The one rule that could benefit all working women

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It took a female President and lack of breeding to bring it on, but South Korea is about to get tough to improve gender equity. The country will ‘name and shame’ companies that don’t hire or promote enough women. It’s also set to give preferential treatment to ‘family friendly’ companies applying for government contracts.

The first Female leader of the country Park Geun-Hye has declared helping women ‘balance family and work amongst the most critical items on her agenda’.  Amazing when you consider she is pretty busy dealing with the threat of the pariah nuclear state of North Korea.  It’s also rather surprising considering she’s been criticised for not having any sense of feminist agenda or commitment to equality in the past.

But for South Korea’s President this is probably more about the economy than the sisterhood.  South Korea is suffering from the cost of sexism.  The OECD actually cites the marginalisation of women as a key weakness in the South Korean economy. Labor shortages, a waste of female brainpower in senior jobs and the fact that women aren’t having enough babies is costing the country and stunting its growth.  Fifteen percent of Korean women don’t even get married these days and they have on average 1.2 babies each – not enough to sustain or replace an ageing population.

While our former Treasurer Peter Costello tried to get Australians breeding with the smirky plea  ‘one for mum, one for dad and one for the country’ he also introduced a baby bonus in case that didn’t get our juices flowing.   

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In South Korea, focus has turned to the source of the blockage –workingrule  conditions and culture. McKinsey Consultancy found Korean women face the greatest pressure in Asia to leave their jobs and take care of their children once they have a family.  With the longest working hours in the OECD (regulations that limit workers to a 40 hour week plus a maximum of 12 hours overtime are regularly flouted) working women struggle to even see their kids let alone care for them.  Many, understandably quit work in their 30s to manage their children's intensely competitive education. 

Under the President’s plan, companies with at least 500 workers and a female share of the workforce that’s less than 70 percent of their industry’s average for three consecutive years may be outed as naughty.  So would businesses that had failed to do enough to tackle the gender disparity.

To make it easier to keep women at work there’ll also be encouragement of flexible working hours, more subsidies for leave, enhanced childcare programs (companies with more than 500 workers or 300 female employees are already supposed to run childcare centres at work) and better training for mothers seeking to re-enter the work force.  Stay at home dads are so rare that men will be further encouraged to take generous baby leave.

But for those that put culture solely to blame should note this has already worked in Korea’s public sector.  A mandate that required 30 percent of jobs to be female was so successful that women flooded into the service.  So much so that 30 percent ceiling now set for men.  

It’ll be interesting to see if naming and shaming companies will help in South Korea. But could it work here? And should we do the same?

Our Prime Minister Mr Rabbit likes a carrot approach to women in the workplace.  His new Paid Parental Leave may increase participation but as his blokey cabinet shows, he’s definitely not into promoting quotas or equality.  It may not matter, because the private sector is getting a little bit more threatening and stick like towards its own.  The Business Council of Australia has committed its members (120 of our biggest companies) to have 50 percent of senior roles filled by women in the next decade.  And it’s set to regularly test of chief executives and board members for unconscious gender bias and female-only hiring short lists. 

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency used to publicly name and shame companies that refused to report on their commitment to employing and advancing women.  It now tends to favor ‘encouraging best practice’. Yet it is getting tougher on what it requires companies to tell it.  In the past employers would have to just pay lip service to equity now they will have to provide hard data and strategies to achieve equity and they’ll have to do it under the Financial Management and Accountability Act. 

Shareholders will have access to these reports.  The Agency is encouraging all companies with more than 100 workers to set voluntary gender targets and some like the Commonwealth Bank and the ASX have done so. They’ll embarrass themselves if they fail.  Those who don’t report to the agency won’t be allowed to tender for government contracts.  There’ll also be a new Employer of Choice Awards for Gender Equality to be announced later this year. 

For those who do want to see some naming and shaming, the WGEA will continue to publish the names of companies who fail to adequately respond in its annual report. Buried on page 76 of last year’s report are those who failed to comply. They include Thomas Jewellers (Aust) Pty Ltd.  Ladies who love bling take note!

 

What do you think works? Encouragement or a kick up the butt? 

 

19 comments

  • So why does the WGEA have over 100 women employees but only about 30 men employees? .Is not it about equality, seems not.

    Commenter
    Bev
    Date and time
    February 11, 2014, 9:06AM
    • The bigger issue is why young women don't spend two years in the military (or serving as civilians in hospitals, aged care homes and schools), but men are forced to, paid far less than minimum wage.

      Commenter
      kr88
      Date and time
      February 11, 2014, 10:44AM
  • "They include Thomas Jewellers (Aust) Pty Ltd. Ladies who love bling take note!" *sigh* Because women love jewelry. As if the Valentine's Day adverts didn't already make that painfully clear.

    It's an interesting concept but even more interesting is whether it will work or not. The swing to better leave options, enforcement of work time limits and encouraging men to take time off for baby seems the way to go. It seems to me that paid parental leave and acceptance of work-life balance will do more to help women (and men) in business than a name-and-shame list...but perhaps I am wrong.

    Commenter
    TK
    Date and time
    February 11, 2014, 9:19AM
    • I don't think Australia can afford much more carrot with the deficit the way it is. I think name and shame is a good policy. I prefer soft policies that encourage cultural change. That's always the best way to get long term change. You need to bring men along with you if you want real, enduring change.

      Commenter
      JamesM
      Date and time
      February 11, 2014, 10:19AM
    • "It seems to me that paid parental leave and acceptance of work-life balance will do more to help women (and men) in business than a name-and-shame list...but perhaps I am wrong."

      If definitely would for us, but the impact may be different in Korean culture. Westerners often react to public shaming of any kind with anger, but only after being accused. It's rarely a disincentive to any activity. Public shaming and loss of face is a big deal in a lot of Asian countries, and simply avoiding being on the list in the first place may be a motivation in itself.

      Commenter
      DM
      Date and time
      February 11, 2014, 10:27AM
  • What hope do we have for any change under the current government? Abbott saw fit to appoint himself the minister for the status of women (and, God help us, indigenous affairs!), while appointing only one female cabinet minister, and referring to his female party members in such 'flattering' terms as being a "good girl" with "not just a pretty face".

    When directly presented with a hypothetical scenario where women never achieved more than 25% of political representation, his response was "Would that be such a bad thing?"

    Make no mistake - we are living under an ultra-conservative government lead by a misogynist. Don't hold your breath for any progress or acknowledgement in terms of the pay gap or barriers to female employment participation. This isn't on the agenda.

    Commenter
    Red Pony
    Date and time
    February 11, 2014, 10:08AM
    • This is a laudable act and one every country needs, but what about conscription? That's the biggest sexism issue in Korea. Paying young men 75 dollars a month for two years, stunting their studies and start to their working careers, and jailing them if they don't work in the military, but young women have no national service obligations whatsoever.

      Commenter
      kr88
      Date and time
      February 11, 2014, 10:25AM
      • I'm 100% for equal opportunity in the workplace, however will the companies be penalised (named and shamed) for not employing the most qualified workers?

        This seems like positive discrimination to me. If a woman and a man have the same qualifications there should be no discrimination, however if the man has better qualifications for the job then he should be employed. Just like the woman should if her qualifications are superior.

        Imagine if the NHS or Hospitals suddenly decided they needed the same number of men to be nurses as women and so they took on a number of under qualified men with not as much experience. Same thing as what may happen here.

        Equality needs to begin at the grass roots so that by the time women reach the work place they are in equal standing with men on all levels!

        Commenter
        Yeah Yeah Yeah
        Date and time
        February 11, 2014, 10:30AM
        • "This seems like positive discrimination to me. If a woman and a man have the same qualifications there should be no discrimination"

          Exactly. There shouldn't be, but there is. Women with equal or better qualifications are routinely overlooked in hiring and promotion, simply because they are women. Countering that isn't sexism, it's the exact opposite.

          By the way, it speaks absolute volumes about your attitude that you assume women are generally not as well qualified and wouldn't deserve these positions. Almost like you think that women are, you know, not as good as men in general...

          Commenter
          Red Pony
          Date and time
          February 11, 2014, 1:49PM
      • Funny how the talk about equality is always in reference to cushy board level jobs and never about less glamorous roles. And even if there was a 50-50 split, what then? What is that going to achieve?

        Commenter
        Kev
        Date and time
        February 11, 2014, 10:48AM

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