LeadingWoman: Unfair in a fair way

My heart went pitter patter as I read about a company that wants to pay their female staff more superannuation than the fellas they employ.

The nerve, I thought! I mean it takes conviction, clarity and courage to decide to discriminate like that – in favour of women. And they have had to go to the Human Rights Commission to ask permission.

These bold folk turn out to be actuarial consultants, Rice Warner. Of course, they are experts in risk. Perhaps they have calculated that the gain from making the women in their employ happy and secure will outweigh the jaded outrage from the men. Or perhaps I am way out of date … and the men are happy to see the balance righted.

It seems, in fact, that it was a matter of walking the talk – the company has spent years analysing the gap between men and women’s super (it is woeful), and Melissa Fuller, Rice Warner’s deputy director, told a newspaper the company now wants to “do something about it”.

What do leaders communicate to the men and women in their employ by such an action (if they are successful)? Messages such as:

  • Child-rearing has an intrinsic social value but comes at a financial cost to the primary carer (usually a woman).
  • They appreciate the time that women take out of the workforce to raise their children enough to want to help repair the impact that doing so has on women’s retirement options.
  • Women are welcome at this workplace.
  • Until everything is fair, some things have to be unfair.

To me, it is like the question of standing up for women, especially pregnant ones, on crowded public transport (Yes! I know that is a big leap! Bear with me).

All those men hogging the seats only have a moral right to them if they have been out there on the streets fighting for equal pay for women, equal representation on company boards, and an end to all other forms of gender discrimination.

As long as women have to carry the burden of inequality, I reckon they have a right to sit down while men stand. And until we find a better way of evening up the financial disadvantage women face in the workforce, paying them more super is a good step.

That is why I applaud the move made by Rice Warner.

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