The case for gender equality has never been stronger

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At the time I sat down to write, the Democratic convention had just endorsed Hilary Clinton as the Democratic nominee for President of the United States. If elected she will join the growing number of women throughout the world being appointed to important leadership roles; Christine Legarde (IMF), Janet Yellen (Federal Reserve), Indra Nooyi (Pepsi Co), Meg Whitman (Hewlett –Packard); in Australia Cindy Hook (Deloitte), Joyce Phillips (ANZ), Holly Kramer (Best & Less), Kerrie Mather (Sydney Airport), and Karen Moses (Orica).

Research by La Trobe University[1] over a seven year period found companies with greater board diversity deliver better performance. Further, a 2015 report[2] looking at 4,000 companies globally found those who had strong female leadership[3] generate a return on equity of 10.1% p.a. verses 7.4% p.a. for those who don’t.

Yet despite the growing body of research we still find that while women make up 46 per cent of the Australian workforce, they occupy just 23 per cent of board seats and 15 per cent of CEO offices. Malcolm Turnbull’s new-look cabinet still has just six women out of a possible 23 positions. This position is mirrored in other developed countries globally.

Alarmingly, an ABS Gender Equality Report[4] shows that the current pay gap between men and women in Australia is 17.9% and if we continue at the current rate of progress it will be 2096 before pay equality is achieved.

Why are we finding it difficult to close this pay gap?

Mario Lackner in his paper for IZA World of Labour Gender Differences in Competitiveness: to what extent can different attitudes towards competition for men and women explain the gender gap in labour markets? [5]suggests in the right conditions and circumstances low competitiveness on the part of women may contribute to the pay gap.

Lackner’s findings indicate:

  • Attitudes towards competiveness are formed early in life.
  • In certain circumstances women may consciously choose to be less competitive.
  • Women often exhibit higher levels of competitiveness when competing only among women.
  • Social environment and personal history are important in forming attitudes towards competition for women and men.
  • Women are less likely to put themselves forward for promotion or ask for a pay rise.
  • Men err on the side of being over-competitive and over-confident, while in similar circumstances women tend to be less competitive and exhibit lower confidence.

You could be forgiven for jumping to the conclusion that it simply becomes a matter of teaching women ways to become more competitive. According Lackner’s findings in many circumstances this would lead to detrimental outcomes.

The fact remains women are still under-represented in top-level jobs on a global scale. Difference in genders present in many different settings, circumstances and at different stages in life: more opportunities to observe behaviour are required from an array of different competitive settings to reach clear conclusions on the role competitiveness plays.

Nevertheles, it will be interesting to observe how Hilary Clinton approaches her campaign for the presidency against one of the most unabashed competitive males on the planet in Donald Trump.


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[3] The research designated a company as having strong female leadership if the company’s board had three or more women, if its percentage of women on the board is above its country average, or if it has a female CEO and at least one woman on the board.