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Women in the workforce - no longer just a rights issue

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What does the F word have to do with your business?

According to the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA), gender pay inequity is no longer simply a rights issues.

As EOWA identifies in Agender In The Boardroom (released this month in support of the census), it is instead a business imperative "and if these issues are not actively managed by business leaders the chronic waste of female talent will continue to slow business down."

In 2006, The Economist urged businesses to "forget China, India and the internet – economic growth is driven by women."

Yet in a time when economic growth is more elusive than ever, women still earn only 84 cents for every dollar earned by her male counterpart.

But if women are the way of the future, then why are they so undervalued in the Australian workforce?

According to a report launched by the Minister for Women, Tanya Plibersek, women hold just seven per cent of the Top Earner positions; a female CEO earns two-thirds of the salary earned by her male counterpart; female chief financial officers and chief operating officers earn half the wage of their male equivalents, and in human resource positions, where women are more common, the pay gap is still 43 per cent.

The same report indicates there is no industry in which women are more likely to be top earners than men.

"There is a solid body of evidence that gender equality is good for the economy as a whole" says Plibersek. "Women's economic participation has been fundamental to recent economic growth."

Despite record education levels and rising numbers of women entering the labour market, the same research shows that employers are failing to provide workplaces that enable women to fully participate and fuel the growth in the Australian economy.

"Research shows that male graduates are commencing employment on a median salary of $45,000 while female graduates are starting work on $3,000 less," says Plibersek.

The latest figures from Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show a pay gap of 34.9 per cent between men and women’s average weekly earnings; research by Graduate Careers Australia indicates male graduates not only earn a higher starting salary, but their salaries increase at a greater rate than women, and the findings by EOWA confirms that pay inequity exists at all levels of the workplace.

Annie McPhee, EOWA federal director, says that pay equity is not a simple matter of equal pay for equal work – it is instead the representation of the systematic discrimination of the undervaluation of women’s work.

"Everyone from business leaders, employers, educators, parents, men and women should be concerned about this chronic waste of talent," says McPhee.

Published on: Thursday, November 27, 2008

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