per cent of female CEOs, it’s really appalling,” she said.

“Our workplaces are split into male and female sectors and believe it or not, it’s actually getting worse.

“According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics women’s representation in the construction sector fell from 17 per cent in 2006 to 12 per cent in 2015.

“Around 80 per cent, eight in 10 employees in healthcare and social assistance are female and the gap is widening.

“Currently 90 per cent of graduates entering that industry are women.”

Ms Spicer said gender equality targets are important but they won’t survive unless the culture they are immersed in supports them.

“Corporate Australia should be leading the charge, listen to women telling their stories, ask for their ideas and please don’t lean on the old chestnut that women just aren’t the right cultural fit,” she said.

 “We need to address the micro attitudes, assumptions and biases that are eating our well-intentioned strategies for breakfast.

 “As women, we must make both a social and an economic case for change, we have to call out financial bias and imbalance and attitudes that entrench discrimination.

“We don’t need to change, but we do need to advocate for change.”

NAB Chief Customer Officer – Consumer Banking and Wealth Management, Andrew Hagger said that while things are changing for the better, they are changing too slowly.

“Without significant action the World Economic Forum recently predicted that a gender gap will persist until 2186,” he said.

“Another generation is about to enter the professional workforce and they’ll still be faced with financial difference and disparity, with financial bias and imbalance, purely because of their gender.”

Mr Hagger said the national pay gap is currently around 16 per cent and it’s hovered between 15 and 19 per cent for the past two decades.

“The pay gap between men and women costs the economy around $93 billion every year and that’s quite an old number,” he said.

“And closing the gap between male and female employment and productivity has the potential to boost Australia’s GDP by between 11 per cent and more than 20 per cent.

“In fact, an analysis of ASX 500 companies found that companies with female representation on their boards outperformed the markets and companies with no gender diversity.”

Mr Hagger said to achieve gender equality and address the gender pay gap we need to work together.

“This isn’t just for governments to solve, or advocates, or business or women alone. It’s on each and every one of us,” he said.

“I do not want my daughters to feel that their gender alone means their experience and remuneration in the workplace will be different to that of my son.”

HESTA General Manager – Business Development and Policy, Mary Delahunty spoke about the impact of gender inequality on women’s superannuation.

“When you’ve got a system that is predicated on the time in the workforce and the amount of money you earn while you’re in there, that is always going to have bad outcomes for the gender that has to take time out of the workforce and faces inequality on the amount of money that they earn in there,” she said.

“The typical 43-year-old HESTA member is skilled, she is an aged care worker, she used to be a nurse, she is educated.

“Her super balance?

“She has $18,000 in her account.

“She is the face of poverty in retirement and in this country and in this day and age, this is unacceptable.”

Ms Delahunty said whatever happens in the working life of a women and a man is magnified at retirement.

“The structural inequities that people face in their working life accumulates for women to poverty in retirement,” she said.

“So structurally this system needs to be changed.

“No amount of conversations with women or turning your website pink and helping them understand financial literacy is going to fix that.”

Ms Delahunty said the only type of workplace leave that does not generate superannuation entitlements is paid parental leave.

“That’s not a coincidence, that’s just discriminatory,” she said.

“Every single federal budget should have a gender lense placed on it, every single superannuation change should have a gender lense placed on it and god damn it if paid parental leave shouldn’t attract superannuation just like every other leave does.”

Edith Cowan University Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Strategic Partnerships), Professor Cobie Rudd said she focuses on counter-programming gender stereotypes from the earliest age possible.

“When you go to the traffic lights on the weekend and you pull up, have a look at the car next to you and you may see a nuclear family, a father in the driving seat, a partner in the passenger seat and a couple of kids or more in the back,” she said.

“Now that would be ok, if who was driving was negotiated openly in front of the children, but if it’s not and they just get in the car and it’s automatic and that’s how it happens, at two years old you start to form a gender stereotype that dad is in charge.

“He’s the one who’s in the driving seat.”