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Gender equality delivers better business outcomes

June 09, 2016

Inspiration was served warm and strong at a breakfast seminar for retailers in Brisbane at the end of May.  Two highly respected speakers, Theresa Moltoni, President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Queensland, and Dominique Lamb, Director of Legal Services at the National Retail Association, spoke passionately about gender equality in the workplace and how it delivers benefits to businesses.

Theresa kicked off by encouraging the women in the audience. “Today, I hope to inspire you. To show you why you are better than you think you are. To show you that you are needed more than you realise.”

Theresa delivered some high-impact statistics around the difference in wages between genders.

“The full-time average weekly earnings of women differ by $277.70 per week, or 17.3 per cent (March 2016). Women need to work an extra 65 days a year on average to earn the same as men, despite 40 per cent of women (aged 25-29) having achieved a bachelor degree or above compared to 30 per cent of men.

The average weekly shortfall in wages of $278 per week, extended over a typical 40-year career equates to a gender pay gap of over half a million dollars ($578,000).

“But, the quiet revolution has begun. Women are changing the face of small business in Queensland and Australia and setting themselves up for a better financial future. More and more women are becoming small business owners.”

Economic prosperity with female leadership

There was some great news regarding the results of women in leadership roles and the benefits they deliver to business. Research shows a correlation between the number of women on boards and higher corporate profits. Companies with more female board directors outperform by 66 percent in terms of return on invested capital, by 53 percent in terms of return on equity, and by 42 percent in terms of return on sales.

Theresa continued, “all research points to the fact that integrating women into our economies can yield a broad range of economic gains from increased profits, productivity gains, better corporate leadership, and more efficient utilisation of all of our resources and talents.”

She left us with a quote from UN Secretary General Mr Ban Ki-Moon, who said: “Gender equality must be treated as an explicit goal of democracy building, not as an add-on”.

The benefits of gender equality in the workplace

Dominique Lamb delivered a powerful presentation on the retail sector’s responsibility to ensure gender equality in the workplace. She said, “gender equality is achieved when people are able to access and enjoy the same rewards, resources and opportunities regardless of whether they are a woman, or a man.”

It is important for workplaces to achieve gender equality, not only because it is fair, but because it is the right thing to do. It’s also vitally important to the bottom line of business, and the productivity of the nation.

Dominique asserted that there is a lot of rhetoric and companies throw around words, however there is a considerable disconnect between what businesses are putting in place and what type of funding and resources they have at their disposal.

It is important to educate our young women, especially since they make up 60% of the retail workforce. The retail sector also employs the highest number of youth in the country. Dominque made a point, “As an industry we have a responsibility to educate our employees about those issues. When it comes to youth, we really need to invest and this issue of gender equality it is a cultural issue that needs to be dealt with over time and it’s going to take time but we need to start with the younger generations as well as the middle ground.”

There were many tips and practical suggestions from Dominique to all the retailers in the room. She concluded by saying, “we need to celebrate the concept of being a woman in the workforce, being able to make your own decisions and be in control of your own destiny. That’s something we need to encourage.”

Dominique Lamb, National Retail Association, explains the benefits of gender equality in the workplace

  1. Gender equality attracts top talent. Those companies that are performing the best are those with robust and equitable workforce policies and practices. These companies are also ones that recognise the value of gender equality in the workplace and attract high-performers who want to be part of a healthy and prosperous workplace culture.

    Gender equality can reduce expenses. Replacing departing employees can cost 75% or more of an employee’s actual wage.

  2. Companies with gender equality perform better. Businesses are likely to be more profitable if they have different perspectives operating at the helm. These diverse perspectives bring opportunity and new possibilities. We want to encourage different ideas because different ideas bring about more productivity.
  3. Gender equality improves national productivity and competitiveness. The world economic forum has found strong correlation between countries of competitiveness and how it educates and uses its female talent. It says empowering women means a more efficient use of the nation’s human talent endowment and reducing gender inequality enhances productivity and economic growth. Over time, therefore, a nation’s competitiveness depends, amongst other things, on how it educates and utilises female talent.
  4. Gender inequality wastes resources. Australia is not only missing out on the important contribution women make to the economy but we are also wasting years of investment in the higher education funding for women. Around 58% of Australian University graduates are women, only 67% of working age women are currently in paid work, compared to 78% of men. So we educate our women, we give them skills, they achieve highly, are recognised and have respectable levels of education and they are able to perform these high-level jobs, however along the way we are losing them. They are falling out of the workforce. There may be several reasons for this, however we have an obligation to assist these women and put strategies in place to retain their talent.

Promoting women in leadership

We need to encourage natural progression and general flexibility in order to get women into leadership, but also keeping in place substantial leadership programs. These programs need to be targeted and ongoing. It can be hard to keep staff involved but it really comes down to engagement, make it part of their KPI’s or put it in their job description. Make sure that people understand what it means, educate them.

How do we change the system when it comes to preventing violence against women and sexual harassment in the workplace?

The issue of domestic violence is genuinely a gender inequality issue. Dominque went on to outline the huge cost to business.

“In the retail industry we know that every year domestic violence cost employers $61.5 million. We know that women are taking 18 days a year as a result of domestic and family violence. That’s a huge cost to business. If that’s something we can assist in managing or re-educating as employers we absolutely should do everything to help.”

We spend 80% of our time at work, as employers we need to raise awareness and educate on these issues and put in place new policies and protocols around managing this in the workplace.

So where do you start in your organisation?

Have a look at your current policies and procedures and think about:

  1. Improving gender sensitivity through documentation wording, vocabulary etc.
  2. Will this document, policy or program, impact women differently than men?
  3. Look at gender exploitation – will this document reinforce stereotypes? It’s about encouraging a change in those gender stereotypes.

When we look at whether or not our policies will improve the gender equity, we need to look at whether or not it recognises the structural, historical, and social disadvantages that prevent women and men from being on equal playing fields. Dominique suggests, “changes could even be as simple as changing the language used, there are little nuisances that make all the difference.”

For more information, please contact Dominique Lamb on 1800 RETAIL (738 245).

Jessie Janson, Marketing Manager

NRA Media

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