Women are the real losers in the Global Financial Crisis
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the same adage can be applied to women’s equality in society. However, lately it feels like construction has come to a complete halt.
Research released this week by the Australia Institute positioned women as one of the groups hardest hit by the financial crisis in the workplace. While more men had lost full-time jobs than women, women faced worsening underemployment in the form of limited hours and poor pay.
The women hardest hit by this news will be those who can least afford it – struggling lone mothers and women from low-income backgrounds.
On a daily basis, these women are simultaneously exposed to elements of social and economic disadvantage, including limited access to basic health, education, and general life opportunities.
Lack of opportunity is certainly not a problem restricted to financially disadvantaged women, in fact, it impacts some of society’s most affluent. This is despite the studies that prove the intellectual, social, and economic contributions of women are vital to the progress of organisations, economies, and communities.
Beginning at birth – with many parents still preferring to have a boy – to the boardroom, where women are dwindling in presence, women are discriminated against because of their sex.
The 2008 Australian Census of Women in Leadership revealed that the proportion of women to men on corporate boards and in executive leadership roles has declined since 2006. Women chaired only four boards and held only 8.3% of board directorships, down from 8.7% in 2006.
Further, women held only four Chief Executive Officer positions (based on top 200 ASX listed companies) and only 10.7% of executive management positions were held by women in 2008, compared to 12% in 2006.
This research shows Australia severely lagging behind other developed countries, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and South Africa, when it comes to the percentage of women in senior management ranks.
Strangely, perhaps the key to advancing the plight of all women, especially society’s most vulnerable, is through helping those at the top break the glass ceiling.
Studies show that females in government leadership positions are more much likely to spend money on improving issues relating to health, education, and poverty, than their male counterparts, thus creating more opportunities for women to advance their position in society.
So, why then – when over half of the graduates with professional qualifications are female – are women missing out on the top jobs?
One of the major barriers explaining this trend is the lack of adequate family and childcare support structures in Australian workplaces. Employers need to implement policies and practices which help women and men better balance their work and family responsibilities, such as flexible work hours, parental leave, and home-based work options.
Another explanation can be found in women’s reluctance to promote their interests vigorously in the workplace, out of fear they will be labelled aggressive and selfish in the eyes of their colleagues – a valid concern according to studies. This fear then reinforces itself in junior employees, who feel discouraged and unsupported by female role models in their quest to climb the corporate ladder.
Despite the long road ahead, we have to remember the milestones the women’s movement has achieved thus far, and give due recognition to the people who have helped forge the way for the rest of us.
As American Activist, Marian Wright Edelman said, “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”
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