On 26 April, NCOSS CEO Tracy Howe gave evidence at the Committee hearing into gender segregation in the workplace and its impact on women's economic equality. Here are her opening remarks:
Women’s economic equality is not only a women’s issue, but a social and economic program affecting us all, and while enormous improvements have been made in our workplaces, and our legal and social systems, many inequalities still remain- Industrial and occupation gender segregation being a key one.
At NCOSS, as the peak body for community service organisations in NSW, women’s economic empowerment is a key focus area for us, and a key area of concern for our members.
Gender segregation in the workplace, its causes and its impacts, is incredibly complex and shaped by a multitude of interconnecting factors. Through our New Year for Women Campaign we consulted with our members across the state, and spoke with over 100 organisations and key stakeholders from across business, the community sector, academia and government, and from regional, rural and remote communities. Our advisory panels – Young Women, Seven Sisters (Aboriginal Torres Strait islander) and CALD - are also an immense source of knowledge and intelligence, and provide expert advice on what is needed for their communities across the state to financially empower women and address segregation in the workplace.
What we heard is that there are three key factors that impact on a women’s decision to enter, stay and advance in the workforce through the course of her lifecycle.
- Education and chosen fields of study
- Prevalence of women in leadership positions
- Caring responsibilities and the gendered nature of work and working arrangements.
From an early age due to a broad range attitudes and expectations around gender roles and abilities, boys and girls are unconsciously funnelled into certain roles, industries and occupations. From a young age women need to have access to career guidance programs, work rights materials and financial literacy programs that are specific to the needs of girls. Gender bias initiatives should be rolled out in schools, and encourage the benefits of improving gender diversity in the workplace, and across all areas of society.
In the workforce, while women comprise 46% of the Australian workforce, they remain underrepresented in leadership and management positions across all sectors and industries. We need to improve the rates of women, in all their diversity, in leadership roles so women can contribute and have the authority to decide and negotiate on issues that affect them. The government can lead this by setting a minimum target of 40% representation of each gender on all government boards, and carrying out regular and consistent audits on total workforce, board compositions and leadership and remuneration by gender. We need to bring business into this discussion and create avenues of collaboration and cross industry relations, and strategies to carry out best practise.
The nature of work, and workplace culture remains one of the most inhibiting factors to a women’s entry into the workforce, their advancement and pay equity. We need reforms to workplace culture, child care and Australia’s paid parental leave scheme. Flexible working arrangements need to cover all forms of caring responsibilities and be actively available to men and women, and the paid parental leave scheme needs to be improved over time to allow for 26 wees paid parental leave, offering 4 weeks to a partner of a use it or lose it basis. All level of governments need to further ensure affordable early childhood education and care, particularly for low income and vulnerable families.
In the long term, if we are to achieve genuine progress, we need strong and responsive authorities to advocate for these positions and strong independent monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to hold us accountable.
Finally, underpinning and central to these recommendations and policies is the knowledge of different women’s experience and the barriers they face. All recommendations that come out of this inquiry, need to take an intersectional approach and support women who experience gender inequality the most and are more financially and economically vulnerable - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, CALD women, women with disability, young and older women and women regional, rural and remote communities. These communities need to be embedded from the beginning in developing strategies and policies to address gender segregation and equality more broadly. We know that these communities have their own solutions and if they are empowered to deliver these solutions, together we can make real change for gender equity and gender segregation in the workforce.
Read the NCOSS submission to the inquiry into gender segregation in the workplace and its impact on women's economic equality.