DCA debate finds flexible working is not the only key to gender equality

Media releases

Diversity Council Australia’s Annual Diversity Debate hosted by Westpac in Sydney last night found that flexible working is not the key to gender equality.

An audience of 160 CEOs, HR directors and managers listened to a panel of business leaders, academics and commentators debate whether flexible working is the key to gender equality, and found strongly in favour of the negative team by 68% to 32%.

A key argument in support of the winning team was that flexibility is not the silver bullet for gender equality. Real change will require much more than just access to flexible working.

Some of the other important factors include addressing gender pay equity and sex-based harassment and discrimination.

This debate is important for all employers, said Nareen Young, DCA’s Chief Executive Officer.

“Audience feedback shows gender equality and flexible working are top of mind for business leaders. Both sides agreed that employers can’t afford to ignore flexible working as a pathway to gender equality,” said Nareen.

During the debate, Tracey Spicer, Journalist, presenter, radio broadcaster and speaker for the affirmative team talked about why flexible working is so crucial to gender equality.

“To me, it’s a mathematical equation: greater flexibility for both sexes + clear career paths = gender equality,” said Tracey.

Prof Marian Baird, Director of the Women and Work Research Group, The University of Sydney and speaker for the negative team said it’s important to recognise that flexible working can lead to inequality.

“Evidence shows that women, especially mothers, use flexible work policies more than men and this then leads to hours gaps, pay gaps and promotions gaps. Flexible working can also mean career death, when it is assumed to signal that an employee is not career focused and lacks commitment,” said Marian.

Audience members were also surveyed on their own organisation’s approaches to flexible working and gender equality, and the results revealed corporate Australia is actively addressing both but there is more work to do:

  • 65% of participants said their organisation had developed its own business case for flexible working
  • Only 12% said their organisation had always or regularly advertised managerial roles that could be worked on a part-time basis
  • 51% said their organisation had not actively promoted more men accessing flexible work arrangements
  • Most participants (60%) said getting more women into leadership positions was their organisation’s highest priority for gender equality.

For the third year in a row, the debate was emceed by Tony Jones, respected journalist and host of ABC TV's Q&A. The debate panel included:

For the affirmative - Flexible working IS the key to gender equality:

  • Dr Graeme Russell, Internationally renowned researcher and industry consultant
  • Annabel Crabb, ABC's Chief Online Political Writer
  • Tracey Spicer, Journalist, presenter, radio broadcaster

For the negative - Flexible working IS NOT the key to gender equality:

  • Prof Marian Baird, Director of the Women and Work Research Group, The University of Sydney
  • Geoff Hogg, Managing Director of the Treasury Casino and Hotel Brisbane, Echo Entertainment
  • Lisa Annese, DCA Programs & Development Director 

DCA’s debate was proudly sponsored by Westpac Group and Echo Entertainment with the support of SBS, Telstra, EY, BRR Media and KPMG. 

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