Did you know only 16% of the CEOs in Australia are female? And, of the key management positions, a measly 28% are held by women?
Some say women in the west have achieved progress. We can work in parliament, drink in bars, drive cars, vote and cut our hair without our husbands’ permission (well, in most places anyway). You’d be forgiven for thinking things are starting to seem equal.
Think again. The World Economic Forum forecasts that it will take 118 years before women achieve equality. That means that, unless scientists get their act together and work out how to transplant our brains into Michelle-Pfeiffer-looking robots, none of us will be alive to witness gender equality in the workplace.
The facts are grim: women are underrepresented in senior roles, they earn less than men, they don’t have as much superannuation and they face a much higher chance of homelessness later in life as a result. If things continue the way we’re going, the future forecast is even bleaker.
The future of work and women
There’s no doubt the future of work will bring with it myriad opportunities and challenges. From cloud computing and automation to artificial intelligence and blockchain technology, these advances will fundamentally impact job roles, workplace, culture and the marketplace.
PWC economists have identified three waves of automation that will occur over the next 30 years: the algorithm wave, the augmentation wave and the autonomy wave. According to this study, women will be the group most adversely impacted during the first and second wave of automation (according to current gender profiles).
Thankfully, there are steps we can take to change the direction of women’s fate and make the future work for, rather than against, women.
1. Get Savvy with STEM Subjects
“Automation will change the way we work and many female-dominated jobs will become redundant,” explains Nicole Henry, Account Manager at Ignite and the Treasurer of WIC (Women in Information and Communication) a non-profit organisation created to champion women in the ICT industry.
“I have a daughter and a son, and it’s important to me that both my children have the same opportunities and earning potential in life. For my daughter’s sake, we must encourage women to pursue careers that will support them into the future and allow them the flexibility to work, be mothers and still earn enough to retire with dignity.”
“The jobs that will allow women to achieve parity are based on skills underpinned by strong knowledge of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects. This is why, at Ignite, we are so eager to support and invest in initiatives such as WIC and NAWIC (National Association of Women in Construction).”
Thankfully there are many initiatives being created to encourage women into STEM learning, but the issues are complex. Most experts believe a major cultural shift must take place, including the rescripting of gender norms and stereotypes.
2. Enforce Policies
If things continue the way they are currently going, experts forecast that it will take another 50 years before the gender pay gap is closed. If this figure is to be reduced the Government must get involved to ensure women are being represented in senior roles.
“The change must be mandated,” agrees Nicole. “Women must be supported in male-dominated roles and hard targets must be set. Some programs do already exist. For example, at Ignite we are certified with the Workplace Gender Equality Act.”
The Workplace Gender Equality Act is a government program that aims to increase gender equality in the workplace and help employers remove barriers to women. Each year companies must lodge reports pertaining to various gender equality indicators. Accountability is held by making the reports public and failure to comply comes with a penalty.
There are other government initiatives being put in place but experts believe more action is required by the government, the community and business.
“Also,” adds Nicole, “change needs to be based on merit not on token females being placed in certain roles. There must be a cultural change across industry championed by both men and women.”
3. Say No to Stereotypes
According to various studies, no evidence exists to support the notion that tech-relevant abilities are biologically gendered. In other words, boys and girls are born equally when it comes to tech interests and abilities. However, gender stereotypes and social norms shape a person’s identity and behaviour. These stereotypes heavily influence the career choices made by each gender, while discrimination discourages women from pursuing socially determined “masculine” roles and vice versa. Hence, it is essential that we question and rewrite these attitudes.
A shift in stereotypes wouldn’t just mean a change in the types of roles women would take on. It would also lead to a shift in attitudes towards caring responsibilities and domestic tasks. Currently women carry the brunt of domestic duties. Women also reduce their work to part time and take time off to have children. This means her lifetime earnings are reduced, her career progress is stymied and her superannuation is significantly less, to the point where one in three women retire with no superannuation.
An Optimistic Conclusion
There is hope. Other countries are making great strides. For example, this year Iceland made pay inequality illegal and companies that can’t prove equality will be fined almost $500 a day until the gap is closed. You may think Australia is comparatively progressive when it comes to gender equality, but alas we rank 35th in the global gender gap report.
But, if stereotypes shift, more men take on caring responsibilities and domestic tasks, there is more flexibility in the workplace and discrimination no longer inhibits women from taking on senior roles then, and only then, serious change can happen. The pay gap would close, women would achieve equality and we would finally earn the right to cut their own hair without permission!
The future of work for women would then be very promising. Or, in the wise words of a modern-day prophet, “Who run the world? Girls.”
Author: Cassie Lane
Copywriter / Content Strategist at Ignite