Employers should be removing barriers for women, not reinforcing them
By Phi Tran
Every International Women’s Day there is a lot of discussion around what women can and should do more of to achieve pay parity and equality in the workforce, but limited reflection on what employers are actively doing to help female employees achieve these things.
Discussions often focus on the pay gap being a result of women working in lower-paid industries or not working full-time, however there are many barriers to parity occurring across all industries. Just last week, the Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner published that women now outnumber men at 53% of the legal profession, compared to only 27% in 1997, yet women are still experiencing slower career progression and underrepresentation in senior roles and are leaving the profession earlier than their male colleagues.
Slower career progression doesn’t just contribute to the pay gap while women are working. It translates into a significant superannuation gap, something many women may not be thinking about in the early to mid-stages of their careers.
Currently, superannuation is not paid on parental leave, unlike other types of leave, which disadvantages women who are more likely to move in and out of work to have and care for children. Today, the federal government rejected a plan to change this, leaving the responsibility with organisations to implement their own policies. According to data released by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the private sector is making good changes and leading the way in contributing super for periods of paid parental leave, but there is still a way to go.
Inflexibility from employers is another big issue women face that can significantly impact their career progression and make pay parity harder to achieve.
COVID-19 has taught us that hybrid work models can and do work in many industries and allow greater flexibility for employees, particularly those with parental and carer responsibilities. Many employees are reluctant to return to the office full-time but are hesitant to start conversations around flexibility if their employers have indicated that they are not receptive to the concept.
This is not a new issue, but until more companies implement real change and match their policies to their statements each International Women’s Day, we will keep having the same frustrating discussions each year.
Employers must take action – starting by reflecting on the gender diversity within their senior management and workforces and updating their policies to offer permanent and ongoing flexibility to employees, particularly to accommodate parental and carer responsibilities.
Phi Tran is a Lawyer at Jewell Hancock Employment Lawyers