On Wednesday I sat alongside Women’s Agenda associate publisher, Angela Priestley and former New South Wales MP Jodi McKay on a panel to discuss female leadership at the Sydney office of law firm K & L Gates. The topic was how far women have come in the workplace and by the time 30 minutes had passed we’d covered sexism, women in the realm of politics, gender roles, feminism, men as caregivers, childcare, tax deductibility of nannies, wives, paternity leave, as well as brown paper bags of money and the Independent Commission Against Corruption. (Jodi was able to share insight on the latter after her encounter with ICAC earlier this year.)
By the time the conversation opened up to the audience there were plenty of questions. A particularly passionate and salient question was posed by Pamela Young, the author of Stepping Up a book about lead, cultural change and diversity, at the end.
“Where are the solutions?” she asked. We’d talked for almost an hour about the problems but what about the path forward? It’s a very valid question and a subject I’ve thought about at length. As I have already written twice this week alone, it is beyond tedious having to articulate the problems for women at work ad nauseam but unfortunately while those problems remain live they need to be discussed. One of the reasons these problems remain live for women is because people don’t realise or believe they exist. Unfortunately we see reminders of this almost daily.
In that regard talking about the problems is part of building a case for solutions and, sometimes, the solution is evident in the problem. In a workplace setting, for example, talking about the fact the 18.2% pay gap between men and women exists can be used as a catalyst to persuade a company to conduct their own pay audit. If there is a gap, it can be addressed.
So what are the solutions? There are big and small changes that we know would help create gender equal workplaces. These are 8 solutions and there are things each of us can do to try and make them happen.
- Unconscious bias training. Lt General David Morrison found this transformative for himself and the army in understanding the dynamics that entrenched gender roles. The CEO of Deloitte Australia and Male Champion of Change Giam Swiegers says this. “The only way you get inclusive leaders is by talking – actually having an honest conversation about the biases out there.” Encourage your bosses or leaders to implement this type of training. If you are a leader implement this in your organisation.
- Pay gap audits. The only way to ascertain whether a pay gap exists in any company is by doing an assessment. Encourage your leaders to do one, or if you are a leader, get started.
- Don’t be a bystander about sexism, sexual harassment or any form of violence towards women. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. Sexism, sexual harassment and violence are only able to flourish when they’re unchallenged. If you see someone being treated in a way that’s unacceptable and you do nothing in response, you are part of the problem. We are all responsible for treating one another with respect and in creating an environment in which that occurs.
- Mainstream flexible work arrangements. As Susan Redden Makatoa argued earlier this week so persuasively it is time to end special treatment for working mums. Flexibility benefits everyone – employers and employees – but not when it is sidelined as a “special exception” for working mums. Why not make all roles flexible?
- Challenge assumptions: Do you think about the cost of childcare as the mother’s expense? Do you think men aren’t as good at looking after babies as women? Or that women aren’t as good at running businesses? These assumptions, which are often innocent, might seem inconsequential but the combined impact is far from inconsequential.
- Share the load at home. The more unpaid work women do the less paid work they can do. There are limited hours in a day so as long as women are performing the bulk of the domestic duties, they will inevitably be trading off time they can spend working. There are obviously no set rules for exactly how families split the housework but as a general rule it’s worth remembering a few things. Namely, that adults who eat should expect to cook. The same way that people who need groceries should expect to buy groceries. Similarly, adults who enjoy clean floors, bathrooms, kitchens and sheets should expect to clean floors, bathrooms, kitchens and sheets. I’m sure you get the picture.
- Overhaul childcare. The cost and availability of childcare remains a significant barrier to work for many Australian women. (In the spirit of checking our assumptions technically it should be a barrier to men as well but currently it is mothers who exit work or work less, more than fathers, due to childcare.) Our working lives have changed dramatically over the past 30 years but our childcare system hasn’t. Solutions in this regard range from making childcare tax-deductible, to overhauling subsidies, to opening more centres. If we are really serious about change however we’d also consider universal access to childcare.
- Set targets or quotas. What gets measured gets done is commonly understood in business. Without setting targets or quotas around the issue of women’s participation and acceleration at work, change is unlikely. It might not seem ideal but what is the alternative? What can companies and individuals do to increase the pressure on this issue?
This list isn’t exhaustive but if each of these things happened we would undoubtedly accelerate the rate of change. What would you add to the list? What solutions can you see?