‘Disappointing’ is the way the Workplace Gender Equality Agency director Libby Lyons describes the results from Australia’s latest gender equality scorecard, released on Tuesday.
“Other than the fantastic result around organisations putting policies in place around family and domestic violence I have to say I’m disappointed,” Lyons says. “I think that things certainly seem to have slowed down and that tells me employers have taken the foot off the pedal.”
A 13.3 percentage point (pp) jump in the number of employers with a policy or strategy on family and domestic violence and an 8.9 pp increase in employers offering paid domestic violence leave were two marked and positive changes from corporate Australia.
Non-public sector employers with 100 or more staff must report to WGEA annually against six gender equality indicators between 1 April 2018 and 31 March 2019. The dataset covered over four million employees, representing more than 40% of employees in Australia.
“When employers take action, it makes a difference,” Lyons says. “Women’s promotions and appointments to managerial roles are rising every year. Over seven in ten employers now have policies or strategies to support gender equality or promote flexible working. Action on addressing pay equity continues to grow.”
But there are problems. While there was a small increase in the representation of women in management the number of female CEOs has not changed, remaining at 17.1% for the second year in a row. Women are still hitting the glass ceiling at the highest levels. Access to paid parental leave has improved but more than 50% of employers still offer no paid parental leave.
“The fact that over half the data set still offer no paid parental leave says to me employers have forgotten the economic benefits and benefits to their business that gender equality can deliver,” Lyons says.
And 50 years after the 1969 equal pay decision which first saw Australian women win the right to be paid the same as men for doing the same work, or work of equal or comparable value the pay gap persists.
“Our data shows that pay gaps favouring men persist in all industries, occupations and manager categories,” Lyons says. “I always welcome a reduction in the gender pay gap, but a drop of only 0.5 percentage points is slow progress by anyone’s measure.”
The latest scorecard indicates that while more Australian employers are taking action to promote gender equality in their organisations the pace of change is modest and uneven.
“Over 72% of organisations have a flexible work policy in place but are they providing employees with the opportunity to take up a flexible work arrangement? Because just 5% have a target and only 2.3% have bothered to set targets for the take up of flexible work arrangements among men. And we know that men are the key to change in terms of flexible work arrangements becoming the norm.”
“We can’t underestimate the role the media plays in the whole gender equality debate and push for change,” Lyons says. “The media have a huge influence and the spotlight on domestic violence proves the impact that media can have on what employers do.”
Lyons is concerned the media’s myopic focus on the pay gap isn’t helping.
“There is huge interest in the pay gap itself but as we have always said the reason we collect all the other data is because the pay gap is a symptom of a broader problem,” Lyons says. “Other factors feed into the pay gap like women in leadership, the number of female CEOs, the existence of flexible work policies.”
While employers aren’t admitting any ‘gender fatigue’ directly to Lyons she’s hearing it anecdotally and she’s not impressed.
“If someone said in a business ‘Oh I’m tired of talking about health & safety’ or ‘I’ve had enough of talking about increasing sales, we’ve done that’ everyone would be up in arms. It’s nonsense,” she says. “Gender equality is no different. We’re taking about half the population. We’re talking about improving the lives of all employees and their families – by providing better workplaces by addressing discrimination in workplaces against women and men.”