Discrimination against women is a violation of human rights. Australia’s cultural and social history has led to systemic discrimination as well as to individual acts of discrimination. As per Article 2 of CEDAW, WEL calls on governments to institute legislative and other measures which prohibit and seek to eradicate discrimination against women. WEL supports the Sex Discrimination Act and is opposed to any changes which would weaken its effectiveness. WEL further calls for the removal of all exemptions for religious and other bodies from the Sex Discrimination Act. WEL calls for a new framework such as a national plan of action within which women’s fundamental right to equal opportunity and equal citizenship is acknowledged and promoted. Such a framework would encompass effective equality legislation, the independence and proper resourcing of bodies charged with implementing such legislation, exemption from court fees for discrimination complaints, provision of legal aid for test cases and the systematic review of legislation and policies for discriminatory implications.
Good news on the Federal discrimination scene
Greater protections against sexual harassment and discrimination.
The Australian Parliament has passed the Sex and Age Discrimination Legislation Amendment Bill 2010. The new law will provide greater protections by: prohibiting discrimination on the basis of family responsibilities for both men and women in all areas of employment; establishing breastfeeding as a separate ground of discrimination, and allowing measures to be taken to accommodate the needs of breastfeeding mothers; and bringing in new protections for students from sexual harassment, including over the internet or by texting.
The previous Sex Discrimination Commissioner of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has conducted an extensive Listening Tour throughout Australia and announces a “roadmap towards gender equality”. CLICK here to read the full HREOC Media Release with all the proposed outcomes for women.
It was stated that only three percent of senior managers with profit and loss accountability are women. It is asserted that the focus must be on men to allow them flexible work arrangements as well as women. Currently the need for caring is having a negative effect for women who take the maternal leave entitlement at a time in their careers when employees need to put in the big hours. Currently, we have half the talent of Australia put aside so we cannot expect to be competitive.
Men and Workplace Laws
After creating an equal environment for women in the workplace, it’s now time to give men the opportunity to be stay-at-home fathers. Under proposed amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act, companies will be forced to give working fathers more flexible hours so they can take greater responsibility for child care. Men, as well as women, will now be formally protected from discrimination based on their caring and family responsibilities.
On 8 October 2010, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) launched ‘Gender @ a Glance’, its gender statistics web page. This topic page provides a central access point to gender-related statistical sources and sex-disaggregated data currently on the ABS website. Further work will be done by the ABS over time to expand the contents of the gender page. The topic page is part of a wider project developing a set of national gender indicators. The Australian Gender Indicators Project is being done as a partnership between the ABS, FaHCSIA and the Commonwealth, State, Territory and New Zealand Ministers’ Conference on the Status of Women (MINCO). When established, the National Gender Indicators will enable monitoring and analysis of differences in outcomes between women and men across a variety of sources. More Gender Statistics are available on the ABS website.
The Office for Equal Opportunity in the Workplace reported the Australian Census of Women in Leadership. The report shows that not only are there not enough women in Board positions, but they are also underrepresented in the line-management positions which are the typical feeders for Boards of Directors.
The two-speed economy has morphed into a battle of the sexes
Women are losing the fight as the tug of war between the booming male-dominated mining sector and the flagging retail sector, staffed heavily by women, has helped to push the gender pay divide to 17.5 per cent. As demand for labour to drive trucks and dig minerals out of the ground pushes up wages for men employed in mining and construction, women employed in casual jobs in retail are having shifts cut back, reducing their wages. The Australian.
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination, and constitutes an abuse of power which embarrasses, humiliates, intimidates and coerces. It may be intentional or unintentional and it may also constitute criminal behaviour. It creates a hostile and threatening environment in which the victims feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. If women or men are dismissed after complaining about sexual harassment this can constitute illegal unfair dismissal and can be pursued in the courts. This has given rise to the new “#ME TOO” worldwide movement.
Sexual harassment can be a familiar touch on the leg, an amusingly suggestive email, the odd question about a woman’s sex life or a lingering look. Basically sexual harassment is unwelcome or unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which offends. It can also be physical cornering, unwanted groping hugs or kisses, emails or texting.
It has been found that many men and women don’t really understand what sexual harassment in the workplace is. For example, if someone asks you out on a date and you say “No, thanks”, then, if they are around sitting in your workspace or texting you still, it becomes unlawful. Often young people say that they know it is not OK if their uncle does it, but they think it must be acceptable in the workplace. Some feel they will be victimized if they bring a complaint about sexual harassment, and can think that it is not serious enough. The conduct can be one-off or ongoing, but is usually over a long period of time.
Sexual harassment is across all age groups and all kinds of workplaces – small, medium and large businesses. Casual, temporary and contract workers are three times more likely to experience it. Some employers should have stronger leadership and effective training. There should be a mechanism in the business for complaints and reporting. One in ten of those surveyed said they had witnessed sexual harassment.
There are free, accessible and timely external complaints mechanisms. So if there is none in your workplace come to the Australian Human Rights Commission or a State-based commission. They have an early intervention strategy and can help while you are still in employment. It is important that you are not isolated – talk to friends and family and seek support. If you are getting sexually harassed, someone else will be too! Visit http://www.humanrights.gov.au/ for more, or send us an email if you have suffered unfair dismissal due to sexual harassment or any discriminatory treatment. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
The Commissioner also warns about being careful about consumption of alcohol at, for instance, Christmas parties at work. Companies should have a Sexual Harassment Policy with a chain of command and with zero tolerance to offensive behaviour covering unwelcome cornering, groping, hugs and kisses that offend. Dress code should define what is appropriate. To protect themselves women should ensure that someone understands that the behaviour is unwelcome. Opportunistic claims are uncommon as only about 16 percent of women who are harassed ever bring a complaint. The Human Rights Commission is available as a free service.
The Federal Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee is conducting an inquiry into the effectiveness of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 in eliminating discrimination and promoting gender equality. CLICK here to read the submission from WEL Australia.
Women on Boards
In July 2010, ALP Minister Tanya Plibersek announced that the total number of directors on Federal Government boards would comprise at least 40 percent women and 40 percent men. Individual boards may vary but the total must be 40 percent. We will be lobbying the Government to amend the Corporations Act to ensure that all public companies also have at least 40 percent female and 40 percent male directors. Click here to read the WEL submission calling for 40 percent women on boards. Ms Plibersek also announced a contribution of $200,000 to fund scholarships for the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) courses for aspiring women directors.
The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace’s Census of Women in Leadership shows that only 8.4 per cent of board directorships and 8 per cent of Executive Key Management Personnel positions in the ASX 200 are held by women. Similarly, the Australian Financial Review (30/7/2010) claims the proportion of female board members in ASX 200 companies is 9.5 percent. David Gonski, Director of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, said that boards need diversity – “A board is like an orchestra – when people only play one instrument it is not an orchestra”. The AICD Board Diversity Scholarship Program offers the scholarships to suitably qualified women from various backgrounds from all around Australia along with a one-year membership of the AICD. The BoardLinks program aims to develop more women who can be appointed to the boards of government bodies as part of the goal of having 40 per cent female directors of public sector boards.
Women in Parliament
Professor Marian Sawer AO, Emeritus Professor in the School of Politics and International Relations, ANU, reports on women in parliament. She says that “the overall percentage of women in the House of Representatives is now 24.7 per cent. But somehow the presence of women, and the fact that women’s advocacy groups make a beeline for them, does seem to make a difference. It helps legislators to remember that more then half of those affected by laws and policies are women, and that the effects on them are unlikely to be just the same as for men”. Marian is author of the WEL history: Making Women Count and co-author of “Strengthening Democracy” in the publication More than Luck: Ideas Australia Needs Now, from the Centre for Policy Development.
Review of the EOWW Act 1999
Review of Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999, submitted by the Women’s Electoral Lobby Victoria, October 2009 (We were asked for a brief email in dot form as time was of the essence. The submission is on the lines of the consultation questions).
WEL Victoria believes that:
(i) the key barriers to EEO for women in the workplace are as follows:-
* Long hours and inflexible structures.* Availability of adequate child care and vacation care.* Lack of training for promotion opportunities –usually inflexible approaches –should be online for part of these courses.* Lack of career planning and mentors for all employees.* No career path for part-time work.* High levels of unemployment lead to fear of unfair dismissal. Women become risk averse and miss opportunities.* Sexual harassment and discrimination.* The old boys network–jobs for the boys.* Religious organisations which discriminate against women who have different life styles and values.
(ii) costs and benefits to organisations:-
Large organisations with over 100 employees: * recent research reveals that US companies that had women as directors and in high positions were much more able to survive the Global Financial Crisis.* cost of data collection is balanced by the benefit to the organisation. Costs to small organisations: * mainly in the replacement of women on maternity leave or for absences due to career responsibilities.* cost of developing EEO plans.
(iii) What works to achieve EEO.
* WEL believes that after nearly 30 years of promoting EEO it is time to take stronger steps including sanctions and quotas.* WEL urges the Government to request an examination by the Productivity Commission of the costs and benefits of EEO to Australia.* WEL also urges the Government to change the Corporations Act 2001 to ensure that registered companies include women as directors.* WEL believes that there is a necessary connection between the EOWW Act and the Fair Work Act 2009 and that the industrial relations aspects of EOWW should be pursued by the Fair Act Ombudsman.* WEL notes the lack of transparency and accountability in salaries earned by employees in the private sector. Transparency and accountability in salary structures should be essential in considering the granting of EEO Awards to entities. Individual employees should have the right to know the level of pay of their colleagues, as well as their entitlements and access to cars, and education costs for their children. The selection process should be publicised for every job in the private sector. The process needs considerable overhauling in most entities. Targets, and eventually quotas, should be set for women to attend training, to attend conferences and to be chosen as speakers at conferences.* To change attitudes to taking parental leave and leave as carers, companies should identify all the fathers in the organisation whose children are under 15 years old. These fathers should be expected to attend their child’s sport days or other events, and to take children to doctors or dentists as necessary. Data on these absences should be part of information presented for the EEO Awards.* For organisations that fail to meet minimum standards sanctions should apply. Criteria for Government procurement should be tied to EEO planning and achievements. Government subsidies and tax concessions should only be available to organisations which have EEO plans that have been successfully implemented.
WEL believes the EOW Agency should have more resources:
* to collect and analyse and publish data, which should be disaggregated as far as possible.* to give feedback to companies that fail to win an award and to assist such companies to improve.* to collaborate with Local Government to assist them to develop EEO planning for their staff and for small businesses in their area.* to develop a Small Business Award and publish the results in the local free press, particularly in regional and rural areas.* to promote EEO in workplaces, unions, schools and universities.
CLICK on Discrimination is not the answer: MLC Principal points out that discrimination is occurring even when girls do very well in school. Education needs to address the realities of discrimination in the workforce, CLICK on Ceiling starts in schools.