Australia: International Womens Day 2017: Why fixing women is not the answer
Last Updated: 1 May 2017

International Women's Day 2017: Why fixing women isn't the answer

"The best people to break up the old boys' club are the boys," says Catherine Fox, one of Australia's leading commentators on women and the workforce.

Fox was guest speaker at Norton Rose Fulbright's 2017 International Women's Day event. She is also a journalist and the author of the soon-to-be-released "Stop Fixing Women: Why Building Fairer Workplaces is Everyone's Business."

"The idea that women are the problem and the solution [to the gender equity issue] isn't working," said Fox. Women are told they need to negotiate better, speak up, support each other, strike a balance between work and home. But, says Fox, women fixing themselves won't fix the system; 'leaning in' isn't going to bridge the gender pay gap. Fox's solution? Men need to get on board, she says.

Fox's message is an important one for Australian business, where there are still only nine female CEOs in the ASX 200. But it's especially relevant to the insurance industry: for the third year running, Insurance and Financial Services has the highest gender pay gap of any industry in Australia. A key finding from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency's (WGEA) 2015-2016 data is a gender pay gap of 33.5% in insurance and financial services.

While there's obviously a long way to go (the World Economic Forum predicts that the gender gap won't close entirely until 2186!), it's important to recognise how far we've come. It was only in 1984 that it became illegal for Australian employers to refuse to employ a woman because of her sex. And Catherine Fox told the Norton Rose Fulbright audience that when she started writing about gender equity in the early 1990s, it wasn't considered a legitimate business issue. Clearly, this is no longer the case.

The business case versus the moral case

Indeed, academic psychologist Cordelia Fine suggests that the business case for gender diversity has become so entrenched that we've forgotten about the concept of injustice when it comes to unequal pay. Writing for the March 2017 edition of The Monthly, Fine discusses the moral case for equal opportunity; concepts of fairness and redressing wrongs. She looks at how we have ended up in a situation where companies do not ask what they can do to further equality; only what diversity can do for their bottom line.

Fine writes: "In an interview study of more than 40 Male Champions of Change in 2016, Professor Isabel Metz of the Melbourne Business School found that the most active, passionate members tended to be driven by a desire for a fair workplace, sometimes alongside personal or vicarious experience of discrimination or exclusion. The business case [for gender equality] did draw in some Champions, but they tended to be less, well, champion-y." Fine concludes that the moral case for equal opportunity may provide the strongest motivation for change.

It seems that the best people to break up the old boys' club are not just any boys, but those 'boys' who are fuelled by a desire for a fair workplace.

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