CEO Memo: Let’s choose to challenge

Each year, in the days around International Women’s Day on 8 March, businesses, governments, educational institutions, and communities, focus their attention on the continuing challenge for women’s rights. A common question that has underlaid those discussions is: how much longer will it be before we have gender parity? The 2020 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report says just under 100 years. So, not in our lifetime. 

If you drill down into the statistics however there are some very revealing trends. Globally gender parity is at 68.6 per cent. The broad timeline, including for education and health has come just below 100 years, from 2018 when it was 108 years. However, when you look at economic parity — participation and opportunity — the gender gap will take a whopping 257 years to close. This has in fact increased dramatically since the 2019 report where it stood at 202 years.  

Fifty-five per cent of women participate in the labour market (aged 15-64) globally; for men that stands at 78 per cent. In Australia labour participation for women stands at 59.9 per cent. If this was a function of the parity in educational attainment it might be understandable. However, the one area where the world is racing to parity is in educational achievement. So, the skilling is happening. Clearly, that is still not translating into opportunity, access, and participation in the labour market. Meanwhile women continue to bear the lion’s share of the unpaid work burden. Political empowerment of women, parliamentary representation, and participation in cabinet or ministerial roles all remain dismally low. Interestingly, in the countries where political representation has improved, so has the participation of women in the labour market.

This year the campaign for International Women’s Day is #ChoosetoChallenge. As the World Economic Forum’s report demonstrates, the need to challenge status quo on gender parity has never been more urgent. Economic prosperity and peace in civil society is intricately linked with equal opportunity and access for women in the labour markets. It is deeply connected with gender parity in education and healthcare. It is predicated on a workforce policy that empowers and enables women to participate. It implies equal pay and opportunity for career advancement. And most importantly it calls for strong leadership opportunity and attainment for women in political and business arenas. 

At Governance Institute we are proud of the growing representation of women in our membership and broader community. Thirty-eight per cent of our members are women, up from 30 per cent four years ago. 61 per cent of our new members in 2020 are women, growing from 53 per cent in 2017. Aspiration, skill, ambition, and the capacity for leadership, on which we can build parity is and has always been there. What we urgently need to do is to strengthen our commitment to gender equity and our recruitment and career advancement pathways, to ensure that women who are just as capable as their male counterparts have equal opportunity. We need to look at our executive and boards and see how strongly our expressed intent towards diversity are reflected on those tables. Diversity is one of the issues at the top of agenda for investors, customers, employees, and other stakeholders. They are looking to boards and executives not only to reflect their commitment to diversity in their composition but also to walk the talk in their culture and representation across the organisation.  

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In November 2020, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) had some concerning news to share. Employer action on gender equality has fallen from what it was prior to COVID-19. Gender pay gap for total remuneration closed a miniscule 0.7 percentage points (pp) to 20.1 per cent. But men still earn over $25,534 p.a. more than women on average. Meanwhile, there was a dip of 6.1pp in the number of employers acting on pay equity. It is clear from this, that when a crisis strikes the workforce, women are the first to suffer the consequences. 

What has improved during COVID-19 is the access to flexible work conditions. But we all know that this is not so much due to action on gender parity as it is a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes to the workforce model. However, the acceleration of workforce flexibility will undoubtedly offer greater access and opportunity for many women who have until now struggled to engage. And this can go a long way in meeting the challenge for gender parity.

This year, at Governance Institute’s International Women’s Day webinar, I will be talking to two women leaders who have made their mark in sectors that have traditionally been male dominated, defence and infrastructure. Major General Susan Coyle CSC DSM is Head of Information Warfare for the Australian Defence Forces, and just prior to taking on this role Susan was the first ever woman to be the Commander of Australia’s Joint Forces in the Middle East. Her journey through the army ranks is nothing short of spectacular whether for a man or a woman. Our other speaker, Louise Adams is the Chief Executive for Australia and New Zealand for the infrastructure major Aurecon. Louise became the first Australian woman on Aurecon’s Global Board in 2013 and is CEO Magazine’s 2020 CEO of the Year, just two of the many feathers in her cap. I will be talking to Susan and Louise about their leadership journeys, the leadership philosophies that they hold true and their insights on how we can challenge the status quo on gender equality. Do join me for what will be an illuminating webinar. Together let’s choose to challenge.

Megan Motto will be chairing Governance Institute's International Women's Day — Choose to Challenge webinar on Wednesday, 3 March 2021.