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Businesses need to get serious about gender diversity



Recently, the Australian Human Rights Commission came under scrutiny after it was reported that government contractors would to be required to reach a 40 per cent female workforce quota, with contractors possibly losing out on contracts if they didn't reach the 40/40/20 standard.

Chalk outline man and womanSex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins sent out a statement clarifying the issue. The recommendation was a target, not a mandatory quota. Rather than disqualifying contractors, it 'recommended that the Commonwealth government should become a model industry in improving the participation of women in the workforce'.

While it seems this was mostly a misunderstanding, it's interesting how drastic a reaction the mere suggestion of a quota received. The Daily Telegraph called quotas 'draconian' and Tony Abbot said on 2GB they would be 'politically correct rubbish' and 'anti-men'.

Whether to have targets or quotas is a hard question to answer. Quotas, which are enforceable and mandatory, have been employed by several European countries to great effect. But in Australia companies are encouraged to set themselves targets, which are optional.

Businesses are moving towards targets at a glacial pace, with women in senior executive roles increasing by 2 per cent per annum since 2012. When fewer large companies are run by women than men named John, Peter and David, quotas need to be seriously considered.

Arguments against quotas seem to boil down to that they will cause worthy men to be passed over and create resentment against female workers who are only 'filling quotas'. So targets versus quotas aside, the root of this problem is that people still seem to culturally believe that setting these types of goals is somehow 'reverse sexism'.

On The Project, Steve Price repeated the same argument against gender quotas and targets we've all heard before: 'You've got to hire the best person for the job'. This is rooted in patriarchal thinking, as it accepts the status quo as normal rather than acknowledging that in job hiring, meritocracy doesn't always apply. Subconscious bias plays a role in whether a candidate is hired or not.

In a study conducted by Corinne Moss-Racusin in 2012, almost identical resumes for a role of a lab technician were sent out to scientists to assess. The only difference? One had John at the top and the other had Jennifer. Despite having the exact same qualifications, Jennifer was viewed as less competent.


"It's not enough to pay lip service to diversity. Reflecting the values of diversity is just as important as having a diverse staff."


What's more, the merit argument generally rests on the line of thinking that under-qualified women take jobs from men, which is untrue. More Australian women are graduating with university degrees than men and tend to perform better academically. In Norway, where quotas were introduced in 2008, a 2016 OECD survey showed that 'on average, female board members have higher educational qualifications than their male colleagues'. In France, there was an ASPA study comparing male to female politicians after parity laws were introduced. The study found that while without the parity laws women wouldn't have overcome the sexist barrier to entry, they were just as good at the job as men.

Despite what some might think, having diversity in the workplace benefits employees and businesses. A Catalyst study found Fortune 500 companies with more women board directors perform better finically. Being in diverse groups breaks down 'groupthink', making us smarter and better problem solvers. A minimum of three women on a board seems to be ideal, taking away the stigma of tokenism and ensuring that the burden of voicing the 'diverse' perspective isn't placed on one or two employees.

It's not enough to pay lip service to diversity. Reflecting the values of diversity is just as important as having a diverse staff. Businesses shouldn't accept that women just aren't there when the application pool keeps coming up with the same demographic. They should reach out to other websites, reevaluate interview questions for biases and diversify recruiters. Have flexible working hours and paid maternity leave. Include women in mentorship and professional development opportunities.

Companies need to start getting serious about hiring women and promoting them through the pipeline to higher managerial roles. As long as it is up to businesses to create a diverse workplace, they need to put in the effort. Whether we stick with targets or wind up legislating quotas, men need to acknowledge that the best person for a position will not always look like they do.


Neve MahoneyNeve Mahoney is a student at RMIT university. She has also contributed to Australian Catholics and The Big Issue.

Topic tags: Neve Mahoney, gender quotas, Tony Abbott



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Existing comments

Tony Abbott, whose heart is in the right place although the same can’t always be said of his brain, is being more reflexive than reflective. Apart from the intuitive fact that anything that helps your mother, partner, sister or daughter to get the job she deserves on merit to have must be a good thing for you as a resident of the moral universe, anything that also helps set up in the short to medium term a little creative instability between women and ‘patriarchal’ men in the Australian bit of the Ummah can’t be all bad either.

Roy Chen Yee | 04 May 2017  

I think the far important question is "What kind of culture do we want in work organisations?" The executive culture is old fashioned "masculine". The women who find executive success, tend to have, or are forced to adopt these “masculine” traits. The genitals change, but the culture remains. “Women triumph in a patriarchal system only through mimicking the patriarchy that was once despised.” For instance, I know why I have not been promoted to managerial or executive. My character traits are more feminine than masculine and I do not suit the culture. Whether or not you call it "reverse sexism", men ARE being treated unfairly. If there is a quota, a woman is more likely to get the job. If we treated men and women equally, both should have an equal chance of getting that job. Men and women of my generation don’t see gender as an issue at work, we see just see people. “More Australian women are graduating with university degrees than men and tend to perform better academically.” When the reverse was true this was a huge problem. Why, when males are disadvantaged, is it not a problem any more?

Michael | 04 May 2017  

“In mainstream feminism, misogyny is always the villain – a simple and external target. Pointing the gun in this direction means you don’t have to hold up a mirror… We overlook the ways in which women support the continuity of patriarchal systems. Women “don’t have to think about OUR rage or OUR capacity for violence” because we isolate those problems and attribute them to men. Targeting individual acts of misogyny is to mistake the symptom for the cause, and that cause is the very “system we live in, a system that rewards competition and violence, a system that devalues compassion and care”. Feminism is mistaken in thinking men are the enemy: what’s at fault here is the larger system itself and feminism’s inability (so far) to come up with a viable alternative.” (A cleansing fire, Stephanie Bishop, The Monthly). The key is to get different types of people into organisations. Their gender is irrelevant, as long as they start doing things differently.

Michael | 04 May 2017  

'Men and women of my generation don’t see gender as an issue at work we just see people...may be the case on one level but studies have shown that of two identical CVs the one with a man's name will be chosen. The underlying bias needs to be identified if seeing men and women as people is to be lived. And yes, given you state your character traits aren't appreciated yet they add to the diversity of your workplace.

Gordana Martinovich | 06 May 2017  

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