Will Swan’s budget change gender imbalance in the boardroom?

Did I see this week in Treasurer Swan’s budget a little mention of $4.3 million to attract more female directors to board roles?

Of course, the question is will these funds make a difference to the massive imbalancein the boardroom gender mix.

It was way back in 1969 when “equal pay for work of equal value” by women was introduced and yet we find 44 years later the gender pay gap is still an issue.

There is no simple answer to the question of ‘why women are paid less?’ Is it because there are not more role models of women in senior roles? I have often pondered why more women don’t run large businesses. The number of women who are the founders of serious-sized enterprises is by far the minority.

We know that graduates entering the workforce are paid almost equally. We know that even before women take parental leave there is an unconscious bias when it comes to pay equity. (See my recent post “Could your sex determine what you are paid?“)

The fact, however, remains that women are far more likely to take parental leave at some point (and put careers on hold to do so). This could leave them with an experience deficit on their return to work. However, the pay difference occurs even before women take parental leave.

Could it be that women think they don’t deserve a ‘bigger salary’? As a result, they don’t negotiate it because in the back of her mind she may well think “I’m going to have a family at some point”, or if she has a family, “I have family obligations, so can’t put in the same hours as men; therefore I should not ask for the same.”

I remember one adviser telling me: “The more you are paid by your employer, the more your employer ‘owns’ you.” There is such a melding now between the work week and the weekend, giving employers even more access to people 24/7.

I left corporate life when I became a Mum. I wanted to have more flexibility in my life, be with my children and also keep myself intellectually stimulated by starting my own ‘little hobby business’ from home.

When I started my business it was not about the money, nor about putting food on the table; it was about using my skills to do something interesting and worthwhile. Later (about two years into the project), I got a clear sense of purpose, which is to “Change gifting in Australia forever because people need more ‘good times’ with the people who are important to them.”
It is my purpose that drives me, rather than the financial rewards. I know many people who start businesses or climb the corporate ladder are probably driven by the money, ‘the deal’, the return on investment. As a result, they often end up with a bigger pay packet. Quite simply, they focus on it.

I think it is how we define ourselves: women often define themselves by the role they play. Women still want to ‘prove’ themselves, as such they will do the role for much less financial gain – and until we are paid the same then we will never be equals.

There are just too few women in senior roles, too few role models, too few women on boards. It must start from the top. I understand that the AICD has a list of many women who are duly qualified and have completed its director courses.

Something has got to change, and organisations will continue to pay women what they think they can “get away with”. But women have to want it… and pursue it with confidence. I think women too need to have a mind-shift about their worth and step up to the table to negotiate, no matter what their family circumstances are.

Naomi Simson has received many accolades and awards for the business she founded, RedBalloon.com.au, including the 2011 Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year – Industry.


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