Australia, the gender pay gap, and everyday sexism

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Sexism made explicit

In the past it was easier to not notice the everyday sexism and misogyny that permeates life in Australia. But with the advent of Julia Gillard as Prime Minister it seemed that it was permitted to openly denigrate women.

It shocked me. It was breathtaking. I spent the entire Gillard regime gobsmacked at what people, mostly men, felt that it okay to say in public about women, or about a woman.

Those same things would have been unlikely to be uttered aloud if one replaced the notion of a woman with that of a race.

I, along with many other women, cheered when Gillard make her famed anti-misogyny speech in Parliament. She said what many of us felt. We didn’t care what precipitated her speech, it articulated our feelings.

Former Prime Minister, John Howard, said recently that Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech was ‘nonsense’. Yet another man rejecting the reporting lived experience of a woman. And research indicates that sexist attacks – sexist language, gender-based name calling – in the media damages women political candidates.

Calling out sexism makes women a target

Sexism and misogyny remain part of the everyday experience of women everywhere. To call this out often makes women the targets of vile attacks.

Anita Sarkeesian knows all about what happens when women call out sexism online – call out sexism and get attacked by cyber-mobs. Or as Caroline Criado-Perez discovered, just ask for some women to be put onto your national bank notes and you can expect to receive rape and death threats.

Social media is an amplification medium for both good and ill.

Unequal pay – gender wage gap

It was no great surprise to hear a well known business man spell out his policy on hiring women in a recent talk. Evan Thornley spoke at Blackbird’s Sunrise startup event in Sydney week. He spoke about how he is able to hire women at lower rates than men. He illustrated this point with a slide titled:

“WOMEN. Like men, only cheaper”

Thornley has since backpadalled, saying he “stuffed up” in trying to say that there is a problem with women in technology that needs to be fixed.

But the fact that he said this, and demonstrated that he has used the information asymmetry between women and men in the labour market to pay lower rates to women, is an interesting thing to note.

If one were to replace the word “women” with a racial group the truly offensive nature of the original comments becomes apparent.

Jenna Price makes the useful point that this kind of thing is helpful as it “shines a light” on the issue.

As a woman in business it has been clear to me for many years that unconscious sexism is the enemy. Hardly anyone gets up in the morning and says “I’m off to work today to oppress women”. Instead it is a myriad of unconscious moments, such as assuming that women do not want to work on certain projects because they have children therefore not offering them the opportunity.

However, the important thing the Thornley revealed is the information asymmetry between women and men about market salaries. Because of the secrecy that attaches to what people get paid, women often do not realise how much more men doing the same work get paid.

It’s time for women to start asking colleagues how much they get paid, and then to start asking for the same.

Women, sexism, and negotiation

But this raises another issue. Women are often ill-equipped to negotiate on their own behalf and women who do negotiate for better wages and conditions are subject to sexist thinking, as Margaret A. Neale notes:

“If I negotiate for an increase in my salary, and I have a male boss, the research suggests that I will be penalized in a way that my male counterparts will not be. If I have a female boss, she’s going to penalize both males and females, so it’s not like I get any benefit for working with a woman.”

I’m grateful to Mr Thornley for raising the important issue of the gender wage gap. It’s tied up with other key issues about sexism and it’s time we got all of this onto the business agenda.

Online resources


    What does Leadership look like? Leadership, sexism, and misogyny


    In recent times I have been feeling very depressed about the state of things including sexism, misogyny, and leadership. But a few days ago came a beacon of hope.

    This beacon came from an unlikely source, the Australian Army. And the topic that this person addressed was the sombre one of sexism and demeaning treatment of women by serving military personnel.

    Yet I was moved and inspired by an eloquent demonstration of leadership.

    This is what a leader does.

    A leader speaks out for the right things.
    A leader connects values to behaviour.
    A leader takes ownership of problems within their organisation.
    A leader sets the standards of acceptable behaviour for members of their organisation.
    A leader gets their leadership team to stand along with them to support those standards.
    A leader makes it clear that people who will not do the right thing are not welcome.
    A leader embraces diversity and recognises its contribution to the organisation.

    As Lt Gen Morrison said: “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”

    It appears that Lt Gen Morrison has form with this kind of thinking. In his talk on International Womens’ Day 2013 where he made his position clear:

    “Any nexus between an Army such as the one I aspire to lead and sexual assault is absolutely unacceptable. I will take all necessary steps to stamp out any hint of it among my soldiers.”

    He went on to say:

    “Yes, we do need to bond our soldiers to one another and instil toughness and resilience into them. But when this goal is invoked to degrade and demonise women and minorities it is undermining rather than enhancing capability. We need to define the true meaning of teamwork to embrace a band of brothers and sisters.”

    Organisations everywhere still allow sexist behaviour to prevail. And until their leaders take the same kind of uncompromising attitude that David Morrison has, then sexist behaviour will not disappear.

    While organisational leaders are mostly men, it is time for all of our leaders to step up and show similar leadership to that demonstrated so admirably by Lt Gen Morrison.

    Even Warren Buffett recently spoke out on this topic, saying:

    “Fellow males, get onboard. The closer that America comes to fully employing the talents of all its citizens, the greater its output of goods and services will be. We’ve seen what can be accomplished when we use 50% of our human capacity. If you visualize what 100% can do, you’ll join me as an unbridled optimist about America’s future.”

    I encourage all to view the message from the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO, to the Australian Army following the announcement on Thursday, 13 June 2013 of civilian police and Defence investigations into allegations of unacceptable behaviour by Army members.

    I also recommend the PDF transcript of Lt Gen Morrison’s speech at the United Nations International Women’s Day Conference, New York, March 2013


    Bad idea: updating products for no real benefit to the consumer


    I’ve been a product manager and been to business school. We all learned about the cows, dogs and stars via the BCG Growth-Share Matrix (reproduced here from NetMBA).
    BCG Growth-Share Matrix

    But there comes a time when so-called innovation is just annoying to your consumers. That happens when you take a product that is working just fine and you “improve” it to the point where is it just doesn’t meet customer needs or wants.  This often happens when a product is no longer bringing in the revenue it did once, or when management want to increase revenue from a product.  A typical solution to this is a product refresh. The idea behind this is to take a successful product and tweak it a bit to drive better sales and it is often used as an excuse to increase retail price.

    An excellent example of this phenomenon is the Berlei company who make a bra called Barely There Contour. For many years this bra has been the staple foundation garment for working women around the world. This product – while not pretty or fancy – made the wearer look good, was entirely functional and could be worn all day in comfort at work and then into the evening if necessary. The straps were extremely comfortable and it was by far the best bra to wear for a twelve hour stretch; plus it looked good under either business or casual attire.  It was a great bra for travelling in – it was a favourite to wear for sitting on a plane on long business trips.

    I suspect that this product was, for Berlei, a cow as per the matrix above. And there is always an interesting decision to be made in changing products. Do you create a new product, do you enhance the old one, do you create a line extension?

    In this instance existing loyal customers are faced with the “Berlei Barely There NEW REFRESHED Contour Bra“. This product refresh has not been a success from my perspective. A line extension might have been a better alternative.

    What does that mean? Well it means that the once comfortable straps that used to make it my bra of choice are now painfully narrow ones that dig into my shoulders and make me conscious of wearing a bra (when it should be the last thing on my mind).

    It also means that the newly refreshed Berlei Barely There Contour (BBTC) model now has straps that even when extended to their fullest length are not long enough for the bra to sit comfortably under my bust. This again is an uncomfortable feeling, and I suspect that it contributes to the digging in of the now too narrow straps.

    I wore one of this new model out yesterday to meet some friends for yum cha. While sitting waiting for them to arrive I was extremely conscious of how the narrow straps of the BBTC were digging into my shoulders rather painfully, and how it was not sitting comfortably under my bust. This has never happened with the old model of this product (of which I’ve owned more than ten). I could not wait to get home and remove the damned thing.

    Many friends who were fans of this product have reported similar experiences to me. In fact, one of the women at yum cha recounted precisely the same experience and asked if I’d found a viable alternative product.

    It makes me wonder did Berlei actually try out this new “refreshed” model on any actual consumers? Did they have a clue why the old model of this product was one of the most popular bras?

    Sadly Berlei have now lost a customer and loyal brand advocate. I need something I can put on at 6.30 am and wear all day in the office and then head out to a function in the evening after work. I need something that makes me look good and is so comfortable I don’t even notice I’m wearing it.

    Thanks Berlei for “improving” this product. Hope that works out for you. In the meantime I’m looking for an alternative product. If anyone has tips on alternative products please let me know.  If anyone has stock of the old model please do let me know – I’ve got some friends who’d love to take those off your hands.

    By the way I’ve got two of these new model things that will be sent back to the place where I bought them. It’s a real pity that I’ve already worn the other one. Looks like that one will be going in the bin.


    International Women's Day – some things to celebrate but more work to do


    It is International Women’s Day again and surveying the scene here in Australia for women I find much to celebrate. Yet there remains much work to do for the women of Australia.

    Here we see, for the first time, a crop of women in senior political leadership positions.

    Quentin Bryce – Governor General
    Marie Bashir – Governor of NSW
    Penelope Wensley – Governor of QLD

    Julia Gillard – Prime Minister
    Nicola Roxon – Federal Minister for Health and Ageing
    Jenny Macklin – Federal Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
    Penny Wong – Federal Minister for Finance and Deregulation
    Julie Bishop – Deputy Leader Federal Opposition
    Christine Milne – Deputy Leader Federal Greens
    UPDATE: Kate Ellis, Minister for Employment Participation and Childcare and Minister for the Status of Women (thanks to Tom Voirol)

    Anna Bligh – Premier of Queensland
    Kristina Kenneally – Premier of New South Wales
    Lara Giddings – Premier of Tasmania

    I’m sure I’ve missed some of the women in politics – do please let me know of any additions  to the lists.

    It was interesting to note that all states except South Australia have had a female Premier and that these female Premiers were all from the Australian Labor Party:

    • Carmen Lawrence, Premier of Western Australia (12 February 1990 – 16 February 1993)
    • Joan Kirner, Premier of Victoria (10 August 1990 – 6 October 1992)
    • Anna Bligh, Premier of Queensland since 13 September 2007
    • Kristina Keneally, Premier of New South Wales since 4 December 2009
    • Lara Giddings, Premier of Tasmania since 24 January 2011.

    But when we turn our attention to the corporate world in Australia there is a real dearth of women at the helm. Of course, there’s Gail Kelly at Westpac – but which other women are running large public companies in Australia? As the Business Council of Australia noted recently:

    “Currently only 10.7 per cent of senior executive positions are held by women and just 2 per cent of CEO roles. Women chair 2 per cent of ASX 200 companies and hold just 8.3 per cent of board directorships.”

    It makes me think it might be time for board quotas for women. We’ve been asking nicely for a long time, and if women were going to get board appointments on merit it would be more prevalent by now.

    Then there is the sad state of affairs with women’s financial independence. This coupled with continuing pay inequity that is experienced by many women means that women are entering retirement with substantially less savings than their male peers.

    The paid maternity leave scheme that was introduced by the current government is a huge step forward for women and equitable financial treatment.

    Also it remains a matter of grave concern that the level of domestic violence against women remains stubbornly high. As noted in a Crikey article in 2010:

    “It’s simple; domestic abuse and sexual assault against women are community issues impacting our wives and partners, mothers, daughters, friends – everyone.

    One in three women over their life times will be physically assaulted. One in five will be sexually assaulted. The cost of domestic violence to the Australian economy was $13.6 billion in 2009.”

    The report card for women in Australia is along the lines of:

    A good effort so far; but more hard work is needed.

    It’s time for women to reclaim the word feminist and continue the good fight. There remains much work to do.


    Who does Alan Jones think he is to speak to the Prime Minister like that?


    I was completely appalled to hear how a well known radio personality in Sydney spoke to the Prime Minister of Australia on air. The details are outlined well by Barrie Cassidy on The Drum in Liar, liar, shock jocks on fire; and you can listen to the entire interview here.

    This radio shock jock berated the Prime Minister of this country on air for arriving late for a media interview. Further he called her by her first name throughout the interview. He called her a liar to her face.

    I’ve heard him interview Prime Ministers of Australia before. He referred to them civilly to their face and called them Mr so-and-so, or addressed them as Prime Minister. But now, when confronted with a woman Prime Minister, he seems to think he can disrespect her and her office.

    I’ve got no problem with people having an opinion that is different to mine or to anyone else’s. And that shock jock has as much right to his opinion as anyone. But what he did to our Prime Minister went beyond the pale. Agree with Julia Gillard and her politics or not, as Prime Minister she deserves to be treated with the same respect as every other Prime Minister that went before.

    I can only hypothesise that misogyny drove his behaviour, misogyny coupled with a deep hatred of non-conservative politicians. When confronted with a woman holding that office he seems to have felt that it was acceptable to berate and speak so un-civilly; and to do so in ways he’s never done with a male office-holder.

    It reminds me of the continuing misogyny that exists in Australia. It reminds me that women are still not considered equal to men, even if they are the Prime Minister of the country. It makes me sigh. It makes me sad. It makes me wonder how we can change things.


    Women having fun, expressing their …


    A few days ago I noticed the following tweet and clicked on the accompanying link.
    It did happen. #pollenizer girlz in their underwear @roneo @fleurfletcher @bree_clare @clarehallam #EVIDENCE

    The image below was at the other end of the link:

    Source: Bronwen Clune – used with permission

    This tweet and the picture made me laugh. It caught a bunch of women having a moment of feminine camaraderie in the office while all the guys just happened to be away. It’s a pretty informal office and it was amusing to see the girlz having fun on a crazy hot day in Sydney.


    Oz Girl Develop IT 2011 #ozgdi


    Just spent another evening with a great bunch of women learning about JavaScript as part of the Oz Girl Develop IT program for 2011.

    Discussing the plans for this year’s Oz Develop IT with Pamela Fox and Cathy Lill tonight it became clear that there’s an interesting line up for the rest of 2011.

    For example we’re planning to run sessions on:

    • SEO for geeks
    • UX for n00bs
    • Introduction to Blogging
    • PHP for script kiddies
    • Introduction to web programming – HTML and CSS
    • and a special workshop on blogging for Ada Lovelace Day in October

    Final dates for these sessions are yet to be confirmed.

    If you’re a woman who’s interested in learning more about web development sign up to our OZ GDI meetup group to find out about upcoming sessions and meetups
    Girl Develop IT (Sydney)
    You can also follow us on Twitter @OZGDI.

    Some more about Oz Girl Develop IT:

    Welcome, women developers of tomorrow!

    Want to learn how to code? Have a great idea? Don’t be shy. Develop it.

    Though the web developer community these days is open and welcoming, it is still up to 91% male and it can be intimidating for women to learn and ask questions when they are in an extreme minority. We decided it was time to provide a place where all questions are OK and everyone can learn in a supportive environment. The idea started in New York, and now we’re taking it down under to Sydney, Australia.

    Our courses focus on coding, leveraging existing technology, and having something to show for it (aka building sweet websites). We will start with a series on HTML/CSS, and if that goes well, we can hopefully offer additional series to continue building your skills, or repeated sessions of that series

    Note: Membership and event attendance is currently limited to women.


    Inspiring women: Louisa Lawson – women's suffrage activist and publisher


    The fight for women to get the vote was a monument to cooperation, ingenuity and collaboration on the part of many women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These women educated themselves and their peers about women’s issues and agitated for women’s rights. And the women of Australia owe a debt to these women of the past who achieved the privileges of full participation in the political process that we now enjoy, and often take for granted.

    In the nineteenth century it was true to say:

    “A woman’s opinions are useless to her, she may suffer unjustly, she may be wronged, but she has no power to weightily petition against man’s laws, no representatives to urge her views, her only method to produce release, redress, or change, is to ceaselessly agitate.”
    Source: Louisa Lawson, speech to the inaugural meeting of the Dawn Club. Published in Dawn, July 1889.

    Louisa Lawson is an interesting example of these women who paved the way for our participation as equals in Australian democracy . Louisa is one of my favourite characters from the Australian history – strong willed and cantankerous, she was one of the key progenitors of the women’s suffrage movement in Australia. And among her important contributions was The Dawn, a journal for women:

    “In 1888 Louisa Lawson, who had previously edited the Republican with son Henry, launched The Dawn; a journal for women. The publication’s purpose was to be a “phonograph to wind out audibly the whispers, pleadings and demands of the sisterhood”. It advised on women’s issues, including divorce, the age of consent, and women’s right to vote. As well as operating as an important vehicle for the communication of feminist politics the paper also contained short stories, fashion notes, sewing patterns and reports on women’s activities around the country and overseas. By October 1889, the Dawn office employed ten women as typesetters, printers, binders, and unskilled workers. They were harassed by male workers, and by their male union, The New South Wales Typographical Association. In 1905, after seventeen years, the publication ceased production.”
    Source: The Australian Women’s Register

    Donna Benjamin (aka @KatteKrab) reports that there is no funding for the National Library of Australia to digitise The Dawn. However, Donna estimates that $7,500 should be sufficient to see the entire publication digitised.

    Donna has had the brilliant idea of collecting funds to Digitise The Dawn. If we all put in a little bit then it can be added to the Trove Project and provide open access to this important resource for historians around the world.

    UPDATE:  The new Digitise the Dawn website is up and you can follow on Twitter or @digitisethedawn.


    Sometimes a tweet is not enough


    In the olden days when I was very young it was the custom, upon receipt of a kindness from someone, to write them a thank-you note. This note took the form of a missive, hand-written, on personal stationery or a note card. The note was then taken to the post office and sent via that which we now call snail-mail.

    Someone did me a kindness very recently. That is, they went out of their way to do something nice for me. And it seemed that just sending a tweet that said something like “hey thx that was gr8” did not truly express how touching I found their action.

    With the advent of modern telecommunications such as email, and the subsequent growth of micro-format communications like Twitter, we have lost idea of sending a tangible token of our gratitude.

    So today, for the first time in many years, I sat down and wrote a thank-you note using pen and paper. Then Trotsky and I walked up to the post office to send it off via snail-mail (using two stamps because I’m not sure how much it costs these days).

    To send a tangible token of thanks rather than a digital one enables the recipient to perceive it with their various physical senses. For example, they can put the physical token on their desk or bookshelf, or pop it into their wallet and carry it around with them. These are things we cannot yet do reliably with our electronic communications at present.

    Clearly since so much of our interaction these days is online it is often the best, fastest and most relevant way to communicate with people. But sometimes a tweet is not enough and this idea of sending thank-you notes might just be a new (but old) way of doing things?


    TEDWomen – might be worth tuning in?

    TED Women

    As they say to introduce this latest in the TED stable:

    “How are women and girls reshaping the future? The first-ever TEDWomen invites men and women to explore this question in depth. From the developing world, where a single microloan to a single girl can transform a village, to the West, where generations of educated women are transforming entire industries, women are powerful change agents, intellectual innovators, idea champions …”