Australians’ access to employment better than OECD, but businesses urged to think about the big picture of pay gaps and mental health

People pleasing

Australians have better access to employment than the OECD average, but the gender pay gap remains a risk to our prosperity and businesses should think about how they act in the face of it, according to a report into Australia’s employment and engagement.

The Community Council of Australia report highlights that Australia’s employment access is above the average of other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, but Australian women still earn on average 17.3% less than men and that this gap has not budged over time.

The nation’s total employment ratio, at 60.4%, beat the OECD average of 55.6% for 2014.

Dun and Bradstreet economic adviser Stephen Koukoulas says that even as awareness of the gender pay gap and access has risen in the business community over an extended period, little has changed.

“It’s basically been the same for 20 years,” he says.

“Despite the government doing the best it can and, and a lot of companies, not all … are approaching the issue of greater participation at senior management.”

Koukoulas believes that the even though the facts are familiar, business owners need to watch for how these play out in practice.

“Just be aware of what’s going on,” he says, observing that changes for employment access to women in Australia “has just got to be driven by government and by corporates”.

The report also highlighted mental health and consumer confidence as challenges for the community when looking at the long term.

Australia’s suicide rate is on the rise, with a significant increase in males aged 30 to 35, with suicides in that age group rising from 161 to 230 in 12 months, looking at the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures to 2014.

Mental health in the business community has been in the spotlight over the past week, with beyondblue chairman Jeff Kennett rolling out a mental health care proposal that focused on tying chief executive bonuses to the mental health of their staff.

“I say, for senior management to put [CEOs] through, every year, a properly conducted psychological assessment by a qualified person is not only in the interests of the individual, but it’s also in the interests of the organisation,” Kennett told the ABC on Monday.

When considering the nation’s overall attitude to the business community, the Community Council of Australia’s report noted that consumers are still expressing caution.

Tracking the Business Confidence Index (BCI) and Consumer Confidence Index (CCI), it was noted that consumers’ confidence levels are still falling behind the average of other OECD nations, even as the outlook of the business community has now recovered following the Global Financial Crisis.

While the key concerns raised might not be new, the problem-solving focus for these key issues aims to bring together the arms of small and big business, governments and other bodies.

“This is about how we apply our wealth, what we create with our time and energy,” the report writers said, calling on the business community to work collaboratively with their communities to find solutions to enduring issues.

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