It’s 1948 and Valda Box, a 21-year-old woman, is at her goodbye party at work organised by the other secretaries of the large department store that she’s worked at for years. She didn’t actually resign and technically she wasn’t fired, either. The second she announced her engagement to Eric, her long-term boyfriend, it was assumed that she would leave.


We’ve come a long way since then


Iceland has officially made it illegal for men to be paid more than women across the workplace, further emphasising Europe’s position as leagues above Australia in the race towards gender equality. While these countries aren’t perfect and there’s still a long way to go, what they do show, is just how fast Australia is falling behind. In other words, we have a lot of catching up to do and can learn a lot from the likes of Iceland.

While the announcement of a proposal from a woman may not get her fired anymore, women in the workforce still suffer from some shocking realities. A study by Slater and Gordon showed that more than 40% of managers would be wary of hiring or promoting a woman of childbearing age in fear that they may ask for maternity leave. This obviously raises a few issues. Firstly, the implication is that a woman who is of an age to have children is going to choose to have them. Secondly, it means that companies are not providing paternity care for new fathers the way they do for new mothers – again, the implication being that the woman will stay home to look after a child while the father works, making it difficult for women to return to work after maternity leave.


To take a step towards gender equality…


We also need to consider what this means for men. While some women choose to stay at work after giving birth – and the number of women who do so rapidly on the rise–men should also have more of an opportunity to take paternity leave in their place. Gender roles are disappearing before our eyes and should have no place in the workplace, for men or women.

Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, states that ‘when we look at what the ideal worker looks like in an Australian workplace, research shows it is someone who’s available 24/7, with no visible caring responsibilities, and as a result of that, it usually means male.’

Unfortunately, this sexism is seen in every industry, even industries that are typically seen as female-dominated, like healthcare. The Australian Bureau of Statistics shows the health industry to have the fourth highest salary gender pay gap in the country. Meanwhile, President of Monash Universities ‘Robogals’ group and current engineering student, Monique Lautee states that ‘there’s still a noticeable imbalance in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields – from the classroom all the way through to industry’. This lack of women raises further problems, as companies don’t get the benefits of gender diversity in the workplace. As Ms Lautee continues, ‘women bring a different perspective, and broadening the capabilities of an organisation can only be beneficial’.

These benefits are something that companies are beginning to recognise if the most recent report by the Workplace Gender Equality’s is anything to go by. The study shows that over half of agencies participating in the study had formal strategies and policies on remuneration and that overall, ‘there has been a substantial increase in employers adopting targeted strategies to support gender equality’. Despite these encouraging signs, male versus female employment statistics still show that there are significant strides to be made.

So, what can we do to encourage equal opportunities in the workplace?


For women:


  • Know your rights in regard to employment. Companies are not allowed to ask about your personal rights in interviews for jobs, such as if you want children. You are also legally required to be covered by minimum award rates, most of which are equal for men and women, and if you’re hired by an independent contract, have a lawyer look over the contract before you sign.
  • Discuss maternity care options with your boss. If you are soon going to have a child, first look into what you’re legally entitled to, as well as what your company offers. See if your partner is entitled to paid parental leave too.
  • Stand up for yourself. If you’re being paid less than what you believe you’re worth, do some research and present that research to your boss. Just remember you have to be able to quantify why you deserve a raise. Completing short courses to gain formal recognition for your skills can be a great way to prove your worth or pointing out what other roles you’re completing within an organisation that’s outside your job description.
  • If you’re coming back from maternity leave, know what you’re entitled to, and speak to other female employees within your organisation about what they did when they returned so that you can be prepared for any challenges, and aware of any opportunities.


For men:


  • Stand up for females in your organisation. If you believe that a female employee is not being treated in a way that is fair to her, say or do something about it. Give women the chance to complete the same training and receive the same treatment as you do.
  • Discuss paternity care options with your boss. If you and your female partner are soon going to have a child, you are as entitled to leave as she is.
  • Recognise the problem. If people continue to refuse to see sexism, nothing will change. Actively encourage gender equality in the workplace and call out other men when they act in a way that dismisses’ the problem.

Adelaide Morse

Writer at Candlefox
Adelaide is a passionate writer for the Candlefox education and career network and an advocate for women’s rights in the workplace. She enjoys travel, food and most of all, a good cup of tea at the end of the day.
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