Conference on Gender Equality in Government and Business – MENA Initiative (Photo credit: OECD)
Gender Equality is important, particularly in terms of gender diversity and seeing more women in leadership. Women make up up more than half the population in most countries, except for India and China (United Nations 2010; pg. vii) where there are more men than women, effectively creating a greater number of men worldwide. Women are the back bone of support structures in most situations (some without choice), and are the target of marketers of consumer products, yet they do not have full representation at executive manager and board level in most organizations.
It is imperative that women claim their voice, as equal citizens, as company directors and policy makers to shape a future for our children that is inclusive and not exclusive. Gender diversity is here, and is rightfully being recognized as a way to improve economic outcomes by tapping into creativity, innovation and a thinking pattern outside the norm. Gender diversity programs offer organizations a mechanism to reach female resource’s that are often hidden in supporting roles where they are merely supporters of strategy instead of the instigators or collaborators of organisational strategy.
Greater gender diversity will allow many women to input directly into our economic future as decision makers and leaders, and not be restricted to indirectly impacting the economy by being consumers and supporters. The parenting and care giver role, traditionally attributed to female’s need not be barriers to a women’s progression to leadership roles, or economic burdens if we value those roles. The burden of childcare still falls to many women, often by choice, but this can also create perceived barriers to their career advancement or their ability to have agency over themselves and their own choices.
Very often the female’s wage is seen as the ‘second income’ for a family – or the ‘little job’ as many women refer to it, so it becomes a gender issue for a couple of reasons, but most notably because in our society like most others, the idea of women as primary care givers of children reinforces the idea of a gendered role for women. Of course, both men and women can look after children, but way back in about 1890 in Australia the start of wage inequality happened with policies developed specifically to discourage women from re entering the workforce. Some of this lead to the separation of roles (market separation) and the feminizing of parts of the workforce. Once a part of the work effort became feminized and primarily performed by women, the wage could be lowered and these female workers could be paid much less than men – since it was believed that they could only ever make a small contribution to the family income because it was well known at the time (by the men making the policy) that men were the ‘breadwinners’.
Around this time, 1907 (the Harvester Judgement), the then President of the Australian Arbitration Court, Henry Borne Higgins devised the “living wage’ that was based on what he determined to be the minimum amount required for a man with a wife and 3 children to “keep himself and his family in frugal comfort” (MacIntyre 1985, pg; 55). Mr Justice Higgins based his calculations on his expectation that all adults would marry, and that men were always the primary wage earners. This is important because some of that thinking is alive and well in the minds of our policy makers today.
Most notable being ex Australian Prime Minister John Howard who put many women offside because of his strong views about a woman’s place in the home. Current Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott often expresses similar views and consequently women have to constantly fight legislation that tries to erode their ability to work outside the home. The most obvious place that this happens is in the cost of childcare. For a average young family in Australia where the male earns a take home pay of $600, the second income, usually the female’s is capped at around $400 take home (after tax). Anything over this means that they lose any child care subsidy that they currently have, meaning that for the female to go back to full time work, they need to earn a substantial income to cover the costs of full time childcare which can be anything from $80+ per day. When you start to do the sums, she is almost better to stay at home, which some believe is the purpose of the policy. I wouldn’t like to say that, however there are issues with this way of creating policy that I think is pretty shortsighted and entrenched in the patriarchal and religious belief’s of less enlightened times.
Another problem for single mothers is that this same system can just encourage a cash economy as they struggle to get a second income to try and get ahead. Whilst they are stuck in low paying, casual jobs, many of them are losing their skill currency and this is what is costing our economy money, because they are not working to their full potential. Many are lost to their earlier careers, often finding it hard to get back into the same employment after taking time out for child care, meaning that the valuable input of talented women is being lost to our organisations and ultimately our economy.
MacIntyre, Stuart (1985) ‘A fair wage’ in Winners and Losers: The Pursuit of Social Justice in Australian History, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, Ch.3, pp. 51-58 (excerpt)
United Nations Statistics Division (2010), ‘The Worlds Women, Trends and Statistics’, Department of Economics and Social Affairs, ST/ESA/STAT/SER.K/19,United Nations publication,Sales No. E.10.XVII.11 downloaded 5/04/2013, http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/products/Worldswomen/WW_full%20report_color.pdf