Business Insight: Canberra stoush exposed gender issues in society

Published 17 September 2018
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Article written by Southern Cross University School of Business Tourism lecturer Dr Silvia Nelson

Recent events in our Federal Parliament and within our political parties have exposed some fundamental gender issues in our society, even in the highest reaches of the land. Our television screens have been filled with images and panel discussions about gender equity, bullying, sexual harassment and systematic discrimination. Of course, these events and our own understandings of them are conditioned by our individual and collective history, our cultures, our ethics and our relationships. They are also conditioned by applicable law in 2018 in Australia, which reflects societal attitudes and convictions - or some would say, the law lags societal attitudes rather than leads them.

But the law is important and many parts of our law do condition our discussion about gender and equity. For instance, anti-discrimination law (which has been in place for many years at both Commonwealth and State level), Equal Employment Opportunity law and, more recently, sexual harassment and bullying law which both reflect and shape our attitudes and behaviours toward gender issues in the workplace, at play and at home. There is also a detectable pushback which manifests as the anti-political correctness movement which seeks to turn the clock back to a presumably happier time when gender roles were clearly defined and generally accepted. However, it was  a long time ago in Australia when it was generally accepted that women’s place was in the home. Social attitudes and employment practices have moved on.

In the public sector, there is a body of regulation which outlaws gender discrimination and which requires merit-based employment and promotion, plus a promotion of equal employment opportunity. Over the past 30 years, gender discrimination in public sector employment has largely disappeared, despite occasional occurrences of employment discrimination and more telling, instances of bullying and sexual harassment. In the business world, lacking public sector regulation but still subject to antidiscrimination and employment law, gender issues continue to bubble along, much as in our Federal Parliament. Significant numbers of women attain the highest levels but many more seem to be stuck in the bottom reaches of their organisation. This is readily seen in the hospitality and services industries, and in the gig economy, where senior management are largely men and the day-by-day service providers are women (and migrants).

Can this situation be resolved? Yes, over time and with effort because it will involve stronger values formation within organisations where mutual respect and an acknowledgement become the norms for relationship. The Human Resource department (HRM) departments of our industries and businesses and, indeed, of our political parties and the parliaments of our nation must face this challenge and begin to continue the hard work of values formation of respect for the individual, regardless of gender and integrity of relationships.

This article originally appeared in the Business Insight section of the Gold Coast Bulletin newspaper and is for general information purposes only.

Media contact: Jessica Nelson 0417288794 or jessica.nelson@scu.edu.au