A Step Towards Gender Equality?

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The Australian Government Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) just released its latest gender equality data and scorecard, with some promising news.

(Click here to access the WGEA’s report.)

The gender pay gap seems to be closing (down 1.6 percentage points), and female representation among business leaders seems to be growing (up 2.4 percentage points). The bad news is that there’s still a gender pay gap in Australia and that we still have not achieved gender equality among leaders.

Consistent with our findings in the Study of Australian Leadership, the glass ceiling is clearly a problem. Gender inequality is more evident as we go higher up the management hierarchy.

But, overall, are we heading towards gender equality?

We can celebrate our small wins, but we shouldn’t get overconfident and “move on”. The data support the idea that there could be a trend towards equality, but it’s only the third year of data collection since the Workplace Gender Equality Act.

When the temperature goes up for three days, it could mean summer’s coming, but it could also just be a warm front. If temperatures for those three days were getting into the extremes — the 30s (Celsius) — we might be more confident that summer was here. Or, if the three days turned into two weeks, we’d have more confidence that summer was here. But it would be premature to declare the approach of summer based on what could be a short-lived warm front.

Similarly, if we want to be more confident that our efforts are leading us towards gender equality, we’d want to see a larger change (a quicker reduction of the pay gap and increase in female representation) or a change that extends across a longer period of time. And both of these would be ideal, of course!

So, while we can be pleased with what the recent data seem to indicate, let’s exercise caution and continue our efforts in this area.

Gender equality and related subjects like the pay gap, gender targets, or work flexibility should not be seen as “last year’s initiative” or “this year’s initiative”. These ought to be ongoing efforts that reach deep into organisational strategy and culture. You are permitted to cease to focus on diversity, equality, and inclusion only when you cease to focus on financial targets/viability of your organisation. The former is at least as important as the latter.

What should you do?

There are a few things you and your leaders should do, if you haven’t already…

1. Learn more about gender equality. Find out how to develop a gender equality strategy for your organisation with the WGEA’s resources. The Centre for Workplace Leadership, supported by the Commonwealth Department of Employment, used this approach in 10 different organisations. These case studies are posted on our website.

2. Do your own research. The WGEA’s data collection spans three years, but your organisation may have data that goes back further. You could conduct your own pay gap analysis and track gender representation over time. Learning more about your organisation’s history and current situation will help you channel your efforts more effectively.

3. Promote flexible work arrangements. They’re a great way to promote gender equality, as well as equality on age, disability, and other characteristics. The WGEA provides a number of resources, and the Centre for Workplace Leadership is doing exciting work in this area. Take a look at some of our work on our website, and stay tuned for more.

4. Find out more about the academic research on diversity and diversity management. I provide a brief summary of some core work in my three-part blog series. Also take a look at our Study of Australian Leadership for a discussion on diversity in leadership. Make sure that your professional and organisational activities are informed by evidence. Don’t let catchy listicles, pop management books, or leadership fads determine what you do.

5. Stay tuned. Watch our website and follow us on social media for more on this and other important topics in diversity, inclusion, and leadership more generally.

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Header image credit: MAURO CATEB.