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Let's Get this Done

Dr Niki Vincent, Commissioner for Equal Opportunity (SA)
Speech at Launch of Chooks SA, National Wine Centre, Adelaide

I’d like to acknowledge that this land that we meet on today is the traditional lands of the Kaurna people and that I respect their ongoing spiritual relationship with their country.

Its really lovely to be here at the launch of Chooks an organisation that has been formed to:

•connect women in start-ups, entrepreneurs and social enterprises across the generations

to learn from one another and build a community where support, not competition is the priority

to celebrate successes (however small) and
to commit to each other to take the next step needed for ideas to take off.

I love that you are about applying a gender lens - not rose coloured glasses and that the intention is to build yourselves up without tearing anyone else down. It’s really important that organisations like this exist because, as we all know, whilst important progress has been made in terms of equity for women in Australia, there is sadly still a very long way to go.

 

I’m sure you know these statistics but I’ll repeat them again just in case there is anyone in the room who is in denial.

We have only 18 sitting female politicians in our state parliament out of a total of 69 members.

22 ASX200 boards still do not have any women members and none of Australia’s 20 largest companies has a woman chief executive. The latest statistics from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency show that whilst women in Australia comprise 46% of employees - and around the same percentage have reached year 12, attained a degree and achieved postgraduate degrees - only just over half of these women work full-time and for these women their pay is 16.2% less than for men working full-time. If you take out those working in public sector organisations, the gap rises to 19.1% on base salaries and 24% for total remuneration!

The gender pay gap in ASX 200 organisations is almost 29%, with the finance and insurance service industry topping the list at over 30%. The pay gap between male and female managers across industries in the private sector is almost 29%. In SA the gap overall is a little lower at 11% but its still a whopping gap. And it hasn’t changed much – either positively or negatively - for the last 20 years.

 

Accumulated over a lifetime this translates to an average earnings deficit of around $1 million and a $1.5 million deficit for those women with university degrees. Average superannuation balances for women at retirement are currently 53% lower than those for men. And if you think this is just caused by women taking time out of work to undertake caring responsibilities, let me point out that average graduate salaries for women are 9.4% less than for men (and when you compare female and male graduates in exactly the same industries in exactly the same graduate programs, there is still almost a 5% pay gap). For those aged 17 and under the pay gap is almost 12%!

 

Adjustments in our hearts and minds can be painful and slow. For example, although the requirement to pay women and men equally for doing the same work has been enshrined in legislation for decades, we still see gender disparity in the awarding of bonuses, retention payments etc for women and men in the same jobs that mean that men’s total remuneration is higher. This is especially the case in management roles. Unpaid responsibilities at home also have an enormous impact on women's paid employment and as a consequence our wages, with close to half of Australian women currently working part-time and women comprising 71.6 per cent of all part-time workers. Over two thirds of carers of elderly people and people with disability are women.

A big cultural shift will be required to see men taking on much more of these unpaid caring responsibilities if we are ever going to have equality. Importantly, in a recent report by KPMG, it was estimated that 38% of the gender pay gap discrimination is based on discrimination in the definition of merit and the fact that the work women do and the characteristics and qualities they bring to a role are not as valued or seen as equally meritorious as men's. This same bias obviously underpins the gender gap in venture capital the reason we are gathering here today to launch Chooks. A study conducted by Harvard Business School, found that when men and women pitched the same business idea, investors were 60 per cent more likely to invest when a man proposed it. Sixty percent! And yet, there is evidence that start-ups led by or co-founded by women generate significantly higher returns.

A recent article in The Australian Financial Review highlighted a venture capital group which examined 300 start-up organisations over a 10-year period, and concluded that those companies with either a female leader or co-founder performed 63% better than companies founded only by men.

 

I posted this research proudly on my Commissioner’s Facebook page and it attracted a lot of interest and comments from both women and men. Other research conducted by Dow Jones and the Kauffman Foundation have reported similarly high levels of return from female-led companies, including those in technology sectors. Another study analysing a data set from 350 micro finance institutions across 70 countries indicated lending to more women was associated with lower write-offs and lower portfolio-at-risk. And yet, as the article noted, when it comes to achieving the critical support and financing needed to grow their businesses, it appears that women are not being given an equal opportunity. Babson College in the USA discovered that over a two-year period, companies with a female Chief Executive received $US1.5 billion in venture capital, while companies led by men received $US49.3 billion.

 

One of the most important determinants of entrepreneurial success is access to business networks. However women are much less likely than men to have access to a broad network of financiers, mentors, advisors, clients and suppliers all connections which they need to grow their businesses. This remains a ‘boys club’ at present, but it is definitely changing as women seek to build and leverage their own entrepreneurial ecosystem just as you are doing here with Chooks. Also, the number of female investors is growing, so that is likely create some change in the amount of investment going to female-led businesses.

 

One of the things I was reading about is the need for venture capital investors to have an emotional connection to the businesses they invest into. If the business is targeting women as customers (such as beauty and fashion) then this connection may be more likely to happen with a female investor.

 

So, where to from here?

Gender stereotypes are deeply ingrained in our society. They impact on all our lives in a multitude of ways including from which toys we play with to what careers we choose, to how we invest our venture capital. Importantly, as Annabel Crabb says in her book ‘The Wife Drought’ “we won’t fix the work problem until we fix the home problem. Women are generally combining their careers with a second shift when they get home”. Whilst we’ve seen a massive shift of women into paid work, we’ve seen no real shift in the opposite direction. Men need to feel okay about flexible work, taking a fair share of home responsibilities and women need to feel comfortable having them do this. We’ve been looking at women very closely – we now need to balance this with looking at men very closely too. While successful women are frequently asked about how they juggle work and family, we need to start asking this of men too. To me it is utterly ridiculous that lack of childcare is a real drain or brake on women’s careers and yet there is no evidence that it’s holding back men’s careers in any way. The sad fact is that if it was, it would likely have been fixed decades ago. This is a human rights and equal opportunity issue and according to the UN, recognition of this is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

There are also sound economic reasons why gender inequity across the board should be addressed, with reputable study after reputable study showing a huge boost to GDP and all measure of benefits at the organisational level. Of course, there also needs to be strong action at the macro level by governments in developing an integrated suite of policies impacting families with children from birth to high-school age in order to start the slow process of changing community attitudes and enabling men and women to both work and have families - thereby enhancing individual well-being and that of society. Oh what a different world that would be. While gender inequality exists, not only is Australia foregoing the important contributions that women make to the economy, the years of investment in higher education of young women are being wasted.

 

I hope Chooks will be able to make a small but significant impact in changing this. I wish you well and thank you again for inviting me.

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