Gender equity more than a women's issue - Speech, House of Representatives


House of Representatives, 15 August 2018

I rise to speak on the topic of gender equity. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency reports that in 1997 the gender pay gap among full-time workers in Australia was 16½ per cent. Twenty years later in 2017, it had narrowed to 15½ per cent. If we continue at that pace, narrowing the gender pay gap by half a percentage point every decade, then in a mere 310 years, Australian women will be earning the same wages as Australian men.

I suspect if you told Jessie Street, Vida Goldstein, Louisa Lawson or Eileen Powell that it was going to take until 2328 for Australia to close the gender pay gap, they would have told you that we weren't doing a good enough job. We have also a gender gap in superannuation balances: for those aged 55-64, men have an average balance of $310,000; women, an average balance of $196,000.

Gender equity matters of course for Australian women, but also for Australian men. We've had a debate in this place today about the virtues of diversity, and one of the facts that's worth reminding ourselves of is that diversity has an economic pay-off. Diverse cities are more productive. Diverse companies are more productive. Diverse countries are more productive. Diversity helps new ideas spring up, and so firms and organisations that embrace gender diversity will not only benefit women; they'll benefit men as well.

Yet, in Australia, we have a strikingly large gender pay gap, particularly at the top. I mentioned before the average gender pay gap of 15½ per cent. Work done by Hiau Joo Kee, while she was a colleague of mine at the Australian National University, looked at this across the distribution and whether it was a question more of sticky floors or glass ceilings. She found that for the bottom decile of earners there was effectively no gender pay gap. For the top decile, the gender pay gap was 27 percentage points. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency reports that for finance it's 26 per cent. Among managers, the gender pay gap is 29 per cent. As inequality has risen in Australia, it has led the gender pay gap to be wider than it would otherwise be.

If we look in this place, we see a significant gender gap in terms of representation. Parliaments should look like the communities they serve, but currently women comprise only 32 per cent of all those serving in the House and the Senate. There is, it must be said, a gap across the parties. Even a casual observer of question time these days notes the substantially larger number of women on this side of the House than on the coalition side—among Labor members, women currently make up 46.3 per cent; among the Liberal Party, 23.5 per cent; and among the Nationals, 9.5 per cent. If you look globally Australia is ranked 50th by the Inter-Parliamentary Union for women's parliamentary representation which puts us behind both New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

When you turn to boards, we see an even larger gender pay gap. Women currently comprise 44.5 per cent of positions on Australian government boards but, among ASX 200 board directors, just 26 per cent. The gender gap among CEOs is larger still. Only 14 of the ASX 200 CEOs are women—that's just seven per cent. More Australian companies are run by men called John than are run by women. At the moment, there is only one woman running a top 20—CEO Shemara Wikramanayake, who recently become the first female CEO of Macquarie Group.

It's important that we bring more prominence to the research around this important work being done on flexible work by Claudia Goldin and work on risk by Alison Booth. Michelle Ryan and Alexander Haslam have done studies on the notion of a glass cliff—that women may be promoted to top roles in times of trouble -- with Kim Campbell, Jill Abramson, Marissa Mayer, Joan Kirner and Carmen Lawrence being examples that immediately come to mind.

Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.