By David Varker
Gender often gets involved in arguments and debate these days. Is it justified? Is it helpful? David Varker says it is NOT…
In recent times affirmative action within the workplace has seen itself become one of the most derisive political debates. The unfortunate tendency of such debate is that it is oft the case that commentators ignore the factual realities of the world, only to replace them with argumentative punchlines such as “misogyny”.
While it cannot be ignored that there is indeed a great disparity of representation of women at the executive level, and that women receive lower levels of income than males, I submit that such an occurrence is not due to a patriarchal conspiracy as alleged by some. If one made a simple effort to read the scientific research into the issue one quickly determines that the age of discrimination has been relegated to the waste basket of history. It has been identified by reputable researchers that the real factors which influence the lack of female executives within companies are as follows:
One, women still choose to leave full time work for many years to support their children, while this is not reciprocated by their male partners. Typically, women take at least 2 to 5 years away from full time work for each child they have. This influences a woman’s chance to rise up the ranks and thereby earn more as their male counter parts spend these years at work succeeding in their roles. While this does not in any way negate the tremendous efforts by women it does no aid the progression of their professional career.
Two, women are more likely to work in professions which don’t relate to the business of the largest companies of Australia or offer high salaries comparative to male dominated industries. Examples of female dominated industries include social work, teaching and nursing. The genesis of this stems from University when young female students select their degrees. One could simply walk into any teaching class at any Australian university to find just how many females are in the class. Compare this to the more lucrative field of computer science which is dominated by males.
With these factors in mind one would be prudent to ask the question how does affirmative action provide remedies to any of the concerns aforementioned? How does affirmative action stop women from wanting to raise families? How does affirmative action prevent young women in High School from selecting degrees relating to teaching? The answer is that affirmative action is virtually unrelated to any of these factors and therefore is bound to have nil effect.
It is in my opinion that affirmative action is a knee jerk reaction to perceived discrimination. It is a feel good approach to the fanciful prejudice held by all the directors of large Australian companies, the notion that because they despise women in power they can’t trusted to hire any women so the government must force them to. But how can such discrimination be so commonplace that it requires government intervention when there are so many exceptions to the rule? Westpac’s CEO is a woman; Telstra has a chairwoman of the board.
While it should not be advocated that there is no action required, or presumed that today a woman won’t suffer injustice in the workplace, let us focus our national attention on the real factors which cause such a disparity of women in executive positions or in a woman’s income.