From the Commissioner - Substantive Equality P4, Rethinking Gender Equality

News story
Gender equality is something most of the community is aware of and as a society we have made great progress to achieve this goal.
John pic with Aboriginal painting in the background

It is now possible for women to be members of boards, run large multi-national companies and even countries, but is it probable?

In Australia women make up about half of the workforce yet they are still under-represented at the decision-making level.
Only 19 percent of CEOs are women and women make up only 32.5 percent of key management positions.
Across Australia state government corporations sit at about 50 percent female representation on boards, however ASX200 companies are about 30 percent.

Targets put in place by political parties have increased female representation in Parliament, however WA’s first and last woman Premier was from 1990 to 1993.
In the area of equal opportunity, we often hear people say, ‘there are no laws against women achieving the same as men, so there is nothing stopping gender equality,” – but what if there were barriers stopping gender equality?
Systemic discrimination is when a policies, procedures and laws appear to be equal, but ignore the barriers minority cohorts have accessing them.
This is the final in the From the Commissioner Substantive Equality series, where we have covered systemic discrimination across the top three grounds of discrimination in WA – impairment, race and sex.
Sex is an interesting ground to finalise the series because of the public awareness of this issue.
It is also an interesting ground because at around 50 percent of the population, women are still a disadvantaged group because as a group they will still not achieve the same career outcomes as men.
What barriers do women face to make decision making roles for women less probable?
In my columns Rethinking Access and Rethinking Race, I mentioned subconscious and unconscious bias, this also exists for women.
A white, able-bodied man on a selection panel is more likely to choose someone like himself, which is probably another white, able-bodied man.
Research and numerous studies have shown bias in selection processes is real, and it is just one of the barriers women face to achieving gender equality.
Another barrier is sexual harassment. In the last financial year sexual harassment was the third highest complaint by ground at the Equal Opportunity Commission with 72 complaints, the majority made by women against male colleagues.
Sexual harassment is not just a women’s issue, it is an issue men and women must address together.
 The recent Australian Human Rights Commission report Respect@Work: National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces, details the effect of sexual harassment in workplaces and provides recommendation to address it.
The third barrier to gender equality is the expectation women undertake more of the caring work.
In its insight paper, Unpaid care work and the labour market, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency stated women in Australia spend 64.4 percent of the total work per day in unpaid care work, compared to 36.1 percent for men.
Recently Rio Tinto introduced an 18 week parental leave package available to both male and female employees to create a culture where women and men are treated equally.
More initiatives and incentives such as this need to be introduced to allow women and men to share parental care more evenly.
Laws can only go so far to regulate society and achieve equality of opportunity.
To achieve Substantive Equality decision-makers need to examine attitudes that form barriers to equality and then introduce cultural changes, policies and procedures to really make equality possible.

Page reviewed 10 May 2022