Get on with gender equality

Spain’s Prime Minister recently appointed a record 11 women to his Cabinet and West Australian of the Year Business Award Diane Smith-Gander says it’s time women were better represented in Australia’s parliaments and in business.

The adage is that men believe there’s a problem if they need to talk about it while women say that if they’re not talking about, there’s a problem.

So, the fact that we’re still talking about gender equity in the 21st Century indicates a bit of a 50/50 proposition.

And that’s exactly the representation 2018 Western Australian of the Year Business Award winner Diane Smith-Gander would like to see in Australia’s parliaments and in the business management pipeline, which she says leaks women like a sieve.

“We’ve got a really long way to go because we’ve got a long way to go in moving women through that management pipeline,” says Smith-Gander, a past president of Australia’s peak body of executive women Chief Executive Women (CEW).

While 42 per cent of women are working in Australia, only six per cent reach CEO level.

“The women of Australia deserve to be represented equally, we are 51 per cent of the population,” says Smith-Gander.

There’s little doubt that gender equity changes are happening at every level, though some are more unusual than others. Earlier this month, Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium opened ‘gender-free’ toilets during the AFL Pride round, encouraging people to visit the loo where they felt most comfortable.

Recently, Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, chose a Cabinet containing the most female ministers – 11 – in that country’s history.

Smith-Gander describes quotas are an intervention of last resort but says they’re necessary in Australia and she rejects as a “wrong-headed piece of backlash” any suggestion that women may not be appointed on merit.

“There is absolutely nothing wrong with a woman being appointed to Parliament because she is a woman who is going in there to make our governing bodies representative of the people she is representing,” Smith-Gander says.

“We are not defining merit well. It is not meritorious to have a disproportionally male parliament.”

Which countries lead the charge?

The African country of Rwanda has the highest percentage of women in parliament (68 per cent).  There, a law stipulates that 30 per cent of all parliamentary seats must be held by women. Second placed Bolivia has quota legislation too, requiring equal numbers of male and female election candidates.

Smith-Gander says Australia needs quotas on ballots, so that parties nominate 50 per cent of each gender, and a number of reserved seats for women in the nation’s parliaments.

As of January last year, women represented 23.3 per cent of members of global national parliaments.

In Australia, the Turnbull Government has five women in Cabinet, although it did have six before the resignation of Sussan Ley in January last year.  That’s the same number as former Labor leader Kevin Rudd had in his Cabinet, on his second run in 2013. Until 1996, there was only one woman appointed to national Cabinet at a time.

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