Unconscious bias stalling gender progress



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The greatest reason inequality between men and women exists in the workplace is due to unconscious bias and discrimination, Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) Director, Libby Lyons has told a CEDA audience in Tasmania.

Ms Lyons made the comments in relation to the gender pay gap, stating that while “some choose to deny this pay gap exists”, the data shows overwhelmingly that unconscious bias and discrimination are the number one causes for gender discrimination.

She said this discrimination ranged from selecting CVs when hiring new candidates, short-listing candidates, the way salaries are negotiated and how promotions and bonuses are awarded.

The event presented the WGEA scorecard for 2016 – a series of metrics that detail how well Australia is faring with gender equity.

The scorecard showed the gender pay gap between total remuneration for full-time working men and women in Australian is currently 23 per cent, which equates to a $27,000 per annum difference in salary.

She said that the data shows the pay gap exists across every industry in Australia, including female dominated industries.

My Lyons said that this rating has dropped a few percentage points over the past few years, but the rate of progress is “far too slow”.

Ms Lyons highlighted several reasons for how this bias perpetuates and the underlying roots of the issue.

“Assumptions about gender dominated industries persist today,” Ms Lyons said.

“Most people don’t know what it’s like to work in a gender balanced industry.

“There is significant segregation between men and women in working industries, with male industries attracting higher wages.”

Ms Lyons said we need to be aware of what unconscious bias looks like so that it can be managed.

She said we need to challenge the idea of job stereotypes, highlighting that these issues are set to persist, with male and female graduates still overwhelming graduating with degrees in which their gender is dominant (i.e. health for women, engineering for men).

She said that the government and workplaces need initiatives to see greater movement of men and women between industries.

An extension of this, she said, was the need to encourage men to work flexibly and to share in the unpaid carer work that women are largely responsible for, with women doing an hour and 45 minutes of unpaid domestic work for every hour men spend. 

“We need to get more men working flexibly to get more people questioning what a manager really looks like.”

She attributed one of the reasons it’s hard for women to get senior or managerial roles as people perceive these roles cannot be done flexibly.

In fighting for change, Ms Lyons urged organisations to not just create plans, but to have accountability for them, saying, “You might as well not have a strategy if no one is held accountable.”

Ms Lyons said most companies are “gob-smacked” to find they have a gender pay gap within their organisations. She said that for organisations who do analyse their data, it’s much easier for them to set targets and metrics to close the gap – and that this needs to be an annual activity because once you reach pay equity, part of the challenge is keeping it that way.

In closing, she said “We have come a long way, but over a very long time.

“We need to challenge ourselves to do better. We have a way to go, but I’m confident we will get there and data is driving that change.”