Getting women back to work is good for our economy. Source: Supplied
GETTING more women back to work and further up the career ladder is key to boosting the economy, writes Jessica Irvine.
Governor-General Quentin Bryce is one classy lady and a role model for young women everywhere. Speaking yesterday at the launch of the federal gender watchdog’s latest census of women in leadership, 69-year-old Ms Bryce, rocking in a skirt suit of the hottest pink you can imagine, shared her memory of life before the women’s movement.
It’s worth recalling here:
“I’m a girl of the ’60s,” Ms Bryce began. “A time when women in jobs were clustered in a narrow range of occupations.
“Marriage meant resignation. Pay was two thirds of men’s. No maternity leave. No childcare. No role models. No mentors. Little access to superannuation or higher education. There were separate job ads for women and girls, men and boys.
“I was the only girl from my school to go to university. There were a handful of us in law school.
“I was shocked to see only one woman scholar on campus at University of Queensland and to learn that I would have to leave work when I was married. It’s no wonder women started to take action.”
Ms Bryce’s story shows how far we have come. But, as she points out, it is not nearly far enough.
Decades on, women remain shut out of the corridors of power. Despite some high-profile examples of women in politics and civic life, like our Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Ms Bryce, men continue to dominate the business world.
Of Australia’s upper 500 companies listed on the stock exchange, just 12 were headed by women at the time of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace’s 2012 census. That has since dropped to 10. That’s 2 per cent of companies headed by women.
Worse still, at the key senior executive level the feeder for future CEOs two thirds of the the top 500 companies have no women.
It must be a depressing picture for the firebrands of the 1960s and 1970s. It is certainly a wake-up call for their daughters and granddaughters of how much more work we have to do.
As our firebrand Ms Bryce put it yesterday: “Why do the new generation of 20 to 30-something women who are better educated than their male colleagues continue to earn less, labour in lower status positions and struggle to juggle the demands of childcare and work?”
Because it’s not just our top executive women who are struggling. Figures for the entire economy show Australia’s female workforce participation rate, at 59 per cent of working-aged women, is lower than our international counterparts.
In New Zealand the percentage is much higher at 72 per cent. In the UK it is 69 per cent.
Boosting the status of women at work is not just a moral but an economic imperative.
In a pre-recorded message to yesterday’s lunch, the boss of ANZ, Mike Smith, made the point: “Gender diversity is not only about equity, it also makes good business sense. It’s really as simple as that.”
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