One step forward, two steps backwards. It’s 2023, yet we are still having to have conversations about the rights of women in the workplace.
From my personal perspective, it seems to me that every time it looks like we are making progress, then an event happens that sadly brings us back to reality. To see the number of women in the federal Cabinet (and senior positions too) is welcomed. A step forward. Then came last year’s Report No. 2 of the Western Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in the FIFO mining industry that laid bare the sexist toxicity of the FIFO mining workplace with one raw fact – three out of four women say they have been sexually harassed or assaulted in the past five years. Definitely two steps back.
These are headline grabbing events. But what brings me to this issue are much more mundane instances of women being denied their rights. No, it’s not the lack of female CEOs or Chairs of ASX 200 companies. Sure, it would be nice to see more women in these positions, but what of those women whose rights are infringed yet it never sees the light of day.
For the reality is we still see basic (but illegal) practices occurring on an almost daily basis across Australia. Let me explain.
I, like many others, volunteer. One of the things I do is provide job search support to many women in difficult circumstances. Women who are homeless, women who have suffered because of domestic violence and women who, through lack of educational opportunities, find it difficult to gain employment. The odds are already against them and then they come face to face with the ugly side of Australian business. Small, medium, or large, it happens across the board.
Over the past several months this “sample group” that I have worked with has been subjected to vile comments during employment interviews. Some examples. “I’m glad you are older as you obviously won’t be taking time off to have children.” “What are your childcare responsibilities as I can’t have that having an impact on the business?” “Are you planning to have children?” Even sexist comments about their bodies. This is not an historical piece reflecting on a misogynist past but actual comments in today’s workplace.
They are made to women who don’t feel empowered to respond. The power imbalance is clear – the people asking the questions are those with the keys to employment opportunities and the women being asked the questions can only shrug, giggle, or obfuscate and hope the conversation moves on.
There have been endless reports of bad behaviour over the past two to three years – in Parliament, in business, and across our community. We need to do better and stop this behaviour that should be confined to days gone past.
The Government’s recent passing on legislation to create a “positive duty” is a good start. However, we need to also have greater consequences for these individuals who continue to demonstrate poor behaviour. If you are a CEO or People & Culture Leader, can you be assured that this is not happening in your organisation? Now is the time to reflect on our practices. Review your interview training. Standardise questions for candidates. Make sure there is at least one woman in every interview. Seek feedback through recruiters as to how candidates are treated at your organisation. These are some very basic protocols that will improve the candidate experience and remove illegal and inappropriate behaviour when it comes to recruitment. Most importantly, it will be treating women with the respect they deserve.
For everyone’s sake, we need to improve our practices as it relates to female employment – from the boardroom to the latest recruit. After all, it is 2023.
Lindall West | Managing Director
+61 412 728 828