The Finance and Public Administration References Committee has released its report on gender segregation in the workplace and its impact on women’s economic equality. With 7 of the report’s 9 recommendations rejected by Government senators, the recommendations and the Inquiry are likely to slide into oblivion with minimal support for new policy initiatives to help address gender segregation in Australia.
“The sting is in the tail with this report,” said Professionals Australia CEO Chris Walton. “The Government senators’ dissenting comments at the end of the report make it very clear that the Government does not support the bulk of the recommendations coming out of the Inquiry. They rejected recommendations 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8 and 9, and committed only to in-principle support for Recommendations 5 and 6.”
Government senators said the legislative and policy measures proposed in the report potentially duplicated or weakened existing initiatives. They rejected the need for an overall framework for women’s workforce equity and any changes to the Fair Work Act saying the existing legislative framework offers sufficient protections against gender discrimination and any further regulation would impose unreasonable burdens on employers. They rejected the reinstatement of the Pay Equity Unit within the Fair Work Commission, a review of the UK initiative on Gender Pay Gap Reporting, a review of the job classifications used by the ABS and the reinstatement of the ABS Time Use study. They were not convinced that there was a need to update the Department of Education and Training National Career Development Strategy and the Australian Blueprint for Career Development, saying they did not hear evidence to that effect. The dissenting senators also stated that a review of the programs and initiatives aimed at increasing the number of girls undertaking STEM courses may be unnecessary given the initiatives already underway.
“Given that the main game is innovation, ensuring Australia’s science, engineering, IT and research capability into the future, and that addressing the under-representation of women in STEM is vital to this objective, this is a very disappointing result.”
“We need to work towards a workforce development strategy that includes measures to encourage women’s participation in male-dominated occupations and industries, initiatives to professionalise and improve conditions in female-dominated occupations and industries, and policies that will promote pay equity – these were the specific objectives of the Inquiry. We would have hoped the Government would have been more open to seriously considering the recommendations coming out of the inquiry.”
“On the plus side, the Committee acknowledged some of the key research findings from the Women in STEM report so we’ll continue to talk about the issues that lead to women’s attrition from the STEM workforce as vital to a sustainable STEM workforce and Australia effectively engaging in an increasingly competitive global economy.”
The Professionals Australia STEM report findings noted by the Committee included:
- the need for flexibility in work arrangements as a contributing factor to the over-representation of women professionals in lower-status and lower paid roles and the under-representation of women in senior, management and leadership roles;
- that traditional career evaluations place a higher reward on a full-time uninterrupted career trajectory, with a broken career pattern sometimes leading to the stereotyping of women as less committed to their STEM careers;
- issues of professional isolation, difficulties for women re-entering the STEM workforce after a career break and pressure to return from maternity leave early;
- the widening of the gender pay gap for women in STEM as the level of responsibility increases with only 12% of women in STEM falling into the senior management and leadership income bracket compared with 32% of males; and
- the basis of the “diversity advantage” to businesses that engage STEM professionals.