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Leadership & Communication

Sex-segregated labour markets ‘perpetuating gender inequality’

2 Aug 2013, by Informa Insights

There is an entrenched division across many Australian industries between sectors dominated by men and those dominated by women.

This is according to Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Ged Kearney, who said gender inequality in the workplace must be tackled.

Ms Kearney spoke at the Fifth International Community, Work and Family Conference and the 25th Women, Management and Work Conference last week about how introducing new laws could break down this divide.

“Australia has one of the most sex-segregated labour markets among the OECD countries with women’s and men’s work being clearly separate in many sectors. And we know that so-called ‘women’s work’ remains much lower paid than ‘men’s’,” she explained.

“We need to provide more opportunities for women to enter male-dominated industries that tend to be better-paid and have more opportunities for training and promotion.”

According to Ms Kearney, women are over-represented in administrative and caring positions, yet remain scarce in the skilled trades.

Just 14 per cent of technicians and trades workers are women, she explained, while this number jumps to 79 per cent for health care and social assistance.

It is important to work towards eliminating discrimination against women who have caring responsibilities, she added.

Furthermore, it is not enough to let “the cards fall where they might” within industries, Ms Kearney continued, as this has shown to lead to inequitable results.

Government policy and regulation is needed to ensure fairness across the board, she elaborated.

“Employers are applying the one-size-fits-all approach, which is only fair to those who fit the mould,” the ACTU president claimed.

This means full-time staff members with no dependents in male-dominated sectors are prevailing, while many women with caring responsibilities are being undervalued.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency reporting obligations, which were introduced this year, could be a “wake-up call” for companies, Ms Kearney said.

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