Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Workplace Gender Equality by Guest Speaker Libby Lyons

NCWV April Forum Guest Speaker Libby Lyons

At the April 2021 Council meeting, guest speaker: Ms Libby Lyons, Director, Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) 
 dealing with non-public sector organisations with 100 or more employees – including Victorian organisations, spoke about gender Equality. 



She was appointed in October 2015. She has chosen to leave her current position, after 5.5 years. On a personal note, Libby is granddaughter of Australian PM Joseph Lyons (1932-39) and equally eminent Dame Enid Lyons MP.

Libby is excited that new legislation in gender equality is coming but sexual harassment is common in the workplace. WGEA’s budget is $5 million per annum and she is proud of the many achievements of her “great staff”. Data collected annually over 8 years, from 4.3million employees in 11,000 organisations with 100 plus employees, makes Australia the envy of the world.

There has been improvement for women in 5 of the past 7 years. However there is concern that the reality of gender equality is stalling in the last 2 with some complacency, box ticking, apathy and loss of momentum.

Action plans are needed as gender pay gap has increased by 5%, a result in part of higher bonuses, shift allowances etc paid to men, hiring biases and women moving in and out of the workforce to have children. However, more companies are analysing their actual pay gaps to identify that a gap exists. Some deny having a gap and are shocked when data shows the actual difference in take-home pay for women. While equal pay is required under legislation, gender pay gap equals the average difference in pay to men versus women, such as more men in management roles, women’s time-outs, part-time work of women which is 3 times that of men, fewer promotions.

Pre-COVID most women worked within a gender equality policy, 40% of managers were women, 45% of promotions were to women but in the ranks of CEOs, only 18.3% were women. Sadly, the glass ceiling is alive and well. No paid parental leave was paid by 25% of companies (and thus no superannuation accruing during leave). Libby believes that men should be paid parental leave, particularly so that the female partner can return to work sooner if desired.

Victoria leads the way in gender equality and 70% of companies in Victoria have a Domestic Family Violence Policy. Ms Lyons spoke about the complimentary work done by SAGE (Science in Australia Gender Equity), WGEA and the Victorian Gender Equity Commission to address gender equity without replicating employer reporting obligations.

Ms Lyons highlighted the following

1. Provision of affordable childcare which is a State Government issue, saying childcare should be an add-on to universal education for children.

2. Paid parental leave should exist for all eligible parents. Men need to be able to take parental leave to free up their partner to return to work if desired.

3. Flexible working hours for men should be normalised. However, men tend to be present in person in the workplace more often than women, making decisions and sharing ideas. Women may miss out on promotions at times through not requesting it, or being on leave.

Middle age is now defined at around 56 and we are not deemed “elderly” until we reach 80. Many want to work into their 60s but are overlooked for being too old, with some young people missing jobs due to inexperience! The plan is for date of birth of employees to be collected to assist in following the career trajectory of individuals, age of various groups and the age at which people leave jobs, to help policy development. This will be vital data.

Data regarding training against harassment and discrimination is not available. Many women are angry about discrimination and concerned about treatment of women in the justice and legal system being dominated by men, with too often women deemed to be the “guilty party”.

Most men are good so we should not develop a women vs men mentality. The Federal Government is beginning to see the need for change with PM Scott Morrison appointing more women and to new positions. We must bring men with us, not push them away.

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