Speech by The Hon Kate Ellis MP

Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency’s Business Achievement Awards 2010, The Peninsula Melbourne

Speech delivery location: The Peninsula, Melbourne
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It’s a pleasure to be here today at the 10th annual EOWA Business Achievement Awards and I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Mairi Steele, EOWA’s Acting Director, and all EOWA staff.

The issues confronting women in the workplace are not new. With the most recent release of the EOWA Census Data, I detected a palpable frustration- countless comments about just how long these issues have confronted us, and how far we still have to go. It can be easy to grow despondent.

This event today is important because, while these issues are not new, the solutions are.

Businesses are adopting new, innovative approaches, which benefit not only their female employees, but also their productivity, progress and competitiveness.

These are the examples that we must hold up to show that change is not just possible, but that change is happening and it is having tangible impacts right now – and of course, we want to see more.
Flexible work practices and equitable workplaces

In being here today, I am particularly delighted to see so many examples of innovative equal opportunity initiatives and flexible work practices from Australia’s best companies and organisations.

The reality is that women will only be able to fully participate in the workforce on an equal footing with men, if there is flexibility for families to choose how they structure their work and caring responsibilities.

We talk so much about equality between genders in the workplace but rarely talk about equality when it comes to caring responsibilities. It is two sides of the same coin: we must support both women’s participation in the workforce and men’s participation in caring and unpaid domestic work. Helping people to manage their work and family responsibilities in an equitable way is the best path to ensuring that women and men are on the same footing economically and socially.

I am pleased to see that in the companies and organisations nominated for these awards that there is so much innovation in this space. I look forward to continuing a conversation with the Australian community about how we are balancing and valuing our work and family lives and how we can ensure personal and business success for women and men.

Of course, we know that there is more work to be done. We know that women are not reaching key decision-making roles in business, earn 18 per cent less than men, and continue to battle sexual harassment and archaic views about their ability and value.

We need to be inspired by the work of award nominees and winners here today to continue to develop new ideas, new initiatives and new directions to ensure, not only that women and men are on equal footing, but that all Australians are more prosperous and fulfilled in their working and private lives.

And we do this, not only because it is good for women and families. We do it because it is good for business and good for our international competitiveness.
It’s good business

The business case for more women in our workplaces is very strong. It particularly makes good business sense for women to be in leadership positions within organisations.

According to a 2009 McKinsey report, companies with three or more women in top management out-performed companies with no women executives on every organisational and financial indicator.

This research reveals that companies with a higher proportion of women in their top management have better financial performance – 10% higher return on equity, 36% higher stock price growth and nearly double the EBIT (Earning Before Interests and Taxes) growth compared to the industry average.

So rather than a social initiative that is a ‘nice-to-have’ for companies, equality in the workplace is essential for businesses to thrive.

I note that the Sex Discrimination Commissioner is here today and I congratulate her on her work with Australia’s top CEOs who have been championing what all of you here all ready know: if you don’t have a diverse workplace, you run the risk of being less competitive. Gender diversity is simply good for business.
What we are doing

Given that these initiatives make such good sense, it’s time that we get on with taking practical steps to make it happen.

During the recent election the Australian Government committed to a target of at least 40 per cent representation by both women and men on Government boards.

We are leading by example when it comes to women’s representation on boards – and I am calling on all Australian businesses to follow suit.

This Government is already making inroads by retaining and improving the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency and its underlying legislation.

We are working towards the goal of streamlining existing reporting requirements, and reducing cost to business, by using measureable indicators of outcomes for men and women in the workplace.

And from January next year, the Government’s Paid parental Leave scheme will start having a significant impact on the lives of working women.

It will make it more affordable for women to take the break they need after the birth of a child and also retain a connection to their workplace.

With a renewed focus on removing the obstacles facing women and further improvements can be made – I look forward to working with EOWA and businesses to accelerate the rate of change.
Award presentation

Although each award only has one winner, the initiatives and results achieved by each of the finalists have been personally very inspiring.

I would like to acknowledge the hard work every finalist organisation has undertaken, and encourage them to build on their successes. I would also like to acknowledge the personal initiative that the leaders of your organisations have taken to make your workplaces great places for women to work.

Today I am presenting the Minister‘s Award for an Outstanding Equal Employment Opportunity Initiative or Result for the Advancement of Women. This Award is sponsored by The Commonwealth Bank Australia and at this time I would like to ask Kathy Finckh, the Executive Manager Group Diversity from The Commonwealth Bank to come up on stage to co-present this award with me.

This year’s finalists include Allianz, which introduced a Strategic Recruitment Advertising and Marketing Campaign designed to attract more diverse candidates. Target groups included female candidates, mature age workers and people with flexible work requirements. Integral to attracting these candidates was highlighting the leadership opportunities available at Allianz, as well as the opportunity for work-life balance, mostly through flexible work arrangements.

MIGATE, for its Yallambee Project which aims to employ and train Indigenous women at the Yallambee Aboriginal Reserve in a nationally recognised Certificate III in Childcare to enable them to self-manage, educate, and train other community members in childcare, health, and hygiene; thereby helping to break the cycle of dependence on non-community members and assist with closing the gap in education, employment, and mortality rates between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people.
Shine Lawyers, for its new Parental Support Scheme, which includes an additional 20 per cent salary for employees’ childcare costs until their children reach school age; 18 weeks of paid maternity leave and links to childcare centres throughout the country to help find a spot for employees’ children.

Telstra, for its company-wide Next Generation Gender Diversity Initiative including women’s mentoring and men’s gender leadership programs; women’s networking and broader communications initiatives; an annual pay equity audit; a focus on leadership development, talent and succession resulting in an increase in women on their CEO Leadership Team, promotions to middle management and a reduction in the pay equity gap.

UWS, for its for its Indigenous Traineeships Program – an initiative which has assisted and supported 17 indigenous women to complete a traineeship and to progress their careers through employment or further study.

Congratulations to all these organisations and all the people within the organisations that have driven these innovative programs.

And now I would like to announce the winner of the Minister’s award……

Congratulations to Shine Lawyers.

I would like to welcome Lisa Flynn to the stage to accept the award on behalf of Shine Lawyers.

In the first seven months the Parental Support Scheme has been operational,
100% of women eligible for maternity leave returned to the firm and utilised its flexible working arrangements. Of the 30 eligible staff members, to date 17 have taken advantage of the Childcare Domestic Support Benefits, and 14 have taken advantage of the new paid parental leave. Two women have returned to work and been promoted to senior management roles.

Ladies and gentleman, Lisa Flynn.