Three learnings from the ARA International Women’s Day Lunch

ARA members and partners gathered at the Sofitel in Melbourne on 8 March to celebrate International Women’s Day, network with their peers, and share insights for how we can innovate to attain gender equity in the retail sector.  

Attendees heard from influential speakers including Dr Samone McCurdy (Executive Manager, Workplace Gender Equality Agency), Jane Sheridan (Southern Regional Manager, Rest Super), Dr Manisha Amin (CEO, Centre for Inclusive Design), and Virginia Leaf (Wesfarmers One Digital).  

Here are three learnings from the event.  

Retail’s gender pay gap isn’t the worst but there is still room for improvement

Australia’s average gender pay gap across all industries is 22%. At 13.3%, the gender pay gap in the retail industry is narrower than in many others. But “less bad” isn’t good enough – we should be striving to get that number as close to zero as possible. 

Moreover, the pay gap isn’t the only indicator of gender equity or lack thereof. For example, in retail, there is a stark gender imbalance in leadership roles. Only 27% of directors on retail boards are women, and this figure is only 17% for retail CEOs.  

Jane Sheridan from Rest Super also discussed the superannuation gap between men and women, a worldwide phenomenon. In Australia, for 40-54-year-olds, the superannuation gap sits at 32%. We know this is a problem affecting women in retail because the average female Rest member has almost half the national average figure for superannuation.  

“Play the long game with effective sprints” – in other words, the gender pay gap will take care of itself with the right structural reforms

Narrowing the gender pay gap is a long-term goal that will be achieved over time with smaller reforms that address the root causes of the phenomenon.  

A major cause – but not the only cause – of the gender pay and superannuation gaps is that women often pause their careers to take on a caretaker role when they start a family. One way to address this is to offer employees longer paid parental leave (PPL) – all employees, not just women. Dr Samone McCurdy said it was important to uncouple the notion that women = carers and offer more flexible work arrangements to all employees regardless of gender. A truly gender equal future means offering men the same degree of flexibility to balance work and caring responsibilities.  

Jane Sheridan said that a major cause of the superannuation gap was that women were more likely to be working in part-time or casual roles. Sheridan pointed to the recent removal of the $450 a month threshold for paying superannuation as an important step worth celebrating. Another step employers can take is to increase the frequency at which they pay superannuation. Only 4% of members of Rest receive superannuation contributions fortnightly or weekly, yet we know 91% of the workforce is getting paid wages at that frequency. Paying employees superannuation more frequently than quarterly would amount to an additional $10,000 in superannuation on average. 

Knowing better doesn’t equal doing better – be practical

Dr McCurdy pointed out that this year’s International Women’s Day theme of tech and innovation was the first theme to be “forward looking.” It is crucial that we move beyond using data to examine the problem and start taking practical steps towards solving it. In other words, it’s not enough to “know better” – you have to “do better” as well.  

McCurdy said it was important to target the right people in the organisation to enact change. This includes the people with the most power over organisational decisions and organisational culture; HR managers, line managers, and c-suite executives – not the diversity and inclusion people who are already on your side.  

Another example of moving from knowing better to doing better is to provide managers with simulation-based training for responding to workplace sexual harassment. Just having a policy created by the diversity and inclusion team isn’t enough. We don’t want the first-time managers are practising their leadership skills in this area to be when they are faced with a real disclosure of harassment.   

These are just a few examples of many steps that retailers can take towards creating diverse, inclusive and gender equal workplaces. We hope you’ll take the opportunity to learn more about this vast topic and think about not just creating inclusive workplaces for women but also other disadvantaged and marginalised groups.  

ARA members can sign up to support and commit to the ARA’s position statement on gender equality here 

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