Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Equal Does Not Mean Identical

EDITORIAL TUESDAY 22.07.08. Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick has launched her “Agenda For Action” following extensive community consultations on gender equality issues. She has found that there remains systemic discrimination against women in the workplace, as well as obstacles for fathers who are seeking more family friendly workplace arrangements. In fact, it appears that it is more difficult for fathers to get flexible arrangements than it is for mothers.

The Commissioner’s report highlights the phenomenon of men being assigned to the “Daddy Track”. This is the situation where a man is seen as being a less than devoted worker because of his family commitments, and therefore passed over for promotion and advancement. He hasn’t been sacked so it’s not illegal, but it effectively sidelines the man into a position that goes nowhere. Of course, not all workplaces are able to offer such flexibility, due to the nature of the work. But those circumstances should apply equally to both men and women.

Now, it would be well to remember that not all inequality is the result of discrimination. It is a fact that average wages for women are lower than for men. But to some extent that is a reflection of the differences in the work that men and women do. Where they do the same job they should be entitled to the same treatment. Not all women want to be in leadership roles. Not all men want time off to be with the family. You simply can’t take a one size fits all approach. Equal does not mean identical.

The Agenda For Action includes a public education campaign on sexual harassment, boosting women’s retirement savings, encouraging family friendly workplaces, a review of discrimination laws, and promoting women in leadership roles. This covers a wide range of issues. In truth, it is not just about making changes in the workplace. It is about making changes in community attitudes to provide greater opportunities for everyone.

Ultimately, that will only be achieved when gender is not an issue at all. That’s fine, just so long as we realize that there will always be differences between men and women and that those differences are a good thing.

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