Step up big business: More Australian organisations need to meet simple gender principles | Women's Agenda

Step up big business: More Australian organisations need to meet simple gender principles

This week, Oxfam published a report finding that at the current rate of decline, the world will be waiting another 75 years before closing the gender pay gap

The report has got people talking, with news articles and opinion pieces published across almost all our major news outlets. Looking at it from the perspective of 75 years is clever. It’s a figure people can remember and recite. An easy grab that highlights just how much work there is to do. It’ll be a figure that’s continually quoted in the months to come, much like the finding from the Grattan Institute that estimates a six per cent increase in women’s workforce participation would see Australia’s GDP increase by $25 billion.

The opportunities are endless and yet serious action on making gender diversity a key economic issue — one that sees empowering women as fundamental in all our economic priorities — is usually a very short conversation. At the government level, talking up policies such as paid parental leave appear to be enough to tick the box on women’s workforce participation.

And at a company level, gender diversity initiatives are often left to the HR department to check off on, rather than seen as a company-wide imperative.

Yesterday, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Institute of Management and Business SA signed the CEO Statement of Support on the UN’s Women’s Empowerment Principles. These seven principles offer organisations best practices from around the world and guidelines regarding how to foster gender equality. They encourage companies to include gender diversity in their key strategic priorities, in order to better leverage the proven business case for gender diversity.

I was surprised to hear that these three signatures bring to just sixteen the number of Australian organisations to have signed on to the principles. They join Allens, Aurizon, Carnival Australia, Coca-Cola Amatil, Equals International, Griffin Legal, Law In Order, King & Wood Mallesons, Optimum Capital Management, Parsons, Pottinger, PwC Australia and Westpac.

Around the world, almost 800 organisations have signed on.

Why has the uptake been so slow in Australia, despite the fact the principles were largely developed in Melbourne, with the help of BPW Australia and other stakeholders?

Is it that the principles are far too onerous and difficult for organisations to comply with? If a business is interested in harnessing the potential of gender diversity in improving its bottom line, the answer to that question is a resounding no.

In short, the principles include:

1. Leadership Promotes Gender Equality
2. Equal Opportunity, Inclusion and Nondiscrimination
3. Health, Safety and Freedom from Violence
4. Education and Training
5. Enterprise Development, Supply Chain and Marketing Practices
6. Community Leadership and Engagement
7. Transparency, Measuring and Reporting

The principles do not request quotas or require companies to complete difficult reporting obligations (although they do highlight the need for targets and goals). They do not ask companies to do anything that won’t ultimately contribute to the bottom line, as well as to the health, wellbeing and work/life satisfaction of its employees. They do not extend beyond what many would consider as common sense and good business practice, and they meet standards of what many women would simply expect from a good employer — equal play, flexible working options, fair access to education, training, networking and mentoring, as well as a safe and inclusive workplace and a company that promotes gender equality in the community.

These principles are not unreasonable asks. But they do require a level of change that could be uncomfortable. They need gender equality to be placed at the heart of all business decisions and strategic priorities. They need champions who are prepared to continually drive the cultural adjustment that’s required — pioneers who will lead on taking their businesses to new places, ultimately opening new opportunities. Clearly, they need leadership to come from the top and it’s interesting to note that a number of the above 16 signatories have female chiefs, including the ACCI, Westpac, Pottinger and Carnival.

These Women’s Empowerment Principles were up for discussion over lunch yesterday, held alongside the B20 Summit, in which the ACCI and it’s partners brought business leaders together to discuss how such principles can help business improve their ‘gender dividend’. UN Women, BPW Australia, Corporate Sustainability Australia, The Australian Human Rights Commission, Australian Mines and Metals and other stakeholders are currently working to encourage more businesses to get involved.

Let’s hope yesterday’s discussion will kickstart the momentum needed to get all our major employers involved. Seventy five years is a long time to wait. Twenty five billion dollars is a lot of money to miss out on. And all those opportunities for building good businesses can not be ignored.

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