Today is International Women’s Day. So yay us chicks!! On the whole, I am glad I am a woman. I mean, we have much better shoe choice, apart from anything else.
But seriously, I love being the woman I am. I am very lucky, I know. I live in a country where women are on the whole treated equally, where women have access to education and healthcare and social security and many other things which allow us to make real choices about our lives. I have benefitted from all of those things (in fact, out of my family of 5 – 4 brothers and me, I am the only one who went to university). While my mother was not a feminist and would probably think that feminism was something bad, I always expected to be able to go to university and work and make my own choices. And my brothers were expected to wash and/or dry the dishes and clean the bathroom and do other household jobs, the same as I was.
At work, a large part of my role has been to look after “women’s issues” in the workplace, including our organisation’s reporting to EOWA. In Australia, we have a government authority, the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, or EOWA. Organisations who employ more than 100 employees are required to report annually to EOWA on, basically, what their organisation does to advance women in the workplace. EOWA also awards an Employer of Choice for Women citation each year to a select group of employers who meet the fairly high standards set by EOWA. One of these, for example, is the provision of at least 6 weeks’ paid maternity leave to women who have been employed for at least 12 months. Another, more contentiously, is that the pay equity gap must be less than 17% (which is what the pay gap between men and women generally is in Australia – or to put it another way, for every $1 earned by a man, a woman earns $0.83).
There’s been a bit in the media over the last week about the pay equity gap, both because the most recent list of Employers of Choice for Women have been announced, but also because of International Women’s Day. And I have to say, that while I totally agree that a woman doing the same job as a man should, generally speaking, be paid the same, I’m not entirely sure that looking at pay equity overall as a means to advancing women is right. It ignores factors such as the “feminisation” of certain jobs (eg teaching, nursing) – which are traditionally undervalued in society anyway, as well as certain jobs which are considered “masculine” – construction work, mining etc. Which are perhaps more highly paid but which also bring more physical or dangerous risks. (I’m not suggesting women shouldn’t be exposed to those risks, just that on the whole, they are less attractive in a job to many women). You can’t compare the salary of men in these roles against the salary of women in “feminine” roles. It’s not a valid comparison. But within industries or job roles, well, it makes more sense. But that’s not how EOWA, or others, measure it, and I think that’s a shame, because it diverts attention from other, perhaps more real, issues (to me, anyway). Like ensuring that women have a real career path, and proper superannuation at the end of their careers, and that childbearing is not seen as an end to a woman’s working life. Or that a woman who wishes to work flexibly is somehow not “serious” about her career.
And that’s leaving to one side huge cultural issues such as violence against women.
I think a lot about these issues, given that it’s part of my job, and I am a woman. I have come to the view that things will only really change for women when men value what women value. Right now, the sorts of things that EOWA measure are, to me, based on men’s values, what men think are important – pay, career, etc. They don’t measure the things that are, generally speaking, more valued by women – caring, family, home life, choice (to name a few). And I’m sure many men want the same opportunities as women to contribute to their family life, and are as constrained by ideas of what men “should” be doing (ie working full-time, earning lots of money and supporting their family in that way) as women are. I really don’t think women will have truly the same choices as men (or vice versa) until what is valued by women is also valued by men. To me, that’s where organisations like EOWA should be focusing, attempting to make real cultural change, rather than just trying to give women what men already have. We need to try to give to men what women have as well, because otherwise, I think we are saying “we are not happy with what we have. We want what you’ve got”. And that makes me sad, because I love what we have! It’s not perfect, but neither is life as a man either.
Of course, I accept there are many other views and many different views about these issues. I absolutely do not profess to have the answers. Or any answers at all. I wanted, simply, to share my thoughts on a day where we should be thinking about women. And society, and how we want things to be. And maybe taking some action to try and realise our dreams. I’d love to hear your dreams.