13/05/2016 - 14:12

Bridging the gender gap

13/05/2016 - 14:12

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Some of the state’s biggest employers have made significant progress lately in terms of workplace gender equality.

GETTING THERE: Libby Lyons says WA businesses are on par with the rest of the nation in terms of gender policies. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Some of the state’s biggest employers have made significant progress lately in terms of workplace gender equality.

Western Australia’s biggest employers continue to lag other states when it comes to employing women in key positions, but there is evidence of a mood for change.

State-based data released by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows that WA companies with 100 employees or more are just as likely as their interstate peers to have gender equality policies and strategies to better align the opportunities for women in the workplace with their male colleagues.

But that measure, which was the same as the national average, was the only key agency benchmark regarding positions held by women in which WA companies matched the Australian average. In every other measure, WA fell behind.

With senior positions more male dominated than the rest of Australia on average, it is perhaps no surprise that WA leads the nation in the gender pay gap, which was almost 25 per cent, according to 2015 statistics.

However, the WGEA acknowledged the prevalence of resources businesses in WA was a significant factor in the state’s performance, which in all but one key measure lagged the rest of Australia.

However many observers might be surprised to find that WA’s board composition – when cut off at companies with 100 employees or more – is less than 3 percentage points below the national average when it comes to female participation. In 2014-15, WA boards of eligible companies were comprised of 20.7 per cent women, compared with 23.6 per cent overall.

In WA, the data shows that women hold 12.2 per cent of management roles compared with 15.4 per cent nationally – a 3.2 percentage point gap. In pure head count terms it might be better expressed that more than one in eight big WA companies is headed by a woman, whereas nationally that figure is just below one in seven.

WGEA director Libby Lyons, who has extensive experience working as a senior executive with Perth-based mining companies, said the high concentration of businesses operating in the resources sector skewed the numbers but there were signs of progress in that industry.

“It is really encouraging that WA organisations are on par with the rest of Australia in having gender equality policies and strategies in place,” Ms Lyons said.

“I’m confident that this commitment to improving gender equality will flow through to improved figures.”

Ms Lyons said this confidence came from her experience in WA, both as a resident employee and, more recently, from visiting local workplaces in her role as head of the federal agency.

“Having had two trips back to the west in as many months I have gauged very real enthusiasm and commitment from many organisations and industry bodies for improving diversity outcomes,” she said.

“I think that WA organisations are now in tune with a growing body of research showing the business benefits.”

She said research showed that gender equality in the workforce could increase economic output substantially. A report by leading management consultants McKinsey & Company estimated that if gender equality was achieved in the world’s workforce, global GDP could increase by 26 per cent, or about $28 trillion.

Ms Lyons urged employers in WA to identify and dismantle barriers for women to progress into senior leadership roles, including access to flexible work and a rigorous approach to pay equity.

Surprisingly, mining is not a comparatively poor performer when it comes to action on pay equity.

WGEA statistics show that, in 2015, 76.3 per cent of mining companies obliged to report had a formal remuneration policy or strategy, compared with just 51.1 per cent of all industries. In addition, 27.1 per cent had specific gender pay equity objectives within that (25.6 per cent nationally).

More than one third (34.3 per cent) of mining employers had conducted a remuneration gap analysis in the past year, against a 19.1 per cent average across all industries.

While a growing number of mining companies had created an action plan on average however, the results were mixed in terms of other actions. Most positive in this context was that the data showed 25 per cent of mining companies had corrected like-for-like remuneration gaps – more than double the all industries average of 12.3 per cent.

By way of example, BHP Billiton Iron Ore reported that of its 7,796 employees for the period, women represented: one of 11 executive committee members; 4 per cent of its 50 general managers; 14.7 per cent of its 292 managers; 20.9 per cent of its 530 superintendents and principals; 29 per cent of its 1,958 professionals; and just 6 per cent of its 559 supervisors.

Notably, women accounted for just 7.4 per cent of 3,780 operational and maintenance staff but 78.2 per cent of its support staff. In terms of graduates, 26.9 per cent of the 171 taken on in 2015 were female.


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