Women in the Workforce

19 Sep 2012 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for the Status of Women a question on the subject of women in the workforce.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The newly appointed Commissioner for Equal Opportunity, Anne Gale—and we congratulate her on that appointment—has made some comments regarding women's lack of advancement through senior ranks, stating that in her view a lot of women unwittingly choose to remain in lower paid roles, which makes it difficult for them to climb the corporate ladder later in life. Notwithstanding some of the good work the government may have done in relation to public sector advancement, does the government have any strategies in relation to assisting women who work in the private sector and the not-for-profit sector?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Minister for Forests, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Tourism, Minister for the Status of Women) (14:36): I thank the honourable member for her most important question. I too congratulate Anne Gale on her appointment. I worked closely with her when I was minister for consumer affairs and liquor licensing and very much enjoyed working with her, and I was delighted to see her go into this very important position.

This government has done a great deal to provide leadership and establish role modelling to the private and NGO sectors in terms of what we believe can and should be done to advance women. I will not go into this in detail, because I know that I have spoken about it at length in this place previously, but we have set women's representation targets for our boards and committees, as chairs of those committees, and in executive positions in our Public Service. We have succeeded in increasing women's representation in all those areas. That assists women to advance into leadership roles and into more senior positions within their organisations, which they justly deserve.

Although women are generally better educated than men in terms of year 12 completion and completion of university degrees, we nevertheless see women underrepresented, and the more senior the position the more underrepresented women tend to become. This is for a range of what we know are fairly complex reasons; nonetheless, they are reasons that we need to tackle head on until we have more equitable representation.

Significant work has been done by the Premier's Women's Council, which has conducted a number of forums involving businesses where they have looked at inviting leading industries along to forums to share information about what successful modelling, progressing and mentoring of women through organisations can look like. That has been a great success.

As I said, this government continues to hold itself up as a role model. I participate in many different forums in both the public sector and the NGO sector, where I talk about the importance of setting gender equity targets, which this government is very committed to—unlike the opposition, where women are significantly more underrepresented than in this government.

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting:

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: Quality, not quantity

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: Yes. The government is able to find quality women. Why can't the Liberals find quality women. It is such a furphy argument about merit. So, the Liberals cannot find meritorious women to fill their positions, but the ALP can find meritorious women. It is an absolute furphy. We know that women are generally better educated out there and we know that there are a wide range of cultural, social and structural barriers that disenfranchise women from succeeding, and it is those we need to tackle head on.