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Geelong Advertiser Opinion Piece - Filling the Bay

Did you know that, on average, women currently need to work an additional 66 days to earn the same amount as men in a normal financial year? This year, Equal Pay Day in Australia was marked on 4 September 2017.  The date symbolises how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year, and the exact day differs both by year and by country.


In Australia, the Business and Professional Women (BPW) group has advocated for over 70 years on a national basis for equal pay for work of equal value.  This year, BPW actively encouraged Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and company directors to start bridging the divide within their own organisations.  More locally, and focussing on inequality through a leadership lens, the Committee for Geelong (CfG) recently supported a project to investigate what can be done to increase participation and rates of career progression for women in Geelong's business community.


The CfG Leaders for Geelong "Filling the Bay" project was inspired by the Committee for Perth's trailblazing "Filling the Pool" initiative. After conducting a two-year gender equity study to address the poor track record of women participating in Perth's corporate sectors, the Committee for Perth released a report with a roadmap of 31 interlocking recommendations for government, the corporate sector, and women to utilise.  Using this work as a template, Geelong'sFilling the Bayproject reviewed how our community can work together to 'fill the pool' with female leaders in decision-making and influencing roles to address the current gender, participation and pay inequities in Geelong.


The Filling the Bay research was presented to representatives from Geelong's business and community sector earlier this year, and is available on the CfG's website.  In order to build on this research, an industry-led approach is now being taken to further develop the initiative.  Chaired by GMHBA's Dr Sarah Leach, and supported by CfG members and recent Leaders for Geelong graduates, the next phase of the Filling the Bay initiative will provide an even greater focus on increasing participation and rates of career progression for women in Geelong's business community.


Whilst it may appear that Geelong has a number of women in CEO roles across diverse sectors, the Filling the Bay report revealed the true extent of leadership positions in the Geelong region.  Using the latest ABS data, the Filling the Bay research showed that out of approximately 10,000 people employed in management roles in the Geelong region only 36% of these are held by women. For leadership roles, including CEOs and managing directors, only 17% of those are held by women.


Whilst on current evidence the Geelong business community may still have a way to go on equality, there are some fantastic exemplars of local organisations demonstrating leadership on this issue. For example, Viva Energy Australia is working towards equal representation of males and females across all levels in their workforce by implementing gender targets in their recruitment strategies. At their last operator intake, Viva reached their target of 50% female - the first time in the facilities' 60+ year history!


Additionally, Viva recently announced that the company is the first in Australia to introduce a comprehensive policy on superannuation, which they believe will make a tangible difference towards reducing the gap between the superannuation balances of men and women. Viva has also implemented a number of other strategies, including paying 14-weeks' parental leave for the primary care giver and offering a range of flexible working arrangements, within reason, to accommodate an employee's wishes upon returning to work.


Perhaps Viva's proactive approach on this issue may inspire other Geelong businesses to recognise the importance of pay equity within their own organisations. Similarly, the work underway by the City of Greater Geelong should also be acknowledged; they have been making positive progress on these issues through the development of a Gender Equity Framework, endorsing the Victorian Local Government Women's Charter, and establishing a Women in Community Life Advisory Committee to Council.


Current national and international data provides compelling evidence of the positive economic case for gender equality. Achieving equity should therefore be seen as a strategic imperative - especially as the GDP forgone every year is estimated at 20%, or an approximate annual loss of $300 billion to the Australian economy. Given this, and as Geelong continues to transform into a clever and creative city, it is vital that organisations and businesses across Geelong review their gender equality policies and consider adopting specific targets.


Published in the Geelong Advertiser, 27/09/2017



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