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IWD 2020: Do we still really need workplace gender equality?

This International Women’s Day, Diversity Council Australia (DCA) is challenging the idea that workplaces no longer need to address gender equality.

Drawing from academic and industry research, DCA has released an infographic highlighting some examples of where gender inequalities limit men and women in the workforce.

“Over 100 years on from the first IWD, we’ve come a long way in creating gender equality – but we still have a long way to go,” DCA CEO Lisa Annese said. “In 2020, gender inequalities continue to limit the ability of both men and women to be respected and to contribute at work and at home.

Lisa said that the research showed there is a link between messages we receive in childhood and the career trajectories we take.

“Research has shown that before they are two years old, children are aware of gender stereotypes. Those gender stereotypes influence everything from what toys children play with, to what subjects they choose at school, having life-long impacts on career choices.

“And gender stereotypes continue to hold us all back throughout our lives, for example with women taking on the bulk of unpaid caring and social pressures on men to be providers and main income earners.

“We know from DCA’s research that workplace diversity and inclusion initiatives benefit men and women. And when both men and women have access to flexible work options, they are more able to share responsibilities at home.

“Ultimately then, gender equality at work means improvements in all of our lives, at work and at home.

“So this International Women’s Day is a good reminder that we do still need workplace gender equality so we can lead more equal lives at work and at home,” concluded Lisa.

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What are the myths (and facts) on ageing and work?

The Australian population is ageing. This has led to a lot of public policy and debate around the need to reduce welfare costs and respond to projected shortfalls in labour as older workers retire in large numbers.

Prolonging the working life in an inclusive way, and promoting solidarity of different employee life stages, are key issues in the workplace.

To help [organisations] with this, Professor Philip Taylor from Federation University Australia and DCA are tackling some misconceptions around age and work.

Myth #1: Age discrimination towards older workers is endemic
Reality: Age discrimination is potentially faced by all workers

While it is often characterised as a problem solely experienced by older people, in fact, young people experience age discrimination too. Age discrimination manifests in many forms – a lack of employment, under-employment, during recruitment, lack of career opportunities, and stereotyping.

Myth #2: Different generations have different orientations to work
Reality: It is employee life stage (e.g. school leaver, working parent, graduating to retirement) that makes a big difference – not generation

Generational constructs such as ‘Millennial’ or ‘Boomer’ are caricatures which provide a poor basis for making employment decisions. Instead, providing age inclusion over the entire employee lifecycle is key – from school leavers looking for their first work experience, to people seeking return to work after raising children, through to older workers wanting to transition to retirement.

Myth #3: Older people are a homogenous group
Reality: Older and younger people have intersectional parts of their identity which impacts on how they experience inclusion at work

People aren’t one-dimensional. Whether people are older or younger, it is how the multiple aspects of their identity intersect that impacts on how they experience inclusion at work.

Myth #4: Older workers outperform younger ones in terms of their reliability, loyalty, work ethic and life experience
Reality: Performance is not linked to age – except in very rare instances

These are age stereotypes. A better starting point for managers would be to not assume correlation between age and performance. Age-based decision-making is not only discriminatory, it also has no competitive advantage.

Myth #5: Older people have a lifetime of experience that managers should recognise
Reality: Relevant experience, is more valuable than experience, of itself

Life experience may sometimes be valued for a given role, but not always. It is better to consider what relevant experience people have and what, if any, gaps may need to be filled.

Myth #6: Younger workers are more dynamic, entrepreneurial, and tech savvy than older workers
Reality: Older people have a lot to offer the modern workplace

It should not be assumed that people have a given quality just because they are older or younger. Workplace policies should instead be built on a foundation of age neutrality.

Myth #7: Younger workers feel entitled and won’t stick around
Reality: Younger workers are more likely to be in insecure employment and to experience unemployment

Research shows that there is little link between age and someone’s commitment to work. This is just another example of an unfounded ageist stereotype.

Myth #8: Older people who stay on at work are taking jobs from younger people
Reality: Increasing the employment of older workers does not harm, and may even benefit, younger people’s employment prospects

Actually, research demonstrates that, across the OECD countries, increases in rates of older people’s employment are associated with higher youth employment rates or demonstrate no relationship at all. While young and old are sometimes characterised as being in conflict, the reality is that we are all in this together.

This article was written by Professor Philip Taylor. DCA members can read the full myth-buster on the Diversity Council Australia website.

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