I was prompted to write this Blog after speaking with a close friend over the weekend. We were talking about our children and the current pay gap that exists between men and women in work and how this might affect them as they create families of their own.
We talked about the fairness of pay inequity in particular and what our children could expect to experience on this key community issue as they move into work. I do regard the inequity as a community issue. I found myself thinking that the solution does not simply reside with business. It resides with the whole community. Where we live, where we work and where we play.
Stronger government policy around greater access to child-care and flexible work arrangements for men and women is needed among other key outcomes.
As 54-year old man with some experience in life, work and diversity & inclusion, I think it is important that men take up this challenge and simply ask the question of their employer – Is there pay equity for our women here? If there is then celebrate that fact, if it is not in place then ask who can make the decision to create equity what date will it be achieved by?
I thought about my time as the person who had carriage of the Diversity strategy for Victoria Police. I thought about the choices policewomen had back then. The choice was hard for them. They either had children and left or did not and stayed. We lost the bulk of our women after 9 years of service. What a cost that was. Men in control made decisions and changed the landscape. Improved outcomes became available.
However barriers to the participation of women in management roles prevail.
I have observed that things can change when strong men take a leadership position and make decisions. If we are to achieve greater equity for women and our daughters we need those people in positions of power and control to create change.
Men can be ‘men in action’ rather than ‘observers’ and men can be a voice for change. All we need to do as men is see the value of the change. Let me tell you a story about being ‘in action’.
I live in a home in NSW whose previous owner has an amazing story around affecting change. Maybanke Anderson (nee Selfe) was born in London in February 1845. Her family migrated to Australia as free settlers when she was nine years old. Maybanke was raised in a family with firm views about the role of women in community and the importance of contribution and a fair society.
At 21 years of age in the September of 1867 she married Edmund Wolstenholme, a timber merchant. Their union brought seven children between 1868 and 1879 but unfortunately four of them died before the age of five, apparently from a heart condition. The later years of their marriage were not happy ones and Edmund after a number of business failures apparently took to ‘the drink’. The marriage broke down.
Maybanke responded to her situation and took in boarders to relieve financial problems. In 1885 Maybanke opened the Maybanke College for Young Ladies. She opened this school in her home and it gained a reputation for modern teaching methods that achieved excellent results. The school prepared young women for the University of Sydney entrance examination. It operated for over 10 years.
Maybanke took a stand for improved education for girls and has been accredited with bringing Montessori education to Australia and with opening the first free Kindergarten in 1895 in Woolloomooloo, NSW. Maybanke was the president of the Kindergarten Union supporting the education of the children of working mothers.
The law at the time of the 1800s meant that Maybanke was unable to divorce Wolstenholme. A situation she fought to change. Maybanke waited for the passage of the Divorce Amendment and Extension Act in 1892 and then applied for a divorce on the grounds of “three years of desertion.” Their divorce was finalised in 1893.
It occurred to Maybanke that ‘the system’ seemed to give men all the rights and women none. She became a public speaker and advocate about equality for women. Double standards that existed appalled her and she felt compelled to action.
Maybanke commenced an active role in the promotion of women and children’s rights. She became active in the women’s suffrage movement and: she was active in raising the age of marriage consent for girls; she believed that the vote was ‘the kernel for all reform’. Change was resisted by men and authority as these historic photos depict. Change was hard:
Maybanke was also the vice president of the Women’s Literary Society. Many of the society’s members would go on to form the Womanhood Suffrage League of New South Wales (WSL) on 6 May 1891.
Maybanke was a prolific writer in the newspapers and published many articles along with books. Her writing commented on issues of: equity for women; children’s rights; raising children; education; women’s rights to vote and education.
In 1893 she was elected to the WSL presidency and founded the Australasian Home Reading Union in the same year. The Union was a program to promote induction by organising small study groups in rural areas.
In 1894, she began publishing the fortnightly newspaper Woman’s Voice. The paper ran for 18 months, drawing women’s attention to suffrage issues at the national and international level.
The WSL’s attempts to have suffrage implemented by the New South Wales government were not fruitful; however, in 1897, Maybanke decided to petition the 1897 Federal Convention in Adelaide. She reasoned that this would have the women’s vote written into the Federal agenda. Thus, the women from South and Western Australia who already had the vote could not have it taken from them, and if there was suffrage at the federal level, it would flow down to the states.
“In the politics of a democracy there should be no sex. A woman without a vote is an inferior, and thereby liable to be so regarded”.
Maybanke Anderson – The Sun, 6 July 1912.
At this time, Maybanke also became involved in the pro-federation movement. Maybanke resigned from the WSL in 1897. Suffrage was extended to the women of New South Wales in 1902.
In 1899 Maybanke married her second husband, Sir Francis Anderson. Anderson was the first Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney. They travelled and worked together on voluntary projects, including campaigning to have women stand for local government. She was active with the National Council of Women of New South Wales, and worked closely with the University Women’s Society. Maybanke died in St Germain-en-Laye, Paris on the 15 April 1927. The work for women and equality went on.
I think you might agree that Maybanke Anderson was a person in action. She took a stand for change and pursued it.
Disparity in pay still impacts on Australians women. The Australian workforce is observably split fairly evenly along gender lines. Of the approximately 10 million employees in Australia, 50.5 per cent are women and 49.5 per cent are men. However, men still tend to earn a lot more than women – an average of $1,429.80 for male employees, compared with $940.20 for female employees. Imagine the improved financial resources women could bring to relationships and family if this was not the case.
Currently one in 10 full-time workers in Australia earns more than an average of $2,548 per week, and one in 10 earns $800 per week or less. The rest are somewhere in between. The struggle for pay equity for women has not been a short lived as this picture below demonstrates.
In the years between 1961 and 2011 the proportion of women in the workforce almost doubled from 35 per cent to 59 per cent. However until 1966 married women in Australia were not employed by the Australian Public Service, and single women were forced to “retire” when they married. I remember this was so in the Victoria Police where I enjoyed my first career. Thank goodness things have changed in this regard. But I remember the impact on women.
In a report published by Ernst Young in 2013 (Untapped Opportunity – July 2013):
“Once women hit their mid-20s, female participation rates in the Australian labor market decline for the next two decades. Women move from full-time to part-time employment to accommodate the needs of their families, their careers are interrupted.”
The EY report concludes that if we are to improve participation rates of women and pay equity for women we need as a community to do the following:
- Introduce or extend flexible work practices
- Offer Career Opportunities to Flexible Workers
- Maintain the Career Paths of Workers on Maternity Leave
- Seek out Highly Qualified and Educated Women who Failed to Enter the Workforce
- Change Our Expectations of Leadership Qualifications
- Increasing the Number of Women Choosing Qualifications that Feed into more Technical, Higher Paid Jobs
- Make Childcare More Accessible
This may give us the start point we need toward a holistic approach. In my view we need men to drive the debate and to drive change. We need men to be as passionate and as persistent as Maybanke Anderson. We need men to ‘drive’ reform at the government and community levels thereby achieving lasting change.
My friend and I agreed that the people capable of effecting change can see that the value of what must be given up is far outweighed by the value of that which will be gained.
And, we need more men to ‘lean in’ and have the will. Inequity affects all of us now and those who will follow.
This is what a feminist looks like.[/caption]