Women in media - have we come a long way?
Date: 13 March 2017
While we may like to think that women working in the media have come a long way since the early 1960s - so well captured by TV series Mad Men - actually the data tells a very different story.
Most startling is the World Economic Forum estimation that it will take 118 years before women around the world can expect parity of income with men. It will be 2125 before the pay gap disappears, 158 years since Gough Whitlam put equal pay for equal work for Australian women on the agenda.
The issue goes deeper than pay parity; it is about our representation in the workforce. It’s ironic that women make up over 50% of the Australian population yet we still discuss the issue of representation as if we are a minority. Again, the data speaks for itself. It is hard to comprehend why only 16.3% of us are CEOs, and only 28.5% of us have key management positions when 60% of university graduates are women, reports Workplace Gender Equality Agency.*
We are more educated but our education isn’t necessarily driving our success.
The reasons for this disparity are numerous, but one that stands out is the role played by our wombs! We have less opportunity to be equally represented in management because we are more likely to fall pregnant and return to work part time. And this break in our careers is seen as a cost to our employers and subsequently a cost to us.
As an employer I understand the dilemma faced when you lose good staff, but I accept that it is simply a cost of business. I also know there are many reasons why women and men leave organisations, and it’s not just to have children.
Take, for example, the rite of passage that is the working holiday. 15,000 Australians obtain working visas to work in the UK every year. The practice is so common that it has a name – human capital flight – resulting in a brain drain of Australian local talent. As I see it, the key difference between a woman leaving a company to have children, and employees seeking foreign professional experience, is predictability.
Statistically, the average age a woman becomes a first-time mother is 30.5**. From a risk mitigation perspective, the predictability of the time frame makes this a much easier risk to manage. Knowing that, on average, 76% of women will become first time mothers at 30, companies need to devise parental leave solutions to decrease the risk of this loss of talent, by putting policies in place to retain this valuable resource and support career goals. Again, the data speaks for itself; paid parental leave raises the probability that mothers return to employment, work more hours and earn higher wages in the long term, benefiting both the company and employees, from New York Times article ‘The Economic Benefits of Paid Parental Leave’.
It makes economic sense that we should protect and cultivate our human resources – women and men alike. Think of it this way. Mining is a key industry in Australia and millions in research and development is devoted to digging up precious resources, no matter how inaccessible. Why, then, should we not invest as much energy into retaining and cultivating 50% of our human resources – us?
Leading the way in atmospheric crime drama and equality are the Scandinavians, actively promoting the child caring role of fathers, and encouraging women to stay in the workforce. Sweden’s highly successful ‘daddy quota’ policy – a use it or lose it leave allowance paid at 90% of usual income – was designed to encourage men to share parenting leave. Now, close to 90% of Swedish fathers take paternity leave, and as a consequence more Swedish women stay in the workforce, according to The Economist. In the USA, Netflix has adopted Sweden’s parental leave policy announcing in 2015 that new parents will be able to take unlimited parental leave in the year after the birth or adoption of a child, return to work part time if they want to or alternate between work and leave throughout the first year, all while receiving normal pay and benefits, says The Guardian.
Policy is only one of the many levers that can be shifted so that we see gender equality across all areas of the workforce, as well as pay parity and equality in our homes. We still have a way to go with the bias, both conscious and unconscious, that got us here in the first place.
I agree with former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, that inequality is not just the problem that we have to face, but it is something that is holding us all back and ultimately holding back our economy. It is time we all agreed that it is not our gender that reaps the rewards but our talent, skills, hard work and ability.
As leaders in promoting behavioural change isn’t it time the Australian media industry joined some of the world’s top tech and media companies in leading by example to increase gender diversity, and secure equal pay for women, at all levels?