Sex Discrimination Commissioner
Australian Human Rights Commission
Many women are deterred from participation in some of Australia’s most thriving and essential businesses, particularly in male-dominated industries, because of the lack of family role models, stereotypes about the nature of ‘women’s work’, discouraging workplace cultures and structural problems within those organisations.
In Australia, the underrepresentation of women in industries considered to be ‘male-dominated’, continues to affect gender equality, industry performance and our nation’s economy. By ‘male-dominated’, I am referring to industries such as mining, utilities and construction.
But a number of leaders in male-dominated industries, both here in Australia and overseas, have recognised the underutilised pool of talent that women represent. They have taken commendable and highly effective steps to change their organisational cultures in ways that both attract female employees and help them to thrive.
This is not about special treatment for women, but about the implementation of integrated gender diversity strategies.
In Australia’s general workforce, women represent almost 46% of employees. However, in the industries of construction, mining, and utilities, women account for only around 12%, 15%, and 23% of employees respectively.
This underrepresentation of women in these industries is not only bad for gender equality, it also undermines Australia’s economy. Recent figures suggest that increasing women’s employment rates could boost Australia’s GDP by 11%.
Many male-dominated industries are also suffering from a lack of skilled workers. In fact, Australia ranks fourth in the world in talent shortages. Encouraging greater women’s participation in these industries could go a long way to addressing these skills shortages.
Women in male-dominated industries: A toolkit of strategies and its associated interactive website is designed as a resource for employees and employers.
It provides practical suggestions and examples of successful strategies in the four areas of attraction, recruitment, retention and development of women, in industries that have traditionally remained dominated by male leadership and employees.
The toolkit has been developed as an on-line resource that is structured to encourage continued discussion and engagement on strategies to increase women’s recruitment and retention in male-dominated industries. Users will be encouraged to share their views on what strategies are working or not, and what new strategies are being developed.
I hope it will not only provide practical and effective suggestions, but also enliven public discussion about ways to increase gender diversity in all areas of Australian industry, including those still perceived to be largely closed to women. We need more women at the executive and senior levels of Australian companies, particularly in ‘non-traditional’ areas such as mining, construction and utilities.
I would like to thank the Hon Julie Collins MP, Minister for the Status of Women, and the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, for their generous support for the development of this toolkit.
Julie Collins MP
Federal Member for Franklin
Minister for Community Services, Minister for the Status of Women
I congratulate the Australian Human Rights Commission on this valuable resource for increasing the representation of women in male-dominated industries.
This toolkit plays an important part in Australia’s Equal Futures Partnership with the United States and other international partners to expand economic opportunities for women. As part of this commitment, the Australian Government identified strengthening the pipeline of female talent in traditionally male-dominated industries as an important priority.
Providing opportunities for women in male-dominated industries is central to improving women’s economic outcomes. The small percentage of women in high paying industries and the undervaluing of what is traditionally considered ‘women’s work’ both contribute to the gender pay gap.
It is also very clear that reducing occupational segregation will help address the skills shortage, the Australian economy is likely to face into the future.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, is well placed to play a role in opening new doors and employment opportunities for women. Last year Liz led a comprehensive review of the culture within the Australian Defence Force (ADF), which has resulted in the further removal of obstacles to women joining and staying in the ADF.
With the development of this toolkit, more women will have genuine choices about how they can participate in the nation’s economy. Businesses and industries that have long struggled to attract and retain women in their ranks now have new and exciting ways of benefitting from the skills and expertise that women bring to the workplace.
The toolkit adds to an array of Government initiatives designed to improve women’s economic participation such as our record investment in child care and the historic introduction of the Paid Parental Leave scheme. The toolkit will complement the work being undertaken by the newly renamed Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA). Funding for WGEA has been almost doubled, to enhance its role in supporting and advising industry. WGEA will provide advice, resources and targeted assistance to employers and will have a new role in developing industry-level benchmarks and industry-specific strategies.
The Government is investing strongly in skills development, to ensure that there are new generations of women in all industries, including in the non-traditional ones. In March 2011 the government accepted the recommendations of the Resourcing the Future report, including the recommendation ‘to attract and retain more women in the resources and construction enterprises’. Since then, and over the next five years, over $15 billion will be put into vocational education and training, benefitting thousands of Australian women.
We all know the strong economic case for achieving gender equality and this toolkit will assist employers to reap the benefits of improved gender equality. I commend Liz and her network of industry colleagues for developing the toolkit and delivering new ways of achieving gender equality in Australian workplaces.