A strong history of women in consumer affairs
Today on the eve of World Consumer
Rights Day (and almost a week after International Women's Day) we will celebrate the annual Ruby
Hutchison Memorial Lecture. Hutchison was not only the founder of CHOICE in 1959 but a key trailblazer in consumer rights and gender equality.
To mark this occasion CHOICE has released a report on gender equality in the consumer affairs space and plans to release a report
annually at the same time each year.
Why does gender equality matter?
The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) identifies workplace gender
equality as important primarily because it’s ‘fair’ and the ‘right thing to
do’. It also identifies a number of other benefits for both organisations
and the broader economy, including:
- improved national productivity and economic growth
- increased organisational performance
- enhanced ability of companies to attract talent and retain employees
- enhanced organisational reputation.
To achieve this you need to aim for:
- equal pay for work of equal or comparable value
- removal of barriers to participation
- elimination of gender-based discrimination, including in relation to
family and caring responsibilities.
Importantly, achieving workplace gender equality also involves access to
all roles, including leadership positions, regardless of gender.
The consumer movement and women in Australia
Women have always played a key role in the development of a consumer movement in Australia, from CHOICE founder, Ruby Hutchison, to a number of women have followed her footsteps into key roles in the
consumer movement, including Louise Sylvan, Jenni Mack, Carolyn Bond,
Catriona Lowe, Nicole Rich and Fiona Guthrie.
When it comes to women representatives in government in consumer affairs, currently only 30% are women. Of the two national consumer
agencies, as well as those in each state and territory, all are currently led by men. However, some other key leadership roles in consumer
affairs are held by women, notably Delia Rickard, as deputy chair of the ACCC, and commissioners Sarah
Court and Christina Cifuentes. Cathy Armour is an
Overall, while gender equality at ministerial level in the consumer affairs portfolio has been relatively strong, women are still underrepresented at senior levels of consumer affairs agencies.
Non-government organisations lead the way
Non-government organisations working largely in consumer affairs arguably have
a better record than regulators of employing women in leadership positions: CHOICE and Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) have been led
by women, and CHOICE has had a woman as Chair of its Board continuously for
over a decade.
Although the CEOs of CHOICE and CALC are both currently men,
other key organisations like Financial Counselling Australia, Energy Consumers
Australia and the Financial Rights Legal Centre are currently led by women.
Here at CHOICE, we're the only non-government
organisation of sufficient scale to undertake comprehensive gender equality
- 54% of the workforce is female
- 29% of senior managers are women
- 43% of the Leadership Team are women
- 51% of all managers are women.
CHOICE has introduced a Diversity and Inclusion Action
Plan that includes gender equality as a key priority. One of the targets in
this plan is for 50% of the members of all key decision-making groups
(including at senior management level) to be women by June 2018.
To help achieve this goal, there is a focus on improving career
development, providing more internal opportunities for career advancement and providing workplace
flexibility. Other initiatives include supporting the needs of employees as they change over time, 12 weeks' paid parental
leave, superannuation payments to
employees on parental leave for up to 52 weeks and up to five days of paid
leave for staff experiencing domestic violence.
CHOICE is also committed to reducing pay
inequity, following our first report to WGEA in May 2016, which identified
11% salary gap in favour of men (compared to an Australian average of 16.2%).
Better, but not best
While the report reveals gaps in gender equality at senior
levels in consumer agencies and organisations it does to some extent follow patterns in
other organisations, however the strong history of women in senior consumer affairs
roles across the public and non-government sectors suggests that we should
expect to be doing better.
As a result CHOICE is committed to continuing to report publicly
on gender equality in consumer affairs, to create pressure for consumer
agencies and organisations to achieve equality at all levels.