Finance Work Get on with gender equality – because everybody wins
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Get on with gender equality – because everybody wins

female engineer
Supporting women is not about punishing men. Photo: Getty
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Australia desperately needs to give up the notion that gender equality benefits women at the expense of men, as it’s holding us back from solving the problem.

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen thrust the issue back onto the national agenda this week by warning that Labor might push for gender quotas for company boards if the corporate sector fails to act on its own.

No doubt his speech to the Women In Economics Network got many people riled up.

It’s easy to understand why men don’t care and don’t listen.

Gender equality sounds like a threat. We view it as a benefit for women and a punishment for men.

That’s just not right. Getting more women into powerful roles benefits men just as much as women.

I talk about gender inequality a lot. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t speak to someone about it. That might be the barista I go to in the morning on something we have seen in the news or a chairman, CEO or politician in a meeting.

I wish I didn’t have to.

Gender inequality, however, raises its ugly head in every part of our life. Sometimes simply, and other times in more complex ways.

We can ignore it until it is right in front of us. I posted a chart on Twitter earlier this week from a report I authored, and it got a pretty big response:

Nobody can justify why the number of women in leadership is almost half to that of men named John or Peter.

But this isn’t just about the peak of the business world. I often wonder why I’ve never met a male receptionist or why I can find myself sitting around tables with no women.

These frustrating and obvious limits on women are just so dumb – not least because supporting women is not about punishing men.

Research from the University of Canberra shows that if we closed the gender pay gap the economy would grow by almost $100 billion.

Then there is a host of evidence from banks and consultants showing us that gender diversity in organisations, where men and women work alongside each other in all fields, boosts performance.

These are striking and compelling figures.

Giving women more opportunities opens up doors to men, too. That’s what inspired the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s ‘Women’s work / Men’s work’ campaign.

“It’s time to reject the idea that certain types of work are better suited to women or men,” campaign director Libby Lyons said.

“A person’s gender is not an indicator of their ability or interest in a particular area.”

Having men and women working alongside each other across the economy – from the construction site, to the classroom and even the boardroom – can only be a good thing.

When we achieve equality between the sexes we are happier and healthier.

One chart can’t describe all of this, but we know it’s true.

When we support women in the workplace, we allow men to think more about what they want from their lives.

Diane Smith-Gander, one of Australia’s most powerful business leaders, explained this recently.

“It is plainly unjust that half of our population isn’t given equal access to economic opportunity,” she said.

“I’m frustrated that others can’t see that gender equality is critical in creating an inclusive society, or why that is a good thing for everyone.”

She’s right, and you know it.

Conrad Liveris is a corporate adviser on workplaces and risk. He holds a Certificate in Governance and Risk Management and a Master of Commerce.

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