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Gender diversity in the workplace - role of government? - June 2017

This month's poll is our first NEP poll on gender diversity. It was developed with the ESA Women in Economics Network.

Proposition: "The recent Parliamentary Inquiry into "Gender segregation in the workplace and its impact on women's economic equality" was asked to examine measures to encourage women’s participation in male-dominated occupations and industries. Although there is growing awareness of the productivity gains of gender diversity, the private market alone is unlikely to steer the Australian labour market toward gender equality in male-dominated industries. Breaking down gender segregation in the labour market can only be achieved with some degree of government intervention."

Collaborator credits: we would like to thank the state and national committees of the ESA Women in Economics Network (WEN) for their assistance in selecting and framing this poll question. We would also like to thank Alison Preston and Andreas Leibbrandt for their expert overviews of the results.

Overview of poll results by Professor Alison Preston

Professor Alison Preston

Professor Alison Preston

Recent decades have seen profound changes in the Australian labour market. Key amongst them has been the significant growth in women’s participation in full-time employment and the growth in non-standard and more flexible forms of employment.

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Overview of poll results by Assoc Professor Andreas Leibbrandt

Assoc Professor Andreas Leibbrandt

Assoc Professor Andreas Leibbrandt

Government interventions to address labour market gender imbalances are often contentious. In a new working paper, we show that in a representative sample 42% support gender quotas to increase female leadership in organisations, whereas 39% oppose such an intervention (only 20% are indifferent). Such low levels of agreement for gender quotas are common and point to the need to investigate the opposing opinions before their implementation.

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Responses (28)


 

Peter Abelson

Agree

4

Prefer nudge to regulation and note that Government might have to start by nudging itself.


 

Harry Bloch

Strongly agree

8

The statement is overly dogmatic in insisting that gender equality can "only" be achieved with government intervention, but government intervention would certainly be useful for achieving this highly desirable objective.


 

Alison Booth

Strongly agree

10

There are a number of policy initiatives that have been shown to improve outcomes. These include imposing quotas, as well as introducing/subsidising initiatives to encourage women to enter - and to stay in - the STEM fields and in Economics (also disproportionately male), and also to enter the male-dominated trades. (There are too many candidate initiatives to list here.) These policies are best managed by government intervention. Other initiatives to improve the lot of women and of children are good quality childcare for all, and again this requires some government intervention to maintain standards and to avoid the likelihood that some families will slip through the net. There should also be pressure by non-governmental organisations (WEN is a good example of such a group that is developing a strong voice) to ensure that women are not passed by, and a government concerned about gender equity might think of how these groups could be supported and encouraged. Moreover, while great improvements have been made in the position of women in the public sector, there is still a long way to go to achieve gender equity, although not as far as in the private sector. It would be fair to say that, with regard to gender equity, the extent of government failure is smaller than the extent of market failure, and it therefore makes sense to have government intervention.


 

Jeff Borland

Strongly agree

8

Changes to social attitudes and what would appear to be strong economic/performance incentives for organisations to achieve gender equality have not caused a sufficient degree of change in gender segregation in the workforce. Hence, further government action to address this issue seems valuable to increase the pace of change. Of course, it has to be thought that the government action would be effective in order for it to be worth implementing. It does not seem difficult though to envisage multiple ways in which this could happen - for example, government departments and agencies going further in implementing best-practice in gender neutral hiring; continued promotion of the productivity benefits of equal access to employment and of cultural change in social attitudes to female employment; and being pro-active in seeking to achieve change in key areas (for example, such as regulating company Board composition; or tying government funding to progress on gender equality in areas of employment that are publicly funded).


 

Matthew Butlin

Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

7

I have a problem with how the question is formulated. It is not clear what "breaking down gender segregation" means, although the implication seems to be gender equality. I note there are notable examples of corporations and businesses that have expressly set out to break down internal labour market barriers / gender segregation within their organisations. That has been done - as far as I am aware - as a matter of enlightened self-interest and organisational values / principles rather than as a result of government intervention. I also note the strong support (starting from the top) the Economic Society is giving to enhancing the standing of women in the economics profession through the Women in Economics Network. As a matter of leadership, governments can and should emphasise merit as a key principle in labour markets. There is a government role to identify and remove regulatory barriers that prevent or diminish the effect of that principle, especially in relation to women.


 

Lisa Cameron

Agree

8


 

Fabrizio Carmignani

Agree

8

Government intervention is necessary, I agree. However, the issue is then what kind of government intervention should be used. For instance, quotas in my view do not necessarily address the cultural change that is required in male-dominated industries. I am strongly in favour of interventions that (i) eliminate any form of discrimination in the recruitment and selection process and (ii) support women's participation in the labour market, thus giving them equal opportunities as men to be selected for any jobs.


 

Deborah Cobb-Clark2

Strongly disagree

10


 

Janine Dixon

Strongly agree

8

In our generation we have seen that with government intervention, positive cultural change has been achieved on issues such as smoking, drink driving and environmental awareness. If gender segregation in labour markets was an issue that could be resolved by private markets alone, it wouldn't exist, so I do agree that some degree of government intervention is needed to steer the Australian labour market towards gender equality. Significant gender differences exist in the labour market. For example, among females, by far the most common occupation is sales assistant (according to the detailed "unit group" occupational classification), but for males, there is no single dominant occupation, with truck driver, sales assistant, electrician, carpenter and retail manager accounting for similar numbers of jobs. Of the 358 occupation classifications under which the ABS collects data, around 200 are either male-dominated or female-dominated (with more than 75% of jobs taken by one sex).


 

Brian Dollery

Disagree

8

This comment was updated on 08/08/2017We know from the work of James Buchanan and other economists working in the public choice tradition that affirmative action inevitably generates inefficiency and inequity since state intervention is invariably captured by persons the policy was not intended to benefit. This is especially true when rent-seeking coalitions in the Tullock sense, comprised of highly educated and motivated people, are formed to advance the material interests of members through job preferment, especially in the public sector. Thus, for example, in contemporary Australian universities senior management positions have been awarded to highly organised well educated women rather the most suitable candidates because they have 'captured' the recruitment process. This has contributed to the fact that Australia now has badly run university system marked by rapidly declining standards.-Monash University and Monash Business School are committed to creating an organisational culture that is inclusive and in which female staff participate equally at all levels in our pursuit of excellence. The views in the above comment do not reflect Monash's stated position, or that of the Economics Society of Australia, on gender equity.


 

Uwe Dulleck

Agree

9

Government policies currently or in the past affected gender equality in the labour market - differences in parental leave are maybe the most obvious example - without changes to policies and/or citizen's expectations and perceptions at least in these areas, change will be difficult. Apart from that, I find the topic important enough to merit government intervention to speed up an otherwise slow process.


 

Saul Eslake

Agree

8


 

Allan Fels

Agree

8

I have heard claims for many years that this does not require intervention as the private sector will take care of the problem. Not enough has happened and we now need intervention


 

Gigi Foster

Agree

9

There are obvious things that the government could do to help women access traditionally male-dominated positions in Australia, such as prioritizing quality, flexible childcare access for all parents. The government could also mandate the removal of gender-biased ("maternal", "paternal") language or conditions within parental leave policies, and invest in programs that try to embed the notion that women can succeed in traditional male occupations (like CEOs) and men can succeed in traditionally female ones (like nursing). However, it's impossible to force people to take up certain jobs, and even were access to every occupation exactly equal for the two genders, for the foreseeable future we will continue to see occupational gender segregation due to preferences. If these preferences are driven mainly by entrenched cultural norms, then we may see them change over time (and for this reason i disagree with the absolutist statement that gender desegregation can ONLY be achieved through government intervention). To the extent that different work-type preferences by the different genders are hard-wired, we may be stuck with them and their labour market consequences.


 

Paul Frijters

Strongly agree

8

The boys will not go quietly and will cry foul if you try to usurp some of their spots for women, so you indeed need some coercion to make place for the girls. Whilst I do not expect any productivity gain from more gender representation, neither do I expect any major loss: people reach the top more by networking than by competence and there are plenty of (in)competent women to replace the (in)competent networking men. So for me, its a matter of societal preference who we want to see at the top.


 

Renee Fry-McKibbin

Strongly agree

10


 

Lata Gangadharan

Agree

9

Merit criteria are argued to be very important and they should be. However the significant lack of diversity at the top, in fields where women are performing well, seems to suggest that merit is not the only criteria being used currently. Some intervention is therefore needed to level the playing field: such as changing institutional culture, making diversity information public, perhaps even quotas for a temporary period (to help increase exposure to women leaders and change the organisational culture).


 

Geoffrey Kingston

Disagree

6

Female academics do add on average at least as much value as their male colleagues. However, discrimination in hiring should be countered informally rather than by formal and coercive methods, regardless of the group that is facing discrimination.


 

Tony Makin

Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

5

Economists usually only advocate government intervention if there's demonstrable market failure. The Inquiry's report does not clearly identify what and how the market failures arise.


 

Flavio Menezes

Agree

8


 

James Morley

Strongly agree

10


 

Margaret Nowak

Strongly agree

8

The market signals to women in relation to their participation in male-dominated industries continue to be very negative. Not only do they face a potentially challenging work environment with the need to be resilient to discrimination in hiring, bullying and sexist comments in the workplace but the evidence shows them that they will be offered lower starting wages than their male colleagues if they do apply, and significant evidence that it will be difficult to nigh impossible to achieve senior level positions where that is applicable. Women entering the traditionally male trades face strong discrimination at the apprentice/hiring stage and often a difficult work environment. The market is not a friendly place for women in these male dominated occupations and there is a strong case to be made that this is indeed market failure. That is the ground on which I conclude that some degree of government intervention is required. It is time that we dispensed with the often quoted excuses such as "we select on merit", "women do not have the right qualifications", "women are not taking the right qualifications", "women do not have the requisite experience". Each of these can be demonstrated to be flawed, though they have continued to be provided as excuses for the past 50 years! Get the market place signals right and the women will follow! Don't blame women, blame the market and those with the power to set and change the signals as to what will be rewarded.


 

A ABIGAIL PAYNE

Agree

4

My challenge with this question pertains to what is meant by "government intervention" ... we know this could range from nudges to mandated quotas ... Do I think there is subtle or inadvertent discrimination? Yes. Do I think more could be done by individuals to promote gender, racial, religious equality? Yes. Do I think the government can play a role? Yes. Do I think the government should play a heavy hand in promoting job opportunity and equality? Probably not.


 

John Quiggin

Agree

7

The clearest evidence on this, for me, was the introduction of equal pay in the 1970s, which greatly reduced gender pay gaps, much more so than less interventionist approaches in the US. But that was some time ago and social attitudes have changed, so more recent evidence would increase my confidence.


 

Jeffrey Sheen

Agree

7


 

Julie Toth

Strongly agree

10

Gender segregation starts in our schools and social networks (particularly in well-established single-sex 'old school tie' and private club networks), extends into our universities and spreads into our workplaces. Equal access is vital for all students. Our teaching of STEM must improve for all students. Government education policy should actively encourage males into 'female' study areas and occupations (especially nursing and education), not just encourage females into 'male' study areas and occupations (e.g. building engineering banking). The last vestiges of IR law that contribute to gender segregation must be removed (e.g. industry awards that preclude part-time work hours).


 

Joaquin Vespignani

Agree

8

I believe that the key matter to reduce gender inequality is more education. In this sense governments have an important role to play.


 

Beth Webster

Strongly agree

10

The mandating of equal pay for women in 1972 is a case in point. Prior to this legislation, introduced by the Whitlam Government, women were paid a lower wage than their male counterparts for doing exactly the same job. Economic theory claimed that businesses which paid men above their 'marginal productivity' would go out of business. It therefore followed that lower pay for women reflected their lesser contribution and was a market equilibrium.The experience of legislated equal pay showed the error of this theory. Women did not suffer a fall in employment post-1972 but continued their steady rise in workforce participation. Economic theory needs a more nuanced understanding of the sociology of the people they are seeking to model. Legislation and other forms of intervention can change attitudes and behaviours in the labour market in a beneficial way.