Blowing the lid off the glass ceiling

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By Matt Barnett

Gender inequality is an issue that we still face worldwide, and here in Australia.

It is an issue that affects us all and if we have a look more closely, we find that the very perpetrators of the problem are us ourselves, and that little is being done to address an issue that could and would save the economy, not even mentioning the countless social ramifications that this issue raises.

According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), the national gender pay gap statistic currently stands at 18.8% as of May 2015. This equates to an average earning discrepancy between the sexes of $298.10 per week with the average wage being $1587.40 per week for men and $1289.30 for women respectively.

The WGEA website states that the industry with the highest pay gap is the finance and insurance sector, which stands at 29.6%, and with the lowest being the public administration sector, which stands at 7.2%.

The organisational pay gap analysis found that 1 in 4 agency reporting organisations conducted a gender pay gap analysis, and of these 1 in 2 took action to report their gender pay gap with the most common being a review of remuneration outcomes for individual employees (28.2%), and the least common being action being to conduct a gender-based job evaluation process (2.2%).

It also states that “while gender inequality exists, Australia is not only missing out on the important contributions women make to the economy, we are also wasting the years of investment in the higher education of young women. Around 58% of Australia’s university graduates are women but only 67% of working aged women are currently in paid work, compared to 78% of men, indicating Australia is failing to capture the substantial economic contribution tertiary educated women offer.”

Closing the gap between male and female employment rates would have important implications for the Australian economy because it would boost the level of Australian GDP by 11%.

Research suggests that an important element of gender inequality is the dominance of females in low productivity sectors of the economy, particularly health care and training, a bias to clerical roles and to working short hours.

Policies aimed at directing women joining the workforce and entering into more productive sectors of the economy, and retaining women in the workforce for longer would narrow or even eliminate the productivity gender gap. The impact upon the level of economic activity of such a change would be profound.

And on the assumption that females already in the workforce remain in their existing roles, new female entrants exhibiting equal productivity gains as male workers would have the potential to boost the level of economic activity by over 20%.

Closing the male-female employment gap and boosting female productivity would also help to address the problem of pension sustainability via boosting employment among those of working age (thereby reducing the dependency ratio), lifting household saving rates and lifting taxation receipts for government.

Females represent 50.2% of the Australian population and 45.7% of the workforce. They have also worked 7,651,000 hours in the past 12 months or 38.6% of all hours worked, and earn 89% of males income on both an average hourly rate (for non-managerial employees) and fulltime earnings basis.

Although the male and female working age population is of equal size and the proportion of males and females that work part-time are equivalent, only 40% of females of working age worked the whole year compared to 53% of males. One-third of females of working age did not work and did not look for work at any time in the past 12 months. This compares with 22% of males.

Female part-time employees appear more stable in their roles than male counterparts with a higher proportion of females who were working part-time not also having to look for work in the past year.

Male part-time workers when out of work are more likely to spend some of that time disengaged from the workforce and not actively seeking work. There is no evidence that females are less employable with 0.7% of both the male and female labour force actively seeking work all year round and both unable to secure employment.

St Kilda News interviewed the mayor, Ms Amanda Stevens on this issue and found her to be very helpful.

“It has been one of the driving forces of my career,” Ms Stevens said.

And when asked whether she has experienced discrimination in terms of her own career pathway into politics, she said: “we have all had our moments walking into an office and being asked to set up the tea and coffee.”

The mayor used the term “unconscious bias” to describe the problem that we apparently still have both in Australia and the rest of the world.

St Kilda News also asked the mayor if gender inequality was actually a cultural problem that we face in Australia and she conceded that that question was of some interest.

The mayor also cited a lack of female law graduates practicing law, and that this fact alone has ramifications. She described the law profession as “a feeder into careers of influence like politics”.

A study conducted by Dr Sharyn Roach Anleu from Flinders University in South Australia found that the barriers to women’s entry into the legal profession have all but disappeared.

The number of women graduating from law school, and practising law over the last two decades has grown enormously in most industrialised, western societies.

Legal barriers were repealed during the first two decades of the Australian Commonwealth (the first state being Victoria in1903 and the last, Western Australia in 1923). Nevertheless, fewer than one in five of all law graduates were women until the 1970s.

In the decade 1978-1987, the proportion of women graduates grew to almost one half at some law schools.

Similarly, but not as dramatically, the number of women lawyers has expanded. In 1947, only 2 per cent of all practising lawyers in Australia were women compared with 17 per cent in 1986, and an estimated 25 per cent in 1991. The same pattern has been documented in several other societies.

In the United States, for example, women received 2.5 per cent of all law degrees conferred in 1960 and 40 per cent in 1987. Women currently constitute one-fifth of the profession compared with less than 5 per cent in the 1960s and earlier.

Research on stratification within the legal profession indicates that barriers persist resulting in gender segmentation. Women are concentrated in lower paying, less prestigious employment settings with few opportunities for promotion relative to men.

Arguments suggesting that women will make a difference appear to be incompatible with research indicating that women tend to be concentrated in areas and positions where they would have very little scope for transforming the organisation of legal work and knowledge.

In answer to the question whether women will be changed by the legal profession or whether the legal profession will be changed by the increased presence of women, many argue that the entrance of women will make a difference as they will adopt a caring approach, valuing empathy and mediation over a competitive, adversarial and individualistic orientation and that the law can incorporate women’s experiences and approaches to practice.

Others argue that the law is so imbued with such masculine values as objectivity, reasonableness, individual rights and adversarial tactics, and has been so instrumental in perpetrating gender inequality that there is little scope for women to make any difference.

But imbued within the question is the assumption that gender necessitates fundamental differences in character and personality and so the stereotype is perpetuated. Here, the mayor’s notion of “unconscious bias” continues to resonate

Research shows gender stereotypes are emphasised not long after birth; parents treat their sons and daughters differently. Specifically, they typically respond more frequently to requests for help from daughters, while sons are usually encouraged to solve problems independently. In addition, many parents encourage gender-typical behaviours by offering gender-specific toys such as dolls for girls and trucks for boys.

The media also influences and perpetuates gender stereotypes. TV, movies and books often portray male figures as aggressive and in leadership roles, while portraying females as domestic and obedient. The behaviour of peers is another strong influencer of gender stereotypes.

Children’s playmates and classmates frequently encourage adherence to traditional gender stereotypes by responding more positively to children who play in gender-appropriate ways and more negatively to those who don’t. Peers may also ridicule or avoid their peers who enrol and excel in gender-inappropriate subjects.

Teachers also perpetuate gender differences. They tend to give more attention to boys partly because boys ask more questions and present more discipline problems. Teachers also give feedback more to boys than to girls, providing a sinister connotation that a boy’s future career is more valid than a girl’s.

Given the economic implications, for a start, the question remains as to when we as a society are going to attempt to tackle an issue that groans for reform.

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