On 8 March 2016 we celebrated International Women’s Day. This has been a time to reflect on the invaluable social, economic, cultural and political contributions of women in society; but it is also a time to recognise the vast challenges that still exist for women in Australia and across the globe.
At Andersons, we strongly support diversity and we encourage policies and laws that promote equality and fairness in the workplace. Whilst womens’ rights, particularly industrial rights, have improved in Australia over the last few decades, more work needs to be done to ensure women are provided with the same opportunities as men.
Recent trends have shown that women make up a slightly greater share of the Australian population than men and research has also shown that a higher proportion of women complete year 12 at high school and go on to complete tertiary studies compared with men.
The gender pay gap
But notwithstanding this trend, Australian women still suffer from a persistent gender pay gap whereby on average they earn approximately 15-20% less than men. This pay gap differs within specific industries and the finance, health care and mining industries have some of the largest gender pay gaps of all industries in Australia. This is particularly concerning given that a large percentage of woman work within the finance and health care industries.
The gender pay gap has flow-on consequences for women later in life. For example, if a woman earns 18% less than her male counterpart during their respective careers, the woman will have accumulated significantly less superannuation to rely upon when she reaches retirement age.
Discrimination and harassment
In addition to the gender pay gap, many workplaces still fail to take sex discrimination and sexual harassment seriously and this has significant adverse impacts for working women. Similarly, in some workplaces women who become pregnant often have to hide their pregnancies for fear of reprisals and woman who have children often face barriers with their potential return to work given the cost of childcare, etc. Other matters also disproportionately impact women at work; for example, until recently, women suffering from domestic violence at home have not been afforded workplace protections.
Achievements of remarkable women in our society
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Australians should be proud that in recent years we have had our first woman Prime Minister, first woman Governor General, three women sit on the High Court (when for many generations, only men were appointed) and in 2015 Queensland became the first state in our nation’s history to elect a woman as Premier from opposition. Later this year the United States may elect its first woman President and the United Nations is likely to nominate the first woman Secretary General. So society is slowly changing for the better.
Augusta Zadow Awards
International Women’s Day is also a good opportunity to promote the annual Augusta Zadow Awards which offers a $20,000 prize to someone who has demonstrated a commitment to improving the health and safety of women working in South Australia. Augusta Zadow was a strong advocate for working women in Adelaide, particularly in the clothing and textile factories and was a major influence in the formation of the Working Women's Trades Union in 1890.
She was also a strong suffragette, campaigning tirelessly for women to obtain the right to vote. If you are aware of anyone who has developed an initiative to improve the health and safety of women in South Australia or is conducting research into women’s workplace health and safety, you should apply for the Augusta Zadow Award (applications close on 24 June 2016).
If you have experienced any discrimination or harassment in the workplace, or otherwise feel that you are being treated differently because of your gender or other personal characteristic, today’s blog writer Michael Irvine is available to provide advice and assistance.