Why are Women still a Minority in Positions of Leadership and Power?

PUBLISED ON 26/03/2013 ON THE MARSHALL TOWN

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Gender inequality in Australian workplaces, such as the imbalance between men and women in leadership roles, continues to contribute to outdated stereotypes of the role of women at home, work and in society.

Research has suggested having women in positions of leadership and power encourages other women to strive for similar opportunities. Some industries, such as building and construction, emergency response, armed forces and farming are considered “male-dominated” and women are underrepresented. The Commonwealth Office for Women has funded campaigns to help identity mechanisms for improving women’s representation in such industries.

Gender equality in Australian workplaces is an important issue facing young women approaching the job market, so why isn’t it being addressed in the 2013 Federal Election?

Typical gender squabbles playing out in suburban lounge rooms are also taking place inside Parliament House. The issues in the 2013 federal election of gender equality and the economy, environment and general political squabbles, have overshadowed the way Australia elected their first female Prime Minister, In the race for leadership in the 2013, the focus on ‘Tony Abbott’s problem with women’ has the power to overshadow matters of policy and principle. Similar to the 2010 federal election, attempts are being made to present Abbott in a misogynistic light.

Perhaps, rather than creating false truths, the focus should be on policy and procedure, the foundations Australian politics claim to be based on.

In a speech in 2010 at the National Press Club in Canberra, titled ‘Australia’s New Political Landscape’, Julia Gillard discusses the historical change in the Australian political landscape. Gillard argues the Labor government she leads has ‘introduced public election funding; women’s suffrage or giving young Australians the right to vote from the age of 18.’ The Gillard government announced that they were aiming to have a redistribution of gender in leadership positions. A goal was set for 40%  male, 40% female and 20% unallocated positions in the workplace, to be achieved by 2015.

In 2012, women made up 24.7% of the elected position in the House of Representatives and 38.2% in the Senate. Women accounted for over half of all academic staff in Australia, with 42% being senior lecturing staff and 27% being heads of units (positions higher then senior lecturers). Many believe gender bias is clouding the current election campaign and Gillard is seen as a feminist activist.

Where is the gender equality in the Australian parliament?

I believe that gender equality will allow for the appropriate individual to be elected based on their skills and experience, not purely on gender. There are a higher number of men in the workplace than women, is this being taken into account? Approximately 53% of women and 68% of men are employed, of women with children under the age of 15 approximately 57% are employed. Although in Australia many people are hired based on gender not their experience or merit.

Would a more welcoming environment cause more women to set their sights on jobs of power and leadership?

The current gender bias in society is that women are employed in roles where their productivity cannot be maximized. According to the report “Women’s employment in the context of the economic downturn,” conducted by The Australian Human Rights Commission in April 2009 research suggests that if the number of women in leadership positions increased the Australian economic activities could be improved by 20%. Although women are free to join many industries figures in the below table show startling results of the comparison between different industries and genders.

TABLE : Composition of employment by industry, gender and full-time/ part-time employment status, November 2008

Industry (ANZSIC 1993)

Male Full-time %

Male Part-time %

Female Full-time %

Female Part-time %

Total employees (‘000)

Agriculture forestry and fishing

61.0

9.0

15.2

14.8

374.3

Mining

82.1

0.8

15.0

2.1

180.3

Manufacturing

68.6

5.2

18.8

7.5

1,066.9

Electricity gas and water supply

74.7

2.9

18.2

4.3

108.1

Construction

80.7

7.6

5.7

6.0

993.8

Wholesale trade

62.1

5.4

21.7

10.7

442.8

Retail trade

32.7

14.5

19.9

32.9

1,544.9

Accommodation, cafes and restaurants

26.6

16.2

23.6

33.7

512.2

Transport and storage

64.9

9.4

17.2

8.5

530.4

Communication services

60.4

7.2

21.1

11.3

197.3

Finance and insurance

43.7

4.0

39.7

12.7

380.1

Property and business services

46.9

6.8

27.8

18.5

1,295.6

Government administration and defence

42.2

3.1

40.2

14.5

485.0

Education

24.2

6.4

40.0

29.3

769.6

Health and community services

16.8

4.8

41.1

37.3

1,134.2

Cultural and recreational services

39.1

14.6

18.3

28.0

288.5

Personal and other services

42.2

7.6

28.8

21.5

413.5

All industries

46.8

8.0

24.9

20.3

10,717.5

(Source: ABS 2009a, 6105.0, original series Table 2.4)

The highest difference in gender distribution amongst different industries can be seen in Mining with 82.1% being fulltime males versus 15.0% being fulltime females, Construction with 80.7% being fulltime males versus 5.7% being fulltime females and Electricity gas and water supply with 74.7% being fulltime males versus 18.2% being fulltime females.

There is no shortage of high-ranking women in Australian leadership. Between Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Governor-General Quentin-Bryce and Queen Elizabeth II, Australia is a country led by women.

However, there still remains a gender pay gap, and rather than campaigning that Abbott is a “woman hater”, Gillard should address real issues facing young women today.

According to statistics released in August 2012, by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency there has been no “increase in female board representation over eight years from 2002 to 2010, with the percentage of female directors consistently hovering around 8.5%”. In the business sector within the Australian workforce the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and New South Wales have the highest proportion of female directors. Victoria has 15.3% of female directors compared to New South Wales which has 14.8% of female directors. Although the 16.7% figure in the ACT, the highest of any state or territory, is based on a small sample. There are only six directorships in the ACT and only one is held by a female.” (2012 Australian Census of Women in Leadership)

A report released by the AMP and the National Centre for Social and Economic Modeling in 2009 discovered that Australian men with a bachelor’s degree or higher and who have children can expect earnings of approximately $3.3 million in their lifetime, nearly double what women in the same category earn over their lifetime with closer to $1.8 million.

With more than a million-dollar difference, there is more than a million-dollar penalty for being a woman in Australian society’s today.

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