|Gender equality initiatives in the workplace|
|Tuesday, 06 April 2010 00:00|
New research by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) has found that pay inequity costs $93 billion per year to the Australian economy or 8.5% of Gross Domestic Product.
This included complicated factors such as consideration of women’s caring responsibilities, women’s choices of careers, jobs and work hours, women’s work motivations, bargaining power and appetite for risk, as well as discrimination against women that occurs in the workplace.
A recent government review of the equal opportunity laws has found most businesses believe laws have not kept pace with the changing workforce and need to be tightened to help close the gender pay gap.
The review, by audit company KPMG, found only 25 per cent of women in the workforce were covered by anti-discrimination laws because small business and the public sector were exempt. Industry groups and private companies have told the government a tougher reporting scheme is needed, such as the requirement that companies publish how many women they employ along with how much they earn.
Further, the federal government believes men should be able to access all the same benefits and flexibility of family-friendly work arrangements as women, and this will be reflected under changes to discrimination laws that are currently being drawn up.
Ironically, if this happens, it could well be the key factor in giving women more equality and better pay in the workplace.
The government believes women’s equality in the workplace has remained static because anti-discrimination laws and equal opportunity laws have perversely prevented men from taking on greater responsibilities at home.
Women earn 17 per cent less than men, a gap that has narrowed by only 2.5 per cent in 25 years. Australia also has one of the lowest rates of women’s participation in the workforce in the developed world.
Part of the problem is the large number of women who work part-time, which often precludes them from senior roles and higher pay.
The Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick argues if more men were able to work part-time or under flexible hours, the positions would be taken more seriously by employers.
“Flexible work is seen as a work practice for women with young children and a poor relation to real work which is full-time work,” Ms Broderick said. “Men working differently is what’s going to bring about attitudinal change.”
The government has already introduced a gender-neutral ‘right to request’ flexible working hours in its national employment standards. It is working on amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act to remove a discrepancy that prevents men from taking action against an employer unless they are fired or directly discriminated against.
Women have wider protection from what is known as indirect discrimination such as meetings scheduled outside their working hours or senior jobs being open only to full-time employees.
The KPMG review recommended options for boosting the number of women in the workforce and in senior positions.
An important step in giving women the opportunity to re-enter the workforce is the historic introduction of Australia’s first Paid Parental Leave scheme. From 1 January 2011, eligible employees will receive up to 18 weeks of taxable payments paid at the level of the National Minimum Wage. The government hopes the Paid Parental Leave scheme will foster increased workforce participation by helping women maintain their careers. This will support stronger families and give children the best start in life.