As a Canadian-Australian woman, I was bursting with pride when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed a Canadian cabinet with an equal number of men and women late last year. The first. Both ethnically and gender-diverse, it was a cabinet created to reflect Canada as a nation. I loved that, when President Trudeau was asked why he’d made his gender parity promise, he answered in three words: “Because it’s 2015.”
Meanwhile in Australia, Tony Abbot appointed himself Minster for Women last year… Come on. What’s up Down Under?
And now it’s April 2016. Despite Canada’s achievement, we’re clearly still in the grip of a global problem. Stats are disappointing everywhere and Australia is no exception. As Libby Lyon, Director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), confirmed, the pay gap is sitting at 24%. Women make up nearly half the workforce, yet fewer than 30% are in key management roles. Only 15% of CEOs are women.
Don’t get me wrong: I adore this country. I love my ocean swims, the weather and the laidback Aussie attitude. I wouldn’t give up my lifestyle here in Sydney for quids. I just can’t help but feel that we’ve still got some glaring old-school hurdles to overcome in the quest for gender parity.
What’s most unsettling is that we’re still dealing with overt sexism.
I’ve heard it with my own ears. No scratch that – I’ve had it said to my face. In a professional setting, no less. A few weeks ago, I was at a networking event telling some male colleagues (fellow consultants) that I was to speak about the wage gap at an International Women’s Day function. They bristled. Then this came out of the mouth of Consultant Number 1: “So why do you think there’s still a wage gap? Is it that women just don’t have the skills to make it? Or do they not know how to play the game?” Excuse me? I was flabbergasted.
Before I could pick my jaw up off the floor, a clanger from Consultant No. 2: “Every company I’ve worked for is happy to pay equally if you’re willing to do the work. The problem is, women just aren’t as driven as men and aren’t prepared to put in the same hours.”
Wow. Let me tell you, you wouldn’t get away with anything that directly discriminatory in the US or Canada. No self-respecting professional would go there. Which is not to say we don’t have our own problems, but open sexism – at least – is unacceptable.
I’ll give you another example. When I first moved to this country, I was called, “Darling” and “Sweetheart” in the office more times than I can count. I realise there’s usually no malice behind these endearments, but that’s really not the point. If you tried that on in North America you’d be out of the office so fast…
I’ve had countless first-hand experiences and I’ve heard plenty of doozies from friends and colleagues – all demonstrating that sexist attitudes are alive and well.
Before I moved to this fine country, I was told by friends who’d been here to prepare myself for the shock of the old boys’ club values still deeply entrenched.
Valerie Wilder, the Executive Director of the National Ballet of Canada, shared her observations about her time at the Australian Ballet: “There’s as rigid a glass ceiling here for women then any I’ve run into around the world.”
Maybe that’s why only 3% of the CEOs on the ASX 200 are female, while in Canada women make up 6.4% of CEOs. Could that be why a study found that 60% of Australian women aged 14-25 doubted they would put themselves forward as leaders because of sexist attitudes. Not a study from the ’70s, from October 2014. Less than two years ago.
I know we’ve got a long way to go globally before we achieve gender parity, but Australia, it’s time to take a long, hard look at some of the embarrassingly out-dated attitudes that are still rampant in this country. It’s 2016. It’s high time to get with the gender-equality program.
In the name of all that’s fair and just,