Time to stop the battle of the sexes

In his own words - Women in Leadership

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Organisations and governments need to start having different conversations about gender equity - a conversation that stops pitting men against women. We must recognise the national economic imperative to get this right and accept that measures to date have been impeded by entrenched cultural bias - on all sides.

Our interviewees agree that getting around this bias will require radical changes: from companies placing as much focus on gender equity as they do on safety, to all organisations embracing flexible working conditions as normal and acceptable, to governments providing affordable childcare.

It’s time for all Australians to accept that these changes are not just for the benefit of working women - they are essential changes to the fabric of our society and workplaces, which will benefit us all.

Give everyone a ‘fair go’

For decades, Australia’s campaign for gender equity has been played out in adversarial terms - with measures criticised for being ‘unfair’. Moves to proactively put women in the leadership pipeline are referred to in terms of being unfair to the men whose linear careers naturally took them there; paying parental leave is said to be unfair to workers who do not have children; those who are allowed to work part-time are accused of unfairly leaving fulltimers to carry the brunt of the work load.

Yet Australians are sufficiently civically minded to embrace this type of ‘unfairness’ in other parts of our society. The ablebodied are altruistic enough to pay higher taxes to fund Disability Services Australia. People in good health fund Medicare; just as those without children fund public education through the tax system. Why? Because these are issues of social justice and national prosperity.

Looking after the most vulnerable in our society reflects our humanity and supports a well-rounded society. Educating our future workforce is an economic imperative. Australia needs to embrace the fact that gender equity plays to these issues too. Remunerating people equally for equal work done is a simple matter of fairness. Greater workforce participation increases national productivity and makes the country’s balance sheet stronger: the more people who work, the more taxes are gathered and the less reliant our population is on government benefits.

Stop the drain on our economy

As our population ages, age pension benefits will become an ever increasing drain on our national resources. One of the biggest hurdles for women trying to accumulate sufficient superannuation, and therefore becoming less reliant on Government benefits, is the penalty of interrupted work patterns. If we could stop motherhood from derailing female careers and reduce women’s reliance on the age pension by just 10%, it would save $2 billion per annum today and $8 billion per annum in 20504.

With increasing pressure on our economy from demographics and globalisation, we need to see gender equity through a different lens.

This is not about men vs. women, parents vs. the child-free, or fulltime vs. part-time workers. It’s about allowing everyone who can to contribute to the economic wellbeing of the nation - because living in a stronger, more resilient economy will benefit all Australians.

4 Untapped opportunity - The role of women in unlocking Australia’s productivity potential, Ernst & Young, July 2013