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STANDING COMMITTEE ON EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS
02/04/2009
Pay equity and increasing female participation in the workforce

CHAIR —Welcome. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, this is a formal proceeding of the parliament and so has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. We have received a detailed written submission to this inquiry from you. I invite you to make an opening statement and then no doubt there will be questions from committee members.

Ms Begnell —Women’s Health Victoria is a state-wide women’s health promotion, information and advocacy service. We are a non-government organisation primarily funded by sections of the Victorian Department of Human Services. We work with health professionals and policymakers to influence and inform health policy and service delivery for women. The vision of Women’s Health Victoria is for a society in which there is an accepted approach to health that is empowering and respectful of women and girls; one that recognises the importance of gender in determining health outcomes and that utilises a sound gender analysis in policy making and in health and community service design.

The work of Women’s Health Victoria is underpinned by a social model of health. This means that we act on the determinants of health to improve health outcomes for women. These determinants have been described as: broad features of society, socioeconomic characteristics, health behaviours and biomedical factors which interact with each other and determine individuals’ levels of health and wellbeing. These factors are experienced differently by women and men.

We believe that health and wellbeing are created outside of the health system, hence the importance of levers such as power systems and social policies in shaping the way in which Australians and, in particular, Australian women experience the determinants of health. We thank the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment and Workplace Relations for their work on this inquiry and for the opportunity to speak here today.

We acknowledge that there are a number of organisations and individuals also giving evidence who will have focused on the statistics available on current levels of women’s inequitable experience of workforce issues. Women’s Health Victoria’s area of expertise is in relating women’s experience and also in building capacity for policy, programs and services to take account of gender and ensure that women’s opportunities and health outcomes are equitable. It is from these perspectives that I will give evidence today.

First, I would like to address the relationship between workforce participation and health. International research shows that long-term exposure to financial hardship has a negative impact on health and that women are more affected by this. Many women experience anxiety about their futures with the knowledge that financial independence is not likely in postretirement or later years. In some instances, social isolation and depression arising as a consequence of poverty can negatively impact on women’s capacity to pursue educational opportunities and then to go on to improve their financial circumstances. The impact of poverty and financial uncertainty upon women, coupled with gender specific inequities that are greater for marginalised and minority women, increase the likelihood of poorer health outcomes and decreased quality of life.

Next, I would like to outline a way of working that has the ability to address the policy issues of pay equity and workforce participation of Australian women. Called a gender analysis framework, it is a tool that enables policy to take account of and be responsive to gender. It is based on the following assumptions. The first is that all policies and programs have an impact on women and men. The second is that policies and programs affect women and men differently. Finally, it acknowledges that there is diversity within groups of women and men. The gender analysis framework involves asking questions about research, programs, practice or policies in order to better understand the experiences of women and men. It is the process of questioning that is important in gender analysis. The process asks: ‘Are things different for women and men? If so, how are they different and why?’ The application of a gender analysis framework helps us to acknowledge potential differences in health and wellbeing arising from gender. It helps us look at the evidence, undertake a critical analysis and then translate this information for a variety of audiences. It follows, then, that the gender analysis framework can help to identify, understand and address workforce participation and pay equity issues for women.

The framework consists of three elements. The first of these is called gendered data. Starting out with data that is sex disaggregated is an excellent first step in developing a policy that takes account of gender. Sex disaggregated statistics are critical in gauging the extent to which women and men benefit differently from programs, research, practice and policies. However, sex disaggregated data only becomes really useful when questions are asked of this information and a gender analysis is applied to it—those three questions that I mentioned before: are things different for women and men? If so, how and why? Once this analysis has been done, it can be called gendered data. It is my understanding that the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency already produce gendered data on workforce and pay equity issues at a national level. With the development of this information, it is imperative that it be used to inform policies and programs to address the inequalities that the data highlights.

Gender impact assessment is the second element of this gender analysis framework. It happens all the time, but we are not always conscious of it. Gender impact assessment involves applying the same questions again—are things different? If so, how and why?—but this time the questions do not focus on the data but on the relevant policy, program or service. Conducting a gender impact assessment requires deliberate and thoughtful reflection that adjusts for any negative experiences or impact on women and men. At Women’s Health Victoria we undertake gender impact assessment whenever we do an evaluation of a program or a policy, when we look at a particular health issue or when we write a submission.

Gender impact assessment is used to monitor developing and existing policies and programs to gauge how they will impact on the different experiences of women and men in terms of a number of elements: first, representation and participation in decision making; second, the distribution of and effective access to resources; third, the influence on roles, attitudes and behaviours and others’ expectations; and, finally, rights, freedoms and access to justice. Asking questions of an existing policy or program or one in development can help ensure that it is responsive to the needs of women. So a gender impact assessment examines points such as: what has been done around this issue in the past, what were the outcomes and how were they different for women and men? Does the response perpetuate or overcome existing stereotypes and gender inequities? Who is the policy most likely to benefit? Who may the policy have a negative impact on? Are gender specific or separate responses to the issue needed? Has the diversity of women and men been considered? And, finally, who might be excluded from the policy?

To give a brief example of a gender impact assessment, using gendered data to start with would tell us that Australians live longer than people in a most other nations and that women in Australia generally live longer than men. In 2005 there were 97,000 more women than men in Australia and in 2006 there were twice as many women as men aged over 85. Employment, leave, pay inequity and other financial conditions for women are not congruent with these figures or with the fact that women are the primary carers of children and family members and they are earlier retirees than men. With a life expectancy at birth for Australian women now at 83 years, and 79 years for men, current policy does not support women’s financial security and independence in later years. Gender impact assessments could also be conducted on other current issues, such as women headed households, women and home ownership, and the current global financial crisis and the movement of certain jobs offshore.

The final element of the gender analysis framework is gender awareness raising. Raising the profile of gender can be achieved at many levels using tools such as training, cross-sectoral information sharing, public awareness campaigns and the like.

In conclusion, women’s financial security is influenced by labour market participation, pay equity, financial literacy and structural discrimination. It can be severely hampered by having to work in casual or part-time employment, by having to take unpaid maternity leave, by not being adequately compensated for work performed at home, with children or in other carer roles, and by a superannuation system that penalises employees with lower incomes and multiple employers or multiple superannuation funds. There are various other gender differences that make more tenuous women’s financial security, including the gender pay gap, retirement trends and women’s life expectancy. Using a gender analysis framework to investigate these issues and their effects and to develop policy and programs that are responsive to the needs and situations of Australian women is imperative. Recent government initiatives are a step forward towards increasing women’s ability to have financial security but will require systemic and cultural change at many levels of financial engagement to ensure equity for women. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. I would like to get a better idea of how and where you think it might be appropriate for this gender analysis framework to be utilised. I wonder if you could give me a current example of where it is being applied and the results of applying it. Is that possible?

Ms Beaumont —Probably the one example that has the longest period of time of application is the Victorian Department of Justice’s Better Pathways strategy, which was implemented about four years ago. It initially arose because there was a sudden spike in the number of women being sent to prison and there was a question as to whether we should build another prison. So an economic argument arose in relation to women’s incarceration, overcrowding in the women’s prison and what the response would be. A gender analysis was undertaken of sentencing and of women’s crime in comparison to the types of crime that men were involved in.

The analysis went really deep and a number of changes occurred within the women’s correction system which led to prisoner management standards being gendered. Before, there were prisoner management standards which applied equally to men and women. For example, in a women’s prison there was a fully equipped gym, whereas women prefer to walk around the oval. So the gym in the women’s prison was empty and they were walking around the perimeter fence. The evaluation benchmark is now the number of women who are recidivists and coming back into prison, and that is dropping.

There are now a whole range of community interventions which have been initiated. There are now policies about women with young children or who give birth while in prison being able to develop a really good bond with that child and not having the child taken away—a facility to have babies and small children in the prison system with their mothers. So a whole range of things have happened arising from the gender analysis framework being implemented, and I think that is probably the best example of government policy which grew from an economic question. Now it has significantly impacted on the way in which health services are provided within the prison, the way that external services are provided after discharge and the preparation for discharge. It is now a completely different arrangement in a women’s prison to what happens in a men’s prison.

CHAIR —It is basically your recommendation that we should use something like that kind of framework on a national scale for policy decisions that governments make?

Ms Beaumont —Yes, because the outcome is a better outcome. I think generalising about people has led us to often not having the desired outcome for many.

Mr HAASE —I have a general question on this gender based data collection, impact assessment and awareness-raising process that you, I believe, are recommending be adopted by government. It would be funded by the taxpayer, I imagine you are suggesting. Who would be responsible for carrying out that work? Who would receive the funding to engage in the practical data collection and analysis?

Ms Begnell —I am not sure that I can answer the question directly.

Mr HAASE —In your expectations.

Ms Begnell —Building the capacity of people already working in organisations and government departments to incorporate this into their work is not a huge stretch. What I have explained in the gender analysis framework is the basis of workshops that Women’s Health Victoria run for professionals in Victoria. We explain that using a gender analysis framework does not mean a huge change in practice or a total reworking of the way that things are done; it is just about asking different questions and having that lens in your mind—’I need to be thinking about gender as an issue’—and asking—

CHAIR —Rather than assuming that outcomes will be the same.

Ms Begnell —That is right. It is just a different way of thinking; it does not involve a high level of expertise—just some basic principles, frameworks and skills developed in any worker.

Mr HAASE —This is an area that you, I presume, would assert you have skills in—the collection of that data.

Ms Begnell —Yes.

Mr HAASE —Would it mean a more significant role for your organisation?

Ms Beaumont —I think there is a role for specialist services, but we as a nation already make a significant investment in collecting information about people, and we think that there is an additional element that should be applied to what it is we already collect. We can make better use of what we already collect. So it is not an additional and separate piece of work; it is about having a different view on what we already do. The example I gave—the work to investigate and come up with recommendations—was within the Department of Justice. It was a way that that department thought about the population groups that it provides services for, if you call a prison ‘service’. The result is that the service provision does not need additional money over a long period of time.

Mr HAASE —That is what I was alluding to. I was just trying to clarify whether you felt this was another way for your agency to be funded, by making the collection of the data that you are involved in more significant and more highly valued. If you were suggesting that, it would not surprise or disappoint me, but I am simply trying to clarify that.

Ms Begnell —If I can add one more thing, a gender analysis framework is not a framework owned by Women’s Health Victoria. It is a piece of information that is out in the public sphere. We do not hold rights over the framework.

Mr HAASE —That is fine.

Ms Beaumont —Maybe another example as a way of looking at this is what has happened in the UK with their review of their sex determination legislation. They have added a component to that which is a gender equality requirement. Arising from that move, the national health services, as part of their funding agreement, have a requirement to report against that gender equality framework. They have three years to prepare for that and to begin to report against it. So there are ways that the legislation can bring about a change in the culture that we are talking about. It is not about specialist services adding on their expertise; it is about a change of culture.

Mr HAASE —I understand. It is interesting that yesterday we took evidence that suggested that perhaps the pre-eminent data and activity was coming out of Canada. We have heard from two witness groups today that the British system is to be admired and is making inroads. I am interested in having your express an opinion here. In your opening statement this morning, you said that women’s financial security can be severely hampered by having to take casual and part-time work. We are hearing that comment from time to time. I put to you that women often choose to take casual and part-time work to fit in with society’s expectation of their role. I would like you to comment on the cause and effect syndrome of women being involved in part-time and casual work. Is it choice or is it compulsion?

Ms Beaumont —If women were able to work full time and to have an amount of income that was available to them that they could use to bring in additional services to meet their need to maintain the household and provide care to an increasingly diverse range of relatives, through children to aged parents to the rest of the extended family, I do not know that the issue of choice really comes into it. I think that women increasingly do not have access to permanent full-time work which can be negotiated down to part time and back to full time depending on changing needs throughout their lives. They are increasingly only able to get casual work, which means no paid sick leave and no paid annual leave. Many women do not understand that that is the only thing available to them when many of their peers are also involved in employment in that way.

I think that we have moved significantly over the years from the majority of people being employed in a permanent part-time or full-time basis with flexibility to now a significant portion of the work force being casual and part-time or contract. Being on a contract over a period of a year or two years that are continually renewable is probably more often the experience. The changing circumstances of women’s lives mean that they need some flexibility from time to time. The idea of them changing to work that way is a stereotype.

CHAIR —Is it perhaps just a stereotype that we find women taking part-time and casual work as opposed to men taking part-time and casual work and then being engaged in a caring role in a family while the female takes on a permanent role with full-time employment? Is that a stereotype or is that the reality?

Ms Beaumont —Increasingly, men are taking on those roles that are not traditional for men. They talk about the way in which they are treated in the workplace as being less dedicated or less interested in the business or company and how therefore they are overlooked for promotion in the way that women are when they choose to have that balance in their lives. Also, men still talk about the way in which they are treated when they take the child to child care or occasional care, which is as the odd one out.

CHAIR —How do we change that?

Ms Beaumont —By the way in which leadership is exercised around this and the way in which employers are encouraged to think about the responsibility of both men and women in parenting. The debate on paid maternity leave has now moved from it being a women’s issue to it being a community issue. All of that is good. The increasing number of men who choose to spend time with their small children in a way that is not late at night or early in the morning bodes well for our societies.

CHAIR —Do you believe that evolution can be sped up by legislation?

Ms Beaumont —Legislation has a role. We are interested in things like the gender equality legislation in the UK. The way in which equity operates within the Scandinavian countries is something that is also of interest. There is a role for the parliament, both through legislation and through leadership. The more that we see the roles shared, from the upper echelons of leadership in the country through to the carer role, the better. That stands us in good stead.

CHAIR —In your observations as you collect your data and in the work that you do as an agency, do you see the equity in our working nation improving? At what rate do you see it improving? I am interested in your observations as to this rate of evolution; this rate of change. Has it improved and sped up in the last five years or 10 years? How do you see the task unfolding?

Ms Beaumont —The data shows that women are increasingly participating in the work force. Most women spend significant periods of their life in the paid work force. The last year or so has led us to stand and take stock, because business failure has suddenly meant that one gender dominated area is being impacted on. The clothing and footwear industry is a big employer of new migrants. They work long years with the one employer. They do not have the capacity to find other work.

The impact over the last little while is going to be really important to monitor to see what the gender outcomes of business failure are. We should be looking at that through a gender lens. If we use this lens, how we think about all of the events and how we respond to them changes and we come up with a slightly different—and important—picture. The issue of retirement for women, with women living in poverty for a significant period of time, is one that we really have to tackle. That is growing at an exponential rate. And that has been compounded recently because of the global financial crisis. More women suddenly feel extremely anxious about retaining jobs and going back into the work force. That is a very new thing.

For a while, with equal pay and with women getting into non-traditional areas of work that were significantly male dominated—with more women in the mining industry, for example, and things like that—we were making progress. But I think that we have stalled somewhat.

CHAIR —My observation is that it is the lifestyle associated with those industries that women, past a certain percentage, find objectionable. They are really not interested in the fly-in fly-out nature of employment in the mining industry, for instance. There are impediments. The large wages are highly desirable, but the trade off of circumstances is unacceptable. That is a dilemma for another day. I would like to investigate your solution to the super inequity at the end of career, but I might leave that to my colleague, Mr Ramsey—that is his favourite topic.

Mr RAMSEY —Firstly, this is only by the by, but it is one of those little paradoxes that pop up. We have heard it before, but lower lifetime earnings lead to worse health outcomes. We know that poverty breeds terrible outcomes. But women then have the gall to live far longer than what we fellows do. You wonder about the causes of longevity.

Ms Begnell —Sure. But women do live longer with disability and chronic illness. So it is not—

Mr RAMSEY —You mean that they suffer better than us. If you live longer, you are likely to run into more health problems—there is no doubt about that. But that is just by the by. I am interested in understanding what role Women’s Health Victoria plays in general terms. How big a percentage of what you do is what you have presented this morning? Are you primarily concerned with promoting women’s health issues, such as breast cancer, Chlamydia and so on, across a broad spectrum? Is this just one small part of what you do or are you predominantly focused on this social policy area?

Ms Begnell —The gender analysis framework is the background to pretty much everything that we do within the organisation. The social policy work specifically would probably use a good 50 to 60 per cent of the health promotion funding that is received through the organisation. As I said in my introductory speech, we have a number of different funding streams. All come from the Victorian Department of Human Services. There are specific streams of funding for which we have to do specific kinds of work.

Mr RAMSEY —Where did the organisation spring from?

Ms Beaumont —The beginnings of the organisation were in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when women became very dissatisfied with the mainstream health services. They felt that they were overlooked in the decision making about their bodies and lives—their health decision making. They began to form their own organisations and to create their own health information about issues that were of importance to them. Those organisations continued in a volunteer way until the 1980s and the national women’s health policy, which was a Commonwealth-state agreement and a program that was funded over a number of years. Two volunteer organisations amalgamated and formed an incorporated association and successfully tendered for the initial government funding, which was for the development and provision of women’s health information. That was in the form of pamphlets and telephone information. We have moved on from a deficit of health information to an overwhelming amount. Our role is to collect, synthesise and translate the information and knowledge into practice, policy and changing systems and ways that services are provided. So our work now is, as Petra said, with health professionals and policymakers.

Mr RAMSEY —How big an organisation is it?

Ms Beaumont —About $2 million and about 20-odd staff over a couple of premises. We provide a peer support based breast and gynaecological information and support service. We work to strengthen other organisations such as the Victorian Women with Disabilities Network to do their own advocacy. So we have a range of ways of developing new models of service delivery. We always work in partnership with other organisations across a number of environments where health is created. We are doing some work with Linfox as a corporate to develop an understanding of how to use workplaces to raise awareness of the health impact of violence against women. We are developing that through an occupational health and safety training sort of model. So we are trying to work out ways of using our resources in a more effective way to get an effective outcome.

Mr RAMSEY —I want to talk about whole-of-lifetime earnings and the deficit that women face at this stage with their superannuation at the end of their working lives. However we cut the pie up we are probably going to end up with a woman having less hours of engagement in the workforce at the end of her working life than a counterpart male would have because she has been doing some other very important things in her life. How are we ever going to get over that superannuation component that women lose in the times when they are not in the workforce? We can shorten the periods they are not in the workforce and make it easier for them to get back into it, but how do we ever overcome that straight inequity?

Ms Beaumont —I think there are two elements to this. One is the current cohort of women coming up to retirement. A significant proportion of them have not had lifetime earnings, and they did not have access to superannuation until the big movements to industry super for teachers, nurses and so on.

Mr RAMSEY —One of our witnesses this morning spoke of a Canadian case which years and years were spent on. Everyone agreed in the end that this had all been undervalued but, because it was retrospective, government said, ‘We can’t pay it.’ If we try and backdate everything we are never going to get anywhere, are we?

Ms Beaumont —I am not talking about backdating. There is now policy which is framed on people having access to superannuation as they come into retirement and on the idea that people accessing the pension would diminish, and I do not think that is right. I think there is a large cohort of people coming up to retirement, women particularly, who will need to access it because the current policy which prevails only came into operation halfway through their working lives, if that, and it was compounded by the in-out nature of the contributions. So you are going to have a significant proportion of women who will live in poverty, and that will be a problem for government. It will be a problem because it will significantly impact on the health system, housing and all of the social support services they are going to need. That is one problem. The other is: how do you get a better balance? I think pay equity is the answer to that. Getting some better outcomes in terms of pay equity means that you get better outcomes in terms of superannuation. Some of the initiatives around enabling the male in a relationship to contribute to a woman’s superannuation when she is on leave and those sorts of arrangements can equalise—

Mr RAMSEY —I was not aware of that until about two days ago. It is not very popular.

Ms Beaumont —People still use it. It does equalise the power. It equalises the capacity to think about your retirement independently. You always know what superannuation you have got if you are a woman moving away from a relationship.

Mr RAMSEY —I have raised on a few occasions at these hearings that I have some sympathy for the view that superannuation accumulated when you are in partnership should be segregated and accumulated as two sum totals, so people have that power of individualism at retirement. It can be done voluntarily. It is whether or not the carrot is big enough.

Ms Beaumont —It also teaches women more about financial independence and financial literacy. It is theirs that they are responsible for, instead of it always being the male in the relationship who has the responsibility for the income. There is a balance of responsibility, and knowledge and power come from that.

CHAIR —I want to thank you very much for your attendance here today and for your submission. I am not sure if you have been asked to provide any additional information, but if you have could you liaise with our secretariat. You will be sent a transcript of your evidence. Good luck with your important work.

Ms Beaumont —Thank you.

Ms Begnell —Thank you very much.

[12.00 pm]