March 16, 2023

Addressing the systemic barriers to gender equity

Addressing the systemic barriers to gender equity

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at Schroder’s International Women’s Day (IWD) event, discussing the theme of gender equity and how we can accelerate the growth of women in investment management with Kellie Wood, Schroder’s Deputy Head of Fixed Income Australia.  

Schroders, one of our Future IM/Pact industry partners, is firmly committed to redressing the gender imbalance within their organisation and industry-wide. They are implementing market-leading policies that not only offer equal opportunities to women, but break down systemic bias that has held women back from achieving their full career and financial potential.

This year’s IWD theme was #EmbraceEquity, and as I discussed in my last blog, the emphasis on equity rather than equality focuses us on the need to correct historical and structural barriers faced by women, rather than simply providing them with equal opportunities to men.

Superannuation is a great example of a system that offers equality, but not equity. While both genders have equal access and benefits under our superannuation system, female retirement savings are significantly lower than males across the country. This is because superannuation is linked to paid work, which overwhelmingly disadvantages women who are more likely to move in and out of paid work to have children or look after family.

Research released last week by Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work found women in Australia earn $1m less on average over their lifetime than men and retire with around a third less superannuation. Closing the pay gap and financially supporting women as they transition in and out of the workforce is key.

I was impressed to hear about Schroder’s leading edge superannuation policy that pays full-time equivalent super contributions to part-time employees with children under six years old. This is on top of super for paid and unpaid parental leave. It acknowledges the sacrifice women often make to care for their young children while continuing to build their career and financial security.

Another of our industry partners, HESTA, recently commissioned research into the Commonwealth Parental Leave Pay scheme and found an estimated $2.8 billion in super savings will be forgone by those who take time out of the workforce to look after children, the vast majority of whom are women. Debby Blakey, HESTA Chief Executive believes adding super to the government parental leave scheme will significantly bolster women’s retirement savings and close the super gender gap.

These are the kinds of proactive policies needed to start leveling the playing field for women.

Of course, gender inequity is not just a “women’s issue” and we need to bring men into the conversation and solutions. Sam Hallinan, CEO Schroders Australia believes one of the strongest ways to bolster gender equity in the workplace is by addressing gender inequity in the home. He has thrown his support behind The Fathering Project and extended secondary carers leave so fathers can take time off to bond with children and shoulder more of the parental care responsibilities.

“One of the best ways for organisations to play a role in addressing gender inequity is to create an environment where fathers spend as much time with their children as they can in the early years. Equality in the eyes of parents and their children is then normalised, and in turn this translates to accelerated changes to the systemic inequities in the workplace.”

Another impactful way to bring male leaders onboard with gender equity is to ensure they have skin in the game. Structured sponsorship programs that pair male leaders (sponsor) with female talent (sponsee) can open doors into traditionally male-dominated networks where promotions and emerging talent are informally discussed and deals are made. This requires leaders to put their reputational capital on the line and can often expose their own unconscious bias and ego-related insecurities.

Breaking down these personal barriers can have a flow on effect to colleagues and gender-biased cultural norms start to shift within an organisation. I am passionate about equipping leaders with the tools and insights to dissolve structural and cultural impediments that not only prevent women from ascending to the top, but hold male leaders back from their full potential and legacy too.

Reach out if you’d like to know more about our programs and how we can help your organisation #EmbraceEquity.

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